How To Charge For Design

Getting paid for design work's not easy, but some markets will bear it. April 10, 2005

I have been asked to do some design work for a library. Others will also be bidding on these work stations. I've told them the design fee will be deducted from the price if I get the job. What I'd like to know is how do I collect the fee, and when?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor L:
Get the fee by giving your client an invoice for the design. We get all of our design fees upfront. It is way too hard to get them after you've given even an oral presentation of your design.

From contributor J:
I do all the designing by hand and charge for the time spent. If the client wishes to see an interpretation of the final product, I include it in my bid and don't draw anything until the deposit is made. My friend charges 50.00ph up front, whether it be by hand or computer.

From contributor B:
I get the design fee up front. The designs are theirs, and they can use them to shop around if they want. If I do the work, the design fee is deducted from the total. If somebody else does the work, I've still made the design fee. If I don't want to build it after designing it (I realize the customer is going to be a pain to work with), I make sure I don't have the lowest bid. I've still made the design fee!

From contributor M:
I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the premise of getting paid for a bid in a commercial project. I have never been paid for designing work in the estimating process, mostly residential, and I mean full blown presentations (I use KCDW), including in most cases site visits. I do not provide drawings, though. I have spent over 30 hours working on at least a couple of projects, tweaking here and there with absolutely no remuneration.

Most involve three or four hours. I know you who do get paid for this type of work would say that I should insist on charging. Well, as it is, we have been extremely busy for the last four years, so I can afford to risk losing a potential new customer by asking for a fee upfront. I explained the process and I have not had a single taker. So, it has become the cost of doing business kind of thing. After all, it is an opportunity to sell. I do have the luxury of not having to get involved in the production aspect (I wish I could), so I have more time than most to pursue sales. We are not no garage operation either (6400sq ft, CNC equipment, etc.). I should raise my prices, you say? Well, I have. As far as I know, we are now the second highest priced cabinetmakers in town. So, you get paid a design fee upfront? I am envious, definitely. More power to you. I am pleased not only to be where my little company is at, but more importantly, the prospects of where it soon may be.

From contributor B:
In his original post, the questioner said that he had been asked to do some design work and that others would be bidding on the work. I got the idea that he was going to do the design that everyone would be bidding on. If that was the case, he should be paid for the design work.

Yes, I get paid for design work. I'll offer a free estimate based on blueprints and meeting with a client. If they want the drawings, they ought to be willing to pay me for the drawings. I get a $350 design fee. Once I get that, I'll email drawings back and forth with the client to assure that we design just what they want. I'll do a number of revisions. If they don't like price or timeline once we finish the design, that's fine. They've got their drawings and I get paid for the design work. That design fee is applied to the price of the work, so it really doesn't cost them anything if I do the work. If I don't do the work, I still get paid. I've done several drawings before I started charging for design, and they took my drawings to other shops and got cheaper prices. If I didn't spend so much time on design, I could bid lower. If the lowest bidder doesn't have to do any design, it is no wonder he is cheaper and I'm left out in the cold. Different strokes for different folks, but that's just the way I do business. It hasn't hurt me, but has actually been good for me. