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There is a problem that just doesn’t seem to ever go away for us designers. It starts when we ask a potential residential client what’s their project budget. What do they ALMOST ALWAYS say?

“I don’t know.” At least ninety percent of the time, right?!

So what gives?

Do potential clients really not know what they have to spend? Do they not have a clue what a room costs?

Maybe, but that’s not really the problem.

The problem is when you say to them, “Oh, okay,” and drop the subject like a hot potato because you don’t know what to do next.

You can’t just let it end there because a budget is a key part of starting your design programming for them. And you well know that moving ahead without a budget puts you at risk in all kinds of ways.

Like researching and specifying products that are way too expensive… causing the client to faint with disbelief and you to redo the whole design over… all on your own dime since it’s the second round.

Or on the other hand, if your product specification is too inexpensive, the client thinks, “oh, you don’t get me”. You then lose the chance at landing a 6-figure design fee because they go with another designer and you end up seeing the other designer’s work (instead of your own) on the cover of a magazine.

These are classic lose-lose situations.

The good news is that when a client says, “I don’t know”, it’s usually because they just don’t know what to say.

If they call out a number and it is too low, they’re afraid that you’ll laugh at or judge them. And if they call out a number too high, they fear they’ll end up spending more than they need to.

In my design company, I quickly recognized that most clients had been out shopping, knew what a sofa or a dining table costs, but had never added up the cost of all the pieces to build a room.

So, what’s the solution?

Instead of letting crickets fill the air when they tell you, “I don’t know”, you need to say…

“Oh, we’ll we can figure out a budget in about 10 minutes together, want to do it?”

And guess what… they’ll happily agree!

Start by making up a furniture plan in your head and ask them, “how much would you be comfortable paying for…” a sofa, an area rug, a cocktail table, etc.

Run through all the items needed for the room, write down their (not your) price point, and then add it all up.

BOOM! Now there’s a budget!

There are two huge advantages to this process…

  1. When you have agreement on the budget, the functions of the space and style/design concept, you have sold the whole job thus a) avoiding the agonizing process of presenting piece by piece and b) saving hours of meetings and re-dos.
  2. When you have agreement on a budget amount you can easily call out a design fee because there is a strong relationship between the total dollars being spent and the cost of your fee to design.

There are many designers using this very strategy to walk out the door with a deposit check in hand on the very first client meeting!a

If you want to learn more about using this strategy, how to distinguish yourself as a pricing expert and the details about calling out a fair design fee relative to the budget, don’t miss my free CEU “Get a Budget, Get a Client” you can register to learn here.

Author: Terri

Terri breaks down the walls of secrecy by sharing her 30 years of professional interior design and remodeling experience to help interior designers work smarter, not harder, and get paid what they’re really worth.

She provides private and group coaching to interior designers who want both a financially sustainable business and a life outside of work.

Terri teaches wealth consciousness and business systems that simplify and streamline their business processes.

Terri received her NCIDQ certification in 1993, and is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and Interior Design Society (IDS). She also received the 2000 ASID Interior Design Award of Excellence and holds an Arizona Contractor’s License.