magazine | Apr 15, 2021 |
Clarity before creativity: Building the framework for a successful design business

In the second installment of our four-part guide to building a better design business, we’re looking at what it takes to forge a creative partnership that truly works—for you and for your clients.

Designers often lament that their work is only 20 percent creative, a figure dwarfed by the remaining 80 percent, which is all administrative and logistical. Despite that imbalance, it’s the 20 percent that captures the imagination. If you asked a stranger to describe what a designer does, the artistic part of the job is likely what would come to mind—creating mood boards and drawings, making fabric selections, and presenting renderings. This is what draws newcomers to the industry (most don’t get into design for a love of procurement spreadsheets), yet it’s also the most elusive phase of the process to quantify. How do you bottle creativity and put a price tag on it?

There are many answers to that question, but if there’s one guiding principle, it’s that the key to making the “design” part of interior design go smoothly is to set expectations. “Transparency” is quickly becoming an overused business buzzword, and has lost a bit of its luster along the way. But as you nurture a relationship with a new client, an unflinching openness about how your creative process will unfold—and how much it costs—can be the difference between a good project and a great one.

For some, the scene-setting starts before the client is even signed—with a contract that clearly outlines the process while keeping the designer in the driver’s seat. Others bake that transparency into their questionnaires, the information-gathering stage and even the design phase itself. The ultimate takeaway? No matter how you help them understand what it takes to design a space, level-setting with your clients is a surefire way to cement their trust—in you, your vision and the project.

This issue is devoted to illuminating the complexities of creativity without wringing the magic out of the project. The better you nail this challenging step, the more time you’ll be able to spend on the fun part—maybe even more than 20 percent. 

Homepage image: A kitchen designed by Oakland, California–based litigator turned designer Kelly Finley, who explains why she’s scrupulous about the fine print in her design contracts here. | Bess Friday

This article originally appeared in Spring 2021 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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