How much does one do for a fee….

I have just very recently had an unfortunate incident with a client  who seemed happy with the work I had been doing for her ,and it has made me question how I am doing business and in particular, how I am billing clients.

From the beginning of the project, my client was very open about the fact that she did not have a huge budget and I realised  that she would not be able to afford to pay  me to manage the project,so we agreed that I would simply be involved as a consultant …I would help her keep to her budget and to achieve the look she wanted.I also provided her with basic concept boards – something simple to give her the concept and idea with colours , fabrics and furniture.

I usually do not like to work like this as it can create all sorts of complications with suppliers and contractors-generally my contractors and suppliers are tried and tested and if they do not do good work, they simply do not get any more referrals or clients from me. In this case, my client decided  that she would shop around for the cheapest bidder. I warned her against that but she proceeded with a contractor who agreed to do the same job for about 20000Dhs less than my lowest estimate from my contractor.

I had deep reservations because there is a base line cost of fit out in Dubai and I was certain that her quote was lower than that but she would not take my recommendation  so I stepped back and she signed the contract. As you can  imagine..the result was horrific..the contractor was over budget, and the project was severely delayed and when I paid my first visit to site (at her request) the finishes were unacceptable. I made a list of issues and gave them to the contractor in an attempt to try and rectify some of the really bad mistakes-I wish I had taken photos! I also advised my client not to pay any more money until these issues or snags had been rectified. At this point my client was in floods of tears on a daily basis and was stressed beyond belief, and although I was never paid to actively get involved on site, I none the less tried to visit at least twice a week to try and keep things on track and eventually the project was completed. The last week was spent giving the space the final finishing touches…I hung wallpaper and artwork, I shopped IKEA on more than one occasion and also sourced cheap lighting and wall paper ,to save every cent that I could for my client , instead of using our local suppliers who are more expensive but who deliver and install! The bottom line is that I truly did my best to watch every penny, and make every decision being conscious of my client’s budget.

After the completion of the project, I presented invoices to my client for final payment-(not the design/consultant fee but additional items which I had purchased for her ,over and above the fee)….she refused to settle the bills claiming that I had not done enough work, in her opinion, to be able to charge her the original design fee agreed upon at the outset of the project. I was aghast and genuinely shocked as I honestly felt that I had done my absolute best…doing much more than the small fee actually covered.

If I have learned anything at all through this upsetting time, it is that as a designer, I need to monitor my time carefully and be more professional in dealing with clients…by that I simply mean that one has to separate feelings and sentiment from business. This is my challenge every day, because I love what I do and I tend to get carried away, wanting the space I am decorating to really look amazing, yet being mindful of the fact that my time is money…as most people in this business know, the rewards of doing a great job and seeing a client really happy with the job you have done are priceless, but you still have to attach a cost to the work you do.

So, back to my question…how much does one actually do for your fee, especially when a design concept fee  is a difficult thing to calculate other than time spent working on it….where do you draw the line?How do you charge for  intellectual property, like ideas and knowledge which we spend many years training for, yet is not something tangible?

5 thoughts on “How much does one do for a fee….

  1. In South Africa we work with the JBCC (the Joint Building Contracts Committee ) which is a minor works agreement. Together with a specification document ( containing preliminaries and preambles) which tables out everything pertaining to “The Works”. Two important words to remember…OFFER and ACCEPTANCE. always followed up in writing.

    Once Tenders are decided on and Contract signed one normaly aquires guarentees in some form or other to protect all parties. There are various ways of setting up guarentees.

    Include the table below in letter to client.

    The 5 stages of payment. 1 – 5.
    Work stages 1. Prop of fees 5 % Cumulative total 5 %
    Work stages 2. Prop of fees 15% Cumulative total 20 %
    Work stages 3. Prop of fees 15% Cumulative total 35 %
    Work stages 4. Prop of fees 40% Cumulative total 75 %
    Work stages 5. Prop of fees 25% Cumulative total 100 %
    Calculation of fee
    Estimated cost of the works R————-
    Designers fee ———–10% of R———— = R—————

    Stage 1. appraiseal and definition of the project.
    Appraise and report on the clients brief including the broad parameters of the proj, your defined requirements and a proj cost estimate.

    Stage 2. Design Concept
    The project scope statement shall be develoved to include design concept showing planned use of space, the proposed visual appearance with a prelim proj budget, Advice on Statutory Authority requirements.

    Stage 3. Technical Documentationm
    Translate and develop design into working drawings and specifications sufficient for tendering purposes. Submissions will also be made to local Authority.

    Stage 5. Contract Administration and Inspection\
    We will call for tenders and administer the contract and supervise the instalation of the works on site. In addition we will collate costs and prepare the final account.

    The client is now informed of all your responsibilities and costs.
    Any other costs are between her and the subcontractors and contractors in accordance to the JBBC Minor works agreement. They are to be presented to her in payment certificates in stages.

    Do whats specified by you (stages 1-5) and no more! It is never appreciated neither are you gaurenteed payment.

    Your costs are accounted for, The contractors will have to deal with the client and issues as they arise in accordance with the JBBC. as the contract is between the client and them.

    Hope this helps.

    Reference :
    Du Toit Cally; Durban University of Technology: Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design; Programme : Interior Design; Subject: Proffessional Design Practice II; (2009)

    1. Thanks for all the info LInd…it is a nightmare here because even with contracts (which we as a company have to have of course) the chances of suing someone in a case like this client , are minimal due to court expenses here….so no one bothers..and clients know this! There are no governing bodies like the JBCC here which could oversee all of this or at least monitor this kind of stuff…..its a disaster and in the case of the smaller companies (like ours) we just absorb the loss….I will definitely be adding these clauses to our contract, or at the very least re-wording our existing contract….so thanks so much Linda!

  2. Hi Jules, that is what I refer to as a “real toffee” I have also learned the hard way to keep business seperate from sentiment. it is that balance to still do something that you would proudly call a job well done, and a happy client..but the sad part is that we love what we do and “overspend” on our time because it is our passion. oh the price one pay for being creative! Colx

    1. Hey Col
      I am so glad that other designers have the same issues…I totally agree with you about overspending on our time…it is something I really struggle with …..but as you say,,,it is the price we have to pay!

  3. You are so right Col, I also redo furniture in paint techniques and restoration with Siphon and Mzumbia who work and live with me. We end up spending a great deal of loving creative energy on some pieces………hard to get to grips with time management ! however, there are some spin offs….as we never need to advertise as our business is word of mouth ! and we are always busy.


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