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Is Designing for Friends Causing Trouble For You?

Many designers begin their careers by helping friends design their homes or offices “for free.” This helps the designer build confidence in their craft and gives them something to photograph for their portfolios.

You may have done this as well.

This is all good, except this practice can carry over into a habit of not feeling comfortable or confident about properly charging real clients for your time and talents. Or it shows up in giving away your profit on product because you because you “want them to have it.”

The result of this behavior is not feeling valued for your work, and NOT being paid what you’re worth.

Sometimes I see designers working for a group of their friends who have come to expect a lifetime of free design service.

This amounts to running a “design charity” instead of a business.

Here’s a scenario:

Every time you see a certain friend socially, she has another design question or problem for you to solve.

These requests can come at the most awkward of times. Like looking at, and giving advice about, her bathroom when you’re trying to enjoy yourself at a party.

So what do you do and say to your friends or acquaintances that have stepped over the line because they don’t realize that interior designing is your business?

Thankfully this isn’t a difficult problem to solve. Here are three easy tips so your friends start respecting your boundaries.

Tip #1 – Realize that this is all about setting the appropriate boundaries.

Giving away your valuable time and advise may seem like you’re helping people, but you’re devaluing your business and diminishing your self-worth by doing so.

It becomes hard for you to charge the appropriate amount when a good client opportunity arises because you’re developing a habit of giving away your time and expertise.

Another huge problem related to this is that free advice is often not valued by the person receiving it.

When you set clear boundaries around when you work, and what you charge for your services, you become a well paid consultant. Clients will listen carefully to your words and act on your advice.

Tip #2 – Make the solid decision to stop this self-diminishing behavior.

Write down on paper what your boundaries (new rules) are – be specific, especially when working for friends and acquaintances. Be totally clear about exactly how much you’re willing to do, and not to do, for friends.

Post this affirmation on your mirror or on the wall in front of your desk, so you’re reminded daily of your boundaries.

Tip #3 – Write a script and practice what you’ll say so you’re ready when the next occasion arises.

This will help the next time you’re cornered at a party and asked about that bathroom again.

Pretend you are a doctor and say, “Call me at my office on Monday and we’ll book an appointment to look at it.”

If she calls and you want to gift her some time, consider saying something like…

“When I take on a bathroom design job, I write a Letter of Agreement that spells out the amount time it takes to complete all the phases of the design. Because you’re my friend and I want to do something special for you, I’m going to gift you the first three hours of design time for this project. My design fee is based on $125.00 per hour and a bath remodel usually takes me about 10 hours. Does that sound good to you?”

Once you’ve said this and your friend has accepted, there is no need or expectation of any further “giving.”

Practice your script out loud, over and over, until your body feels totally comfortable and at peace with your statement. This way you’ll be ready the next time a friend or acquaintance asks for, or expects, free advice.

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