I finally raised my rates for a dream project, but new clients are balking. Should I backpedal?

Dear Sean,

I’m about to finish my biggest project yet, and it was a dream. I took a leap of faith and charged the highest fees I’ve ever had, and the customers have been nothing but respectful and amazing. But when I recently sent out quotes for comparable projects and quoted similar fees, potential clients all came back saying I was overpriced. Was this wonderful experience just a stroke of luck? Should I revert to my lower rate?

Perplexed by the prices

Dear puzzled by the prices,

No one said integrity was easy. Great work and great plans certainly do not guarantee great work and great future plans. And, yes, you have to pay your bills. The challenge is to keep the faith that there are more customers who will like you as your current star customer. Not hope—faith.

It comes down to understanding what you can control in your business and acting on it. You can’t control who walks through your door, no matter your marketing, your history, or even your credentials. The only thing you can control is how you react. Now you know that star clients exist and are willing to pay you what you need to do the kind of work you are most proud of.

Compromising this ideal to attract more customers, no matter how financially hungry you are, is a choice. While I understand the motivation behind the theoretical choice to take a job that requires you to compromise, that doesn’t mean I respect it. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” and that goes as much for your job and business as it does for your literal person. Great work can’t exist if your client doesn’t care less.

To which I would like to challenge your assumption that lowering your price will bring you the right customers. Getting $2 for what you just got $10 implies an entirely different value proposition and changes the whole set of values ​​and goals for you and your customer. I am convinced that these values ​​and objectives are not what you are looking for. Within reason, yours is a binary business, which means a client will or will not pay your fees. Turning them down won’t necessarily result in a yes.

If it’s all about the money, instead of devaluing yourself, how about finding the premium slice of your business for customers that will best allow you to diversify? Make it your mission to deliver the best, on a much smaller scale. Intro and The Expert are similarly modeled companies that come to mind. But you can go one step further and offer consulting services that stop short of a full project and still be incredibly meaningful. For example, check what Tiffany LeBlanc made with Blanc Slate, where she offers much more than a session on L’Expert but much less than a complete design. I exclude e-design as an option because I have rarely seen it represent the best of a designer, as it is most often a dilution of a designer’s activity (which I am clearly not not a fan).

Finally, focus on the depth and power of your success with your star client to really understand what made this project wonderful. How did the way you present information lead to effective decisions? And, by the way, what information did you actually present? With your potential customers, did you take the time to walk them through your sales process or did you just send the proposal? Relationship building and relationships are more and more important every day (as they should be). Working to improve your ability to embrace the customers who care the most is an exercise that will absolutely pay dividends with potential customers. To paraphrase the old Will Rogers Quote: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you sit still.”

Lowering your price and standards at this point is an exercise in futility and shouldn’t even be your last resort, but not an option. Integrity is not easy because it is hard won and easily lost. That makes it valuable, and with it you can go anywhere, perhaps not at the pace or with the confidence you prefer, and anything is possible.

Home page image: ©Xuejun li/Adobe Stock


Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founding president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design firms. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Do you have a dilemma? Email us and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.


Leave a Comment