Know Your Worth -- and Let Your Clients Know, Too

It seems that at least once a week, I deal with clients who tell me that they have been to several kitchen design firms in their quest for the perfect kitchen. Often I’m told that each design firm is coming up with drawings for their review. It is upon this review, I am told, that the clients will base their decision of whom to hire.

So let me get this straight: At least one designer – and probably more – is working to develop plans for a kitchen that will never exist. How long does it take to draft up plans for a new design? Isn’t your time valuable? Don’t you believe your services are as valuable as (if not more valuable than) the cabinetry you represent?

A client came in to my showroom today, and began to show me the plans from a design firm that she had no intention of using. She wanted the designer she had chosen to take the plans with him so that he could utilize them in his design.

Folks, let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there who think nothing of doing this. Why? Because we give our plans away for free. If the plans are free, they must be worthless, right? At least that seems to be how the clients see it.

A design professional is just that: a professional. For the fun of it, I looked up the proper meaning of the word.

Pro*fes*sion*al (pr -f sh -n l):

(adj.)

    1. a. Of, relating to, engaged in, or suitable for a profession: lawyers, doctors, and other professional people.

    b. Conforming to the standards of a profession: professional behavior.

    2. Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career: a professional writer.

    3. Performed by persons receiving pay: professional football.

    4. Having or showing great skill; expert: a professional repair job.

(n.)

    1. A person following a profession, especially a learned profession.

    2. One who earns a living in a given or implied occupation: hired a professional to decorate the house.

    3. A skilled practitioner; an expert.

Nowhere in this description does it say that as professionals we should do our work for free. It indicates that we have learned in our profession. We are skilled; we conform to the standards of our profession. It even says we should be receiving pay!

There are no other professionals in any other field that give away their services at no charge. You don’t expect a service repair man to come to your house without charging you. Even if he doesn’t fix the problem, he is still paid for his time.

As professionals in our industry, designers keep current with new trends and innovations by way of continuing education. A certified kitchen designer can only maintain his or her status as a CKD professional by attending classes to achieve the required credits. Isn’t it only right that this work pays off?

A good designer has the ability to create a kitchen that looks nothing like the photograph the client walked in with, and still leave the client feeling that the completed project is everything he or she ever wanted and dreamed of. How? By meeting the client’s level of security. By creating a warm environment by way of design. By developing a rapport with the clients that relieved them of their anxiety for the decisions that needed to be made throughout the project. A cabinet, no matter how pretty, cannot do any of these things.

There was an article in the March issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News which stated that 60% of design firm owners surveyed feel that the cabinetry lines which they represent are the largest factor of their success. If that is truly the case, then why should anyone bother to train as a design professional when clearly it’s all about the brand of boxes? And if that is truly the case, then that would mean that your business is dependant upon that/those cabinetry line/s.

That seems quite tenuous as best. I would hope that, should there be a shift in lines that we represent, we would still be able to remain stable and profitable.

Ironically, whenever I talk to kitchen designers, they hold their reputation in high regard. I don’t know of a design firm that spends excessive amounts of money on advertising. If you notice, most advertising is done by the cabinetry manufacturers in an effort to promote their brand recognition and your business at the same time. But even with their referrals, clients will not purchase from the design firm unless they are comfortable with both the designer and the way the firm operates.

Designers tell me all time that their future business relies on the last projects they’ve completed. They know that new work comes from the referrals of clients who are happy.

Let’s be honest, how many homeowners are bragging about the brand of cabinets they selected to their neighbors and friends? No, if the designer and the design firm are good, they’re going to brag about the wonderful service. They’ll be most excited about how smoothly things went, how easy the process was, and how beautiful the overall result is.

When we don’t request money for our work, we lower the value of our product. And keep in mind, the product is not the cabinetry: it’s the design – and the designer who creates that design. It’s not the cabinetry that will get you the referrals – -it’s the designer’s rapport with the client. It is his or her ability to make the clients feel that their needs are met.

Boxes can’t do that; people can.

In a perfect world, the first meeting should be under an hour. During this meeting, the only product designers should be selling is themselves. Remember, if the client doesn’t feel he or she has bonded with you or doesn’t trust you, that client won’t buy from you. If the client has bonded, and does feel secure, that client will buy almost anything – within reason.

Once the initial meeting is over, a discussion of money needs to come up. Your time is valuable: Let your client know that. You know your client thinks his or her time is quite valuable; shouldn’t you demonstrate that your time is worthy, too?

If clients wants more of your time to deliberate whether or not to make a commitment, give them your kindest regrets. Firmly but nicely explain that, “I’d love to, but I have to have a deposit in order to proceed.” You can follow it up with, “Please don’t feel pressured; take your time and let me know if you’re interested.” But then you have to walk away. …and do it with a smile! This isn’t meant to be confrontational, but it should be clear: You don’t work for free, and you’re valuable.

More of us need to elevate the value of our work and our time.

The next time you’re working with a client, I suggest you think about your worth. If you value yourself, others will follow.

Jane R. Scammon is v.p.- of communications for the Northern New England Chapter of the National Kitchen & Bath Association and a consultant for the New England-based Clarke, a leading resource for luxury kitchens and baths. Her article has been reprinted with permission from the NKBA NNE Chapter’s Quarterly Newsletter. Scammon can be contacted directly at: jscammon@clarkecorp.com.

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