Avoiding Awkward Requests for Free Design Advice
How should you reply when someone at a party asks for your design ideas? With style and grace, always. Here are five surefire ways to do that.
Don't you love it when you're at a party or event and someone starts asking you for design advice? You know, the old, "See, I have this sofa on this one wall. It's sort of long, well not really too long. The paint is this reddish, orangey, pinkish sort of color. And I have this oblong coffee table; it's not really square, but not really rectangle either. So I was wondering if you think I should do drapery or just blinds? And what about a rug...yes or no? And do you think a chandelier or a ceiling fan is better?"
Seriously? How are we supposed to know what this person's space looks like without ever having laid eyes on it? When it's a friend or relative asking the question, the situation is even trickier. What you could envision and what the room really looks like are probably far different from one another! Then there's that great client of yours, who just paid you big dollars for this same sort of advice, is standing right there in the conversation. Awkward!
But, how many times have we done this to other professionals like doctors or lawyers at parties? Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, our foot to be exact, we suddenly realize that we are asking them to give away their livelihood for free. So how should you gracefully reply when someone approaches you in public for your design ideas? With style and grace, so no one ends up feeling uncomfortable.
There are a few ways I have handled this awkward and tricky situation when friends, family, and others approach me in public for my design ideas. Some are serious, some are funny, but either way handling a situation like this with style and grace so neither of you feel uncomfortable is the best route.
Here are five surefire tactics to gracefully keep you from giving away free design advice in social situations:
- Smile and politely say something to this effect: "I never mix business with pleasure. Here is my assistant's email address. Send her a note and she will schedule an appointment for us to meet and discuss your design needs. She can also send over a fee schedule for how we charge. I'd love to work with you!"
- Be honest and say: "I'd love to give you advice, but it really wouldn't be fair to my lovely and loyal clients who hire me for similar design ideas. But if you’d like to set up an appointment, give me a call. Here's my card."
- Laugh, but not in a disrespectful way, and say something like: "Describing your room to me is like giving driving directions to someone. I can't know how accurate they are! For your sake and mine, I am just not willing to risk giving you bad advice sight unseen. But if you want me to come over and take a look, give me a call on Monday and let's get an appointment on the books!"
- Make a joke: "Well I know the answer to your design dilemma, but it is top secret and if I told you, I'd have to kill you!" Then politely change the subject. They should get the point.
- If all else fails, put on your best "Valley Girl" accent and say: "Girlfriend, I didn't come here to work, I came to party! Now where are those cocktails?" Then head straight for the bar with a smile!
What I don't do is give friends and family members a discount. I don't know about you, but I have a lot of friends and family. If I started giving special pricing, where would I draw the line? My best advice is to keep it professional and give everyone the same treatment and the same price. Will you be too expensive for some? Probably. But don't feel guilty for having a successful business. You've worked hard to get where you are and if you are doing a good job at niche marketing yourself, you won't be all things to all people. And that's a good thing!
I hope these tips help you the next time you are asked for free advice. You may even find yourself thinking twice the next time you "talk shop" with your friendly doctors, lawyers, garden designers, accountants and other professionals. Believe me, they will appreciate it!
Tobi Fairley is a nationally-acclaimed interior designer based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Named by Traditional Home Magazine as one of the Top 20 Young designers in America in 2009, Tobi's work has graced the cover of House Beautiful and been published in Traditional Home, Southern Living, and At Home in Arkansas numerous times. Tobi recently launched her own fabric line and will release several other products lines in 2012. Her DIY design service InBox Interiors and her Design Camps have been wildly successful. Tobi recently launched Tobi Fairley and Associates, a consulting group dedicated to helping firms with the business of design. She also blogs at Tobi's Blog.