business advice | Sep 20, 2022 |
I finally raised my rates, but new clients are balking. Should I backpedal?

Dear Sean,

I am about to finish my biggest project to date, and it has been a dream. I took a leap of faith and charged the highest fees I ever have, and the clients have been nothing but respectful and amazing. But when I recently sent out proposals for comparable projects and quoted similar fees, the prospective clients all came back saying I was too expensive. Was this lovely experience just a fluke? Should I return to my lower rate?

Perplexed by Pricing

Dear Perplexed by Pricing,

Nobody said integrity was easy. Great work and great projects most certainly do not guarantee future great work and great projects. And, yes, you have to pay your bills. The challenge is to keep the faith that there are more clients that will appreciate you like your current star client. Not hope—faith.

This comes down to understanding what you can control in your business and acting accordingly. You cannot control who will walk through your door no matter your marketing, history or even referrals. The only thing you can control is the way you will respond. You now know that star clients exist and are willing to pay you what you need to do the kind of work you are most proud to do.

To compromise that ideal for the sake of getting more clients—no matter your state of financial hunger—is a choice. While I understand the motivation behind the theoretical choice to take work that forces you to compromise, that does not mean I respect it. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” and it holds true as much for your work and business as for your literal person. Great work can’t exist if your client couldn’t care less about it.

To which I would like to challenge your assumption that lowering your price will land you the right clients. Receiving $2 for what you just got $10 for connotes an entirely different value proposition, and alters the set of values and goals for both you and your client. I am positive that these values and goals are not what you seek. Within the bounds of reason, yours is a binary business, meaning that a client will either pay your fees or not. Lowering them will not necessarily result in a yes.

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

Last, focus on the depth and power of your success with your star client to really home in on what has made that project wonderful. How did the way you present information drive effective decisions? And, for that matter, what information did you actually present? With your prospective clients, did you take the time to walk them through your sales process or just send over the proposal? Relationship building and relating matters more and more every day (as it should). Working to improve your ability to embrace clients who care the most is an exercise that will absolutely pay dividends with potential clients. To paraphrase the old Will Rogers quote: “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Lowering your price and your standards at this point is an exercise in futility and should not even be your last resort—just not an option. Integrity is not easy because it is hard-fought and easily lost. That makes it precious, and with it you can go anywhere—maybe not at the pace or with the reassurance you’d prefer—and all things are possible.

Homepage 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 founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.

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