Sunday, May 31, 2009

Update on Design Fees

OK ... Thanks everybody ... I've gotten comments from my own blog and two other forums that I sometimes post on ... I will, (soon I hope), be writing a definitive policy that I can post on my website and link to as a warning if a design process seems to be getting out of control ... My problem with the situation below was that I KNEW it was out of control, but thought it was just one email aawy from resolution ... Been there, done that ... time for a change.

" New Design Fee Policy ... 5/31/09 "

" Over the years I have always considered the interpreting of my customers’ ideas, both potential and repeat customers, part of my job description, and, unless it was obviously going to be a major undertaking, (a library, a large entertainment center, a kitchen) a free service to them. In the past most of my customers came to me by word of mouth with some background from the person who referred them to me and this ‘free design’ policy was a fine one. With the rise of the internet as a referral tool, more and more people come to us, (thankfully), but with no introduction and no in person visit to our shop where they can plainly see the nature and scope of our business. As a result, sometimes the design process has the potential to get out of hand as it’s very easy to say, ‘I’d like an estimate on a coffee table sort of like this, but maybe like that … Nooooo.. that’s not what I had in mind …. ‘ in an email. I recently had a 34 email exchange with a potential client regarding a small project that sucked up an unbelievable amount of my time. It was a ‘rush’ job and I always thought I was just ‘one more email’ away from the resolution of it. I was so sure I even made sample inlays in abalone and mother-of-pearl before receiving a nickel from them. (WHAT WAS I THINKING?) Anyway, the process came to an ugly end and left me pondering how best to avoid this in the future. After a little more consideration, I will be probably be posting this policy to my website and will refer potential new clients to it if it seems appropriate.

Here’s what I’ll do for free :

Have a meeting or two of reasonable length, say an hour or so, at my shop or at their house close by …. No Charge …. More than ½ hour travel time from my shop, meetings MAY involve travel time reimbursement. The client will be informed in advance and the charge will be assessed at my discretion, probably depending on how the meeting seems to go.

Provide concept sketches and one CAD scale drawing … No Charge

If design is ‘close’ but not finalized, I’ll provided a non binding ESTIMATE of the project’s cost including shipping and installation. No Charge

If we move on from there without at that time, a formal agreement, I will request a non-refundable, but applied to the total cost, design fee that seems appropriate to the project at hand, most likely a two to four hour fee amount. If that is used up, we probably have a problem and we’ll have to take it from there with a new design fee agreement ….

I hope this is clear and that it will help both me and my customers to understand that design is not something that happens but is a sometimes complicated and time consuming process. And, time is really all we’ve REALLY got.. "

Here are the other comments ...
UK Workshops .. Project,Shops and Pat Mistakes Forum UK Workshops
Fine woodworking 'Knots' Forum

ORIGINAL POST starts here ...

Ok .... I'd really appreciate some comments here. I recently had a potential customer who was referred to me by a fellow woodworker and friend. She wanted to have a 'special' table made and was in kind of a hurry... 'in the next month' I believe were the words in her initial email. My friend thought I would be perfect for the job as I have several employees, try to be flexible with my scheduling and enjoy the kind of inlay work she said she was interested in. Time was short so I sent her some sketches. Then I sent her some CAD drawings. Then we went back and forth and back and forth until my inbox looked like this (click the photo to enlarge it) ...
and my sent messages had 14messages sent to her, AND, I have a different computer at work where I was also sending messages regarding this project. I thought the design concept could be cool and I was interested, but she was not interested in any wood except quilted big leaf maple and was stunned by the cost (as was I) of solid wood in that species. So, I said I would try to do an inlay in the commercial veneer she liked. Typically if we are inlaying abalone in veneer we make our own 1/8" thick veneer so we can actually sand the in lay after it's stuck in there. . Commercial veneer is only a 42nd of an inch thick so there's not much room for sanding. Then, I can't believe I actually did this without a deposit, but I made a sample inlay (above) (from her photo) to see if we could do an abalone inlay in commercial veneer and Trevor pulled it off. In the end it all went bad. She said she mailed me a check from in state on a Wednesday, and it hadn't come by the following Monday, plus, I had some 'normal' jobs com in in the meantime, (meeting, drawing, check) plus, she no longer liked my cattail design, which I copied from the photo that she sent me and the inlay was the wrong size ... By that time, I couldn't order the veneer and get the table done in time so I told her I could do it later when we had more time to work on the design, or cancel the job and send her check back minus a small design fee. Well she flipped out on me and stopped payment on the check !.... What do you all think???? Big, complicated jobs, no problem ... We do a little design work for free and then we're on the clock. Smaller jobs, (1000-5000),at what point does the designer bring up a design fee ??? After the first sketch?The second. third or 10th email? After thirty years I should have a handle on this, but, I admit, I don't. Design is the fun part of it for me and I like to think I'm pretty quick at it so normally it's not a problem on a smaller job. But, occasionally, and more often lately, with inquiries from the internet and the economy not so robust, it seems like I (we ALL) should have some kind of policy to cover instances like this .... Comments anyone? Please ....

