Interior Design Business Tips: WTS When You’re Asked For Free Advice

September 2, 2017

When you start your interior design career, be ready that every now and then people will ask you for free advice. These could be your relatives, friends, neighbors or even random people that find you through the web or recommendations. Nothing can be more frustrating as this: often people would expect you to come to their homes, spend your time helping to choose paint, fabric or wallpaper and at the end of the day you will get a “thank you” or tea with biscuits, if you are lucky.

Here are some of the requests that I got in the past and how I reacted to them just because it was too hard for me to say “no” to friends and relatives:

  • A friend sent me sms with a picture of paint swatches asking whether they would work in her living room. I ended up coming to her house and spent 3 hours of my time because you can’t really understand the color from a picture on iPhone.
  • One of my relatives sent me a furniture plan of her new apartment drawn on a tissue paper asking whether I would change anything.  Eventually I drew the whole floor plan in CAD with the layout that I thought worked better.
  • A friend invited me for a tea and showed window in a living room saying that she is really struggling on choosing a window treatment for it. Next day we spent almost 4 hours in the shop picking new curtains.

I can continue this list further but I am afraid it will become too long. Everything comes with experience and it took me a while to figure out how to reply to such requests without loosing friendship and remaining in good rapport without working for free.

Before I share it I want to name several reasons why you shouldn’t give free advice:

  • Reason number 1 is that you didn’t spend all those years in design school to give free advice. Before you provide anyone a free consult think about all this time and effort you spent to get your diploma.
  • Interior design is a profession, not a hobby: if you want to be perceived as a serious business person, you need to send a right message to people and the best way to do it is to announce your consultation fee or hourly rate.
  • You won’t be able to give a good advice based on text messages and photos. If you agree to consult via text, this will probably result in wrong color/material/furniture choice. You need to see the actual space, the lighting, etc. in order to provide professional consultation.
  • By agreeing to give free advice or offering ridiculously low rates you devaluate the whole industry. Your business decisions and how you present yourself affect other professionals – when too many interior designers offer free consults, clients start to perceive it as a norm and would expect this not only from you but from others as well.
  • If you do free consults hoping that people will hire you later for a bigger job or will recommend you to others, stop wasting your time. They won’t. Or they will recommend you as a an eager interior design enthusiast that likes to consult for free.

Psychology of humans is a complicated thing, but usually people appreciate more things that they paid for, rather than those that they got for free.

So here is what I usually say now when someone is trying to get a free advice from me:

Of course in most of the cases people would not proceed with paid consultations, but I can guarantee you that you will feel so much empowered if you learn how to say no.

I hope this was useful and if you haven’t read my Marketing for Interior Designers eBook, check it out – it is full of practical and effective tools to grow your interior design business:

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2 Comments
Young Song
September 10, 2017 at 11:14 pm

Yes, 100% agree !!! people appreciate more things that they paid for.
After visiting showrooms for drapery fabric for one month, the long time friend said: ” We do not like any one of those fabrics you picked for us,
we are going to go to other place ! “.

They paid no a cup of tea, nothing at the end.

Thanks for your good advice. I will use next time.

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September 15, 2017 at 6:59 pm

We’ve all been there for sure! Love your answer and it keeps the tone polite and professional…exactly what they should be paying for!

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