Potential Clients+Design Shopping=$0

  • Advertise with us

« back to Sweating for Bucks Through Woodworking forum

Forum topic by fineamerican posted 11-16-2009 04:56 AM 1494 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View fineamerican's profile


150 posts in 3316 days

11-16-2009 04:56 AM

I recently was commissioned to make a piece of furniture and found myself elbows deep in drawings. I really wanted this assignment because of the pay, and the left over wood due to the desired dimensions. I completed several drawings only to hear they werent viewable and then when they could be seen, I was answering dimensional questions that stirred my curiosty. I was thinking who cares about the 1 or 2 inch radius most people just say, “Thats sound nice”, and hand over a deposit. Was my design being studied? If so great, send back a more improved and edited version! Luckily this client hired me, but the uncertainty, potential lose of shop time taught me this lesson, DUH! I have recently discovered sketch up. I guess my question is what do most of you think about a design fee? Say I draw out a table, chairs for $150, you hire me I waive the fee. Give me $150 and keep the edited version!

-- John A. Thomas, South Carolina,

18 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117328 posts in 3779 days

#1 posted 11-16-2009 05:10 AM

Hey John
It sounds great but just like estimates and online research and cost of electricity, it’s the cost of doing business.
I suppose it depends on your clients if they say yes to every thing you suggest and $ 150 is not a big deal to them then go for it.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3792 days

#2 posted 11-16-2009 05:15 AM

I just went through the same thing. I was designing a custom table and hand drew it to scale several times. He assured me that everything was going great and he would need it before thanksgiving. After I submitted my final design he told me he loved it and it looked great. Had to discuss it with his wife. I haven’t heard from him since. I have a feeling he was taking advantage of my design skills and took the design to a builder in his area. These things happen, and I’ve always said I was going to charge a design fee. I even have a design contract. I was thinking that I would do the drawings for X amount of money, then if I got the job it would just come out of the cost and be free, however, if they went else where I kept the money for time spent. I haven’t implemented it yet. I think after this last client I will.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View fineamerican's profile


150 posts in 3316 days

#3 posted 11-16-2009 01:29 PM

Good feedback guys, I appreciate it. Have a safe week!

-- John A. Thomas, South Carolina,

View evenfall's profile


5 posts in 3316 days

#4 posted 11-16-2009 02:34 PM

These days even a realtor will not show you a house unless they know in advance you pre-qualify for the money to buy one, They won’t show you houses you can’t afford to buy, and then, they ask you to sign a 6-month contract to work exclusively with them, so as to assure they are who gets paid for the effort. If in that time they do not sell you a home then you are free to find another realtor. See how they have moved to protect their efforts on behalf of the client. If they didn’t, all the people who kick tires and never buy would break them up in business.

If you take the car in to the mechanic to work on, he punches the clock before he puts or car in the shop. He also puts all his tools away, and cleans up his stall before he punches the time clock off your car. Why should he get his tools out for free? If not for you, his tools could stay in the box. If not for you, his stall would have remained clean. It is just business, and business has costs that need paid somehow.

Typically Interior designers do not work for free. They design on the clock. Many of those designers have a couple different woodworkers/furniture makers/cabinet makers at their disposal. They commission the woodworker based on paid for designs, and you the wood worker may work on a 1/2 in advance or all up front pay schedule. You get what you negotiate.

So, since we get what we negotiate I think a couple things. One, too many Woodworkers undervalue their time and work. If you are not a serious player in the earn money for your time game, the artificially low prices you offer have a ripple effect in the market place and harm those who need to pay the bills. So it is important to learn what is appropriate to charge for the work, as in know what is market value and charge it.

Then negotiate for the work like this. If you design the work, charge a fee. Period. It is your life energy. When you are exchanging your life energy for cash, it is important to get the best rate you can. So charge full price for your design time, but tell your client that you will either discount your design price or absorb it if you build the piece.

If you do this, remember, if a design is brought to you to build, someone likely got paid to design it. (usually) It is the cost of doing business. so I’d caution you not to absorb it all. Offering a discount on the design work is fair if they commission the piece with you. If they take your design elsewhere, at least you got paid for your time and life energy, and I feel that is more than fair.

Above all, if your are throwing your hat in the ring as a business, think of what all you have to pay for, and think of what all others have to as well. Why hurt everyone by forcing the value of work down? If the work becomes worthless, then why do it? The only good way to work is sustainably profitable way.

Sorry that’s long, but it is the big picture.

-- ~Rob

View fineamerican's profile


150 posts in 3316 days

#5 posted 11-16-2009 02:59 PM

Thats a very good way to look at it. Thanks for your time in replying and for your knowledge.

-- John A. Thomas, South Carolina,

View WhittleMeThis's profile


125 posts in 3574 days

#6 posted 11-16-2009 03:29 PM

I design items considering them similar to an estimate (no fee) I send customers a 2d rendering (sketch up export .jpg file, not a sketch-up file) without dimension. Designs are my property and once you have a bunch I just modify prior designs so cost goes way down. I agree with Jim, its a cost of doing business, and at first a significant start up cost, but if you are going to compete with other builders, design fees may be a killer when the customer is evaluating several builder’s designs.

View SteveMI's profile


1124 posts in 3496 days

#7 posted 11-16-2009 03:55 PM

I provide early design information in pdf format without many dimensions until there is a commitment with some manner of money. Several reasons; people are shopping for price they can afford, they don’t know what the job should cost for the way you are going to do it, you need something to talk with them over and if they don’t commit there is a minimal loss of time.

I did have one time that a potential customer started asking quite a few questions about the process to make the item, material sources and tools needed. Politely I told them that each craftsman has their own methods and mine wouldn’t necessarily work for someone else. It came out that they thought the cost was too high and a relative might do it. I ate a big amount of design time on that and had to write it off to lesson learned.