My first email response

Her dragonfly pushplate photo and my drawing over it

My first CAD drawing

The final folder before the end ....


TheWoodWhisperer said...

Excellent and fundamental question! I never really charged a design fee as I was nervous that it might cost me the job. But I always felt like I was being naive by NOT doing so. Even now, I have a few emailers that I have been having ongoing conversations about their finishing woes. I only wish it stopped at 10 emails. Some of these folks are up to 30-40! When and how do I draw the line?? At some point does it justify a consulting fee?? Who knows. I suppose its hard once that ball is rolling. But if I had some guidelines and rules in place ahead of time, I probably could save myself a lot of frustration. And I think had I continued down the road of making custom furniture for a living, as you do, I would have had no choice but to charge for consultations and design time.

Afterall, I am getting a new shop built and I can't get anyone to do more than a hand drawing on a napkin without an associated fee, lol. At the quality level you produce, your design time is very valuable.

So, all that said, I definitely think you should charge for anything that takes more than 5 minutes of your time.

Unknown said...

Do not charge a design fee or you risk having your work classified as "work for hire" and could lose control of your copyright.

I would have a non-refundable deposit at an early stage and include sketches, consultations etc. in that charge

Dorset Custom Furniture said...

Hi Marc and David ... This is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping to start. I KNOW it's a problem for nearly everyone in the custom furniture field and it's probably, mostly an 'education' issue and a 'here's my posted policy' issue. Let's see what comes of the discussion. David below has a valid point, however, in this day of web browsing do we really have any control over our designs anymore anyway? I get stuff all the time, particularly from interior designers, asking for quotes on pieces I know are from someone else's website .. but that's an issue for another discussion once we get this one further along. I also posted the questions on two other forums and as responses roll in I'll put up links to them. Thanks to everybody for participating ... I'm ready to deal with this (finally) ....

Unknown said...

This was a question I addressed a while back and I ended up stating up front to the customer that I charge a design fee of XX dollars per hour for design work, and the charge is refunded in the cost of the job if I build the job if not then the design fee is non refunded.
This give the customer an incentive to let me build the job or at lease cover the time I spent designing.
I actually had a customer take my drawings for a Kitchen to a friend and ask for a cheaper price since it was already designed, lucky for me he recognized my drawings and called me. Neither one of us ended up doing the job, we both figured anyone who would do that was probably trouble to work for.


Jeff Branch said...

I'm with Joey. If this is a new client, especially one that has no clue of what a design like this entails, I could see her freaking out. I once was working on a custom order that started out with a little back and forth and before I knew it, I was getting the order started and realized that I had nothing in writing. And, the customer was ticked when I insisted on a formal written order.

wv = sucksing

Aspen Custom Furniture said...

I deal with this on a case by case basis. If you are able to do the design quickly then there is no real need to charge a fee. In the case where there are multiple revisions to the design then by all means you should charge for design time. I don't think that charging for design makes any difference in 'copy right' issues for custom furniture makers. our work is usually unique and our clients chose us for that reason.