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How Should I Turn Down Working for Free as an Interior Designer?

interior design

client communication

Repeat after me: No, I will not work for free!

Words by 

Sophia Angel Lou Quiachon

Published on 

April 4, 2023

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If you've worked in the interior design industry for some time, you won't be a stranger to having clients try and wangle services and add-ons for free. If you're just starting out as an interior designer, you likely know no different. Self-confidence and strong will are essential in keeping sight of your professional value. The more you know your worth, the easier it is to say no to free work and stand for your prices.  That being said, the art of saying no can't be learned overnight—it takes years of practice!

One thing is for sure though, declining to work for free is most definitely worth it! You reserve your time to connect with interior design clients who genuinely value your skills, and you're compensated justly for your time and expertise. You deserve it!

Don't know where to start? Start putting these tips into practice to learn to say "no" to offering your interior design services for free.

Don't leave things open to interpretation

Before signing the contract, be crystal clear about your services. What's the scope of the project? What areas are up for negotiation? What are your limitations? Stating these upfront will save any debates about what is or isn't included in the price of your design packages later down the lane. There is no harm in accommodating "minor" requests but if those requests turn out to be not so minor feel confident in explaining that you're happy to accommodate the tweaks, for an additional fee for it. You could give a quick financial breakdown, or an estimate of the extra hours you need to achieve their goal in order to better illustrate why you charge the way you do—odds are once a client understands how hard you work, they'll be more than willing to compensate you.

If they still aren't willing to pay the extra, decline politely but firmly. As much as you don't want to get underpaid, you also don't want to ruin your relationship with a potential client.

Separate work and personal life

"Mates rates?" You've probably heard that line at least once in your life, if not more. It's especially popular among relatives and friends who hope to get free services and advice in exchange for kindness. Of course, it is tempting to use your expertise to help out your loved ones but you have to draw the line somewhere. A good way to get around this situation without upsetting anyone could be to point them in the direction of any promo services you're currently offering. You could consider working out a family & friends discount but be frugal in who you offer it out to, you're not entitled to give every acquaintance free labour! If in doubt, just be honest. Explain to your close ones that you cannot afford to work for free at the moment, they won't want to see you go underpaid. It's amazing to have great friends, but their friendship doesn't pay the bills!

Get what you give

When starting out as an interior designer, it is tempting to work for free in order to boost your portfolio and acquire new clients. Whilst we don't discourage taking on exciting projects for the sake of growing as an interior designer and investing in your future, it is important that you see some compensation for your efforts. Perhaps your client works in social media marketing and could offer you some free advice in growing your social media presence in return, or perhaps they're a chef at your favourite restaurant—a free meal would be nice right?

Don't be shy to ask for a little something in return for your services, be reasonable but don't be bashful. Your hard work deserves to be recognised and rewarded.

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