I am getting flooded with emails from folks I have never met all over the country since my story in Better Homes and Gardens came out in the March issue. Most ask, I would love to hire you to help me with a punch list of items I need to tackle, but I don’t know how the design business works. Do you do smaller projects by phone and email and mail? How does the fee schedule work?
I have also received numerous inquiries both now and before and the potential client seems to have no understanding of how to engage a designer and what the steps and expectations should be. Well, I have good news and bad news…
Bad news is, each designer has a different business model, fee schedule and process, so there is not a complete “standard operating procedure” manual about how to hire and utilize a design professional. And not every design business performs the same jobs in the same capacity. The good news is: this enables you to search and find the designer who suits your needs best, offers the services you want, and whose fee structure is most comfortable.
Iconic designer Iris Apfel. Image via Peabody Essex Museum
So, how on earth do you find a designer? The right designer? For a local professional, read local design publications, read the articles and also look at the ads, (check Yelp, yes, really do!) and most importantly, ask people whose homes you love who they used or who they have heard of. In this technology age, believe it or not, the best marketing we designers have is still good old word of mouth.
Most design professionals have websites and a google search should turn up many leads. Those who come up are obviously savvy business people and are investing in showcasing their work. Look at the site carefully. Do the spaces spaces speak to you? Does their bio sound real and authentic? Do they seem like someone you could spend hours with?
Look at Pinterest and do a search. Search Houzz, Doodle Home, ElleDecor and other sites that offer design professionals the chance to submit their portfolios online. Read their bios and testimonials. The way someone writes about themselves says a lot about their demeanor. Read blogs. Scour them. One link leads to another and so on.
A designer who has a blog should be able to project a voice that you can identify with. You should be able to tell immediately if there is a good fit. Email a remote designer you admire and ask for local referrals. You never know who knows who these days. I can tell you personally that I know great talent all over the country from the blog conferences I attend and my daily twitter interaction. It’s true! There is nothing nicer than getting a lead or referral from another designer you respect. We need to look after each other! (On a site note, if my inbox is flooded with these emails later today I will KILL myself…)
Another route, and an unconventional one, is to explore remote design. Depending on your budget, where you live, and where the designer you admire lives, it may be slightly more to engage someone out of town, but if the fit and the look and the total package is there, a lot can be done via Skype and email these days with only one or two site visits. Really! For some, design by email or some like to call it e-design, can work well if you are a real do-it-yourself person who knows what they want and have an educated design mind. It is not for everyone, but for the right person, it works beautifully.
Lastly, the work and the process and the money all has to gel and feel right. The designer has to be able and willing to perform the tasks you need within a time frame and budget you feel is reasonable. But probably MOST important of all is: do you like this person? Do you trust this person? Do you think they are honest? Ask questions and get answers. A design collaboration is a close partnership, and can get very personal; you need to enjoy who you are spending all this time with. Or if you don’t like them, per se, you must respect them.
So, that’s Part 1 of my lesson for today. Happy Decorating.