As the customer or situation appears more serious, I will take it further. I never provide the detailed design information until the job is complete or the money in in my hand.

Jim has a point that the design time is a cost of business. I agree for normal type of work, but think that when the customer has a very custom application, wants unique materials or require exacting dimensions, then there is a good argument for additional fee.

Actually, I have never been able to actually charge the full amount of the time taken to do the design work. I’ve waived it to get into a new type of product, discounted it to attempt getting a repeat customer or wrote it off if the customer is going to be beneficial to get referrals.

Of course, maybe I just need to learn how to design faster or more experience will let me quote faster.


View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3487 days

#8 posted 11-17-2009 05:02 AM

John, I agree with Jim, it is the cost of doing business. I also agree with evenfall, if we don’t respect our own time, then we can’t expect others to…....and I agree with just about everything the others have said. Now is that straddling the fence or what? LOL. I’ve been struggling with this for the past 20 some years and there is no cut and dry answer. You have to decide where you want the cost of business to come from…... If you spend a lot of time designing and not charging for it and you don’t get the job, you’ve lost money. If you tell a client you charge $150.00 or whatever for a design fee and they walk away, you’ve lost money. There are good arguements for both, but only you can decide what you think will work best for you. I could spend hours talking about this subject, but will leave it at that. drop me a line if you would like to talk more on this one.

-- John @

View bruc101's profile


1260 posts in 3743 days

#9 posted 11-17-2009 06:12 AM

One thing I was taught many years ago in my family business was not to give your designs away. We used the drafting board for years until CAD showed up and then we changed over to CAD because it was much faster for us. When i do a design for someone and I’m ready to show it to them then I invite them back to my shop and show it to them on a laptop, not in my office on a pc where they can see printers and a plotter. If they ask for a copy of it, and unless I’ve done business with these people before, then they don’t walk out the door with a free copy of their designs. If I know these people and have done business with them before then I’ll give them a reg size copy with no dimensions and if they do the deal with me then I’ll plot them a set of 24×36 inch drawings. I also use templates to print and plot my drawings on with my business name on them
I have a friend that recently gave four designs to four different people, two of them showed up at my shop for a price from us and he later told me he didn’t get any of the jobs and I certainly didn’t under-cut him when I saw his drawings. I told the people to leave them with me and I would give them a price but they refused to leave me the drawings. I was going to call my friend and get his price and then over bid him.
Your design time is just as important as your build time and you should get paid for it if they’re going to walk out the door with them. I also never email my drawings nor do I give dimensions and price on the phone unless I personally know the people.

-- Bruce Free Plans

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 3550 days

#10 posted 11-22-2009 09:07 PM

Comparing pricing models of services that are required (auto mechanic) vs desired (furniture making) is flawed. Any service that is considered by the necessary will have a pricing advantage in comparison to a service to a service that is desirable but not required.

Many (but not all) interior designers actually do ‘give away’ their design service under the conditions that all purchases are made through them. They make their money on markup of goods bought. As an architect who has worked with interior designers I know this to be the case.

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View OhValleyWoodandWool's profile


970 posts in 3322 days

#11 posted 11-26-2009 12:57 AM

One thing I try to avoid is what I call “unpaid consulting”. This is where a potential client will pick your brain on design, dimensions, techniques whatever and give the commisiion to their “nephew” or the local hobbiest with the lowest price and absolutely no idea what their time is worth. A commitment should be made without to much detail on a specific piece but on your portfolio of past work. Before I do any serious design work I get a non-refundable deposit, a second installment when a design is agrred on, a third before I buy lumber and the final payment on delivery.

Remamber the 1st rule of sales “Some Will, Some Won’t, Who Cares, Who’s Next” and move on if the prospect decides not to commission the piece from you.

p.s. The second rule of sales is also interesting. “If ererybody else is doing it STOP! IMMEDIATELY!!!”


-- "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure." Mark Twain

View MoreWoodPlease's profile


95 posts in 3375 days

#12 posted 11-26-2009 01:26 AM

To: Evenfall;
Hogwash. I am a Realtor, and I take people out to see homes all the time without any fee, only the notion that if I present myself well, show the homes that are requested, and BE HONEST with people, they will use me throughout. Your insinuation about Realtor’s is insulting. Being a Realtor is different then just a real estate salesperson, Realtor’s have a code of ethics, a fiduciary obligation, and standards. Also, the term “Realtor” is trademarked, yet you use it to describe all real estate salespeople. Educate yourself about the trades you refer. I now must also question your skills as a woodworker, and caution others that view your comments as nothing more then commentary, not advise and instruction. I will also forward your comments to the National Board of Realtors.

-- Integrity is who we are when no one else is watching.

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 3550 days

#13 posted 11-26-2009 01:39 AM

Oh dear, please don’t report him to the National Board of Realtors, I am sure he didn’t mean what he said…. Good God have some mercy, we are all capable of grave errors in judgment, won’t you please reconsider… if not for Evenfall then think of the children…

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View MoreWoodPlease's profile


95 posts in 3375 days

#14 posted 11-26-2009 01:51 AM

Funny, I like that. Thanks for bringing me down. You are of course right. Please don’t confuse a passion for a craft, be it Woodworking, or selling homes, for arrogance, for I do what I do with a passion, and defend it with the same.

jlsmith5963’s quote: “criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of a artistic work…”, but, who decides what is “art” and who is determining “quality”?

-- Integrity is who we are when no one else is watching.

View MoreWoodPlease's profile


95 posts in 3375 days

#15 posted 11-26-2009 01:57 AM

Customers, that’s who.

-- Integrity is who we are when no one else is watching.

showing 1 through 15 of 18 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics