[I was recently interviewed by Business of Home in a webinar about e-Design. You can join their B of H Insiders program here to view the recording. You can also see a B of H post about the discussion here even if you’re not a Insider.]
While I don’t want to keep opining about e-design (read my other post about it here), this topic has always been one I’ve tossed around with my clients – and it’s definitely not going away anytime soon due to our Covid-catalyzed new world of running our businesses. And so here I go again…
As I said in my earlier post, the one thing that isn’t really being addressed in the multitudes of “Should You Offer E-Design Services” articles, blog posts, and podcast episodes is defining what e-design REALLY is and how it affects your business model by offering it.
Packaging & pricing is a key part of marketing
In case you’re wondering why a copywriter and brand messaging strategist like me has anything to say about this, I should probably note that packaging and pricing are key pieces of marketing.
Don’t believe me?
You already understand the important marketing role packaging and pricing play in product-based businesses (think Apple’s sleek packaging and premium pricing, McDonald’s Happy Meal; the $x.99 psychological pricing trick; etc.). It’s all marketing!
The same goes for service-based businesses like interior design firms.
Marketing is about appealing to the right kinds of clients who’ll buy what you’re selling. It’s a mix of visuals, copy, packaging, and pricing that positions you to sell to those clients.
So if how you package and price your services doesn’t appeal to customers, you’ve got (among other things*) a marketing problem on your hands.
Now do you see why I’m talking about this? I have to address packaging and pricing with my clients every time I write website copy, email launch sequences for their courses and webinars, etc. I can’t do a kick butt job helping them shout out their offering to the world if I don’t have my arms around the scope, deliverables, and investment… and I love my clients too much to not speak up if I think they’ve got those things wrong for the clients they’re trying to reach.
(*I feel compelled to note that, even if your service offerings sell great, if the way you’ve packaged and priced things means you can’t take on enough clients to let you pull in sufficient revenue to turn a profit (‘cuz design isn’t a non-profit industry, folks!) you won’t be able to stay in business for very long and you might completely wear yourself out trying.)
So is it even possible to serve high-end clients with e-design?
I’ve wondered for years if there’s a way for my clients to offer a hybrid of e-design and full service design by specifying trade-only products within a consultative e-design service package.
The argument in favor of that would be that it might appeal to a higher end market while still carving out space for those who don’t want full-service functionality.
Under a traditional e-design service, you’re limited to specifying retail products so the client can take on the ordering, receiving, and installing portion of their project. Of course, there are tons of great products available in the retail market. But I have to admit that, when I started working in the interior design industry nearly a decade ago, I didn’t have a clue that what I could access as a non-designer was a teeny, tiny tip of the iceberg relative to what was available to the trade. I mean, it was SHOCKING! I actually felt a bit foolish to know that I’d been doing my best to find decent products at retail when all that time, there was a whole world of beautiful, fully customizable items for the asking.
Listen, I fully believe that any good designer can put together gorgeous spaces using retail products. But the truth is that most higher end clients aren’t going to be satisfied with the creative limitations even the best designers are up against when sourcing from the retail market.
And that problem brings us back to the idea of sourcing trade-only products within an e-design service model.
What would a high-end e-design package look like?
Imagine that you’ve sold an e-design service to a client who wants a one-of-a-kind, designer-caliber space. They tell you they 100% do not want a sofa or a rug that they’re going to see at their neighbor’s house, as well. ‘Custom’ is their watchword. Even so, they think your full service design is more service than they need. Here’s the rundown of what they want, broken up into “e-design” and “full service design” functionality categories.
- They don’t have time for all those site visits and meeting at showrooms and they want this room done quickly.
- They want you to provide them with a moodboard, CAD drawings, and product options.
Full Service Design
- They’ll need you to source the products because they’ll need to be trade-only to achieve the custom look they’re going for.
- To source the products, you’ll have to come up with a complete top-to-bottom design of the space, including all fabric and finish selections, and every available option for each piece (like hardware, seating cushions, drapery hardware, etc.)
- You’ll also have to source art and accessories
- You’ll also have to orchestrate having the products delivered and installed in their home (because how else is that going to get taken care of for the client?).
Based on this, it seems like you couldn’t charge much (if any) less for all of that vs. your full service design package without giving your client a screaming deal on your time and effort. There’s very, very little difference between what we’re describing above and a traditional full service design project.
For all intents and purposes, you’d be performing a full service design functionality – just without site visits (which would probably make the job of specifying every last detail even harder for you) and with remote client meetings and presentations.
Let me be very clear here: Charging less for your design services “because it’s e-design” is…
a) completely unfair to anyone paying for your standard full service design package
b) probably not sustainable for you since it’s taking you the same amount of time or more, but you’re not charging as much for it
Of course, there’s always the option to make sure you mark the product up sufficiently to cover the expense of your time, but that could result in some major push back from your clients – especially if your markup for full design clients is lower since you’re making more in the design fee.
All things considered, what you’re really offering under the scenario above is a full design service with remote components. It’s not really e-design and there’s no good reason to charge bargain rates for it.
Is it a good sales tactic to use the words “e-design” on your website anyway?
As a communications expert, I’m always thinking about not only the message being sent, but the receiver it’s going to.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to try to use your clients’ language to talk about what you’re trying to sell to them. That can serve two purposes – catching their attention in the first place and making them feel like you understand their needs
In the name of using your packaging to “give the people what they want,” there might be something to be said for using the words “e-design” to describe your full service design package that includes remote components – especially in the time of Covid.
I see pros and cons to that and think you should consider these things carefully when deciding whether to promote any service under the banner of e-design.
It’s in the vernacular of design clients.
It’s timely during quarantine and post-quarantine Covid fears.
SEO – searches for keywords related to e-design are up right now.
It highlights that you have capabilities in place to design remotely.
Stigma as a low-end/bargain option so use of the term with higher pricing could be seen as misleading.
Feels like a step backward to some designers used to working with high end, full service projects.
Some high end clients think of it as a low-end/bargain option and NOT the custom level of design they’re looking for.
Offering it alongside your full service design could confuse clients if both are roughly the same with the exception of remote meetings and no site visits.
Offering it could trick you into feeling like you have to charge less than it’s worth/ less than it’s going to cost you in terms of your time.
If you offer it as a temporary service, you’ll have to deal with deciding when to pull it off your service menu and whether or not to provide it upon request from there on.
Thinking through your packaging and pricing carefully from both a marketing and a business perspective is ALWAYS important, but all the more so with so much advice to jump on the e-design bandwagon out there. Whether or not to create an “e-design” package in any way, shape, or form is a complicated issue. It’s not a simple pivot – just throwing it out there without thinking through the complexities and potential downsides could be risky for your marketing strategy and your business as a whole.
That all said, I’d love to hear from anyone who’s found a way to package an e-design service that high end clients love and that isn’t undercutting their business, but I also understand that most of you would want to keep that “how the sausage is made” kind of info to yourselves. If, however, you’re willing to share your idea with me and the design world, I’d love to help you shout it out! Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll chat!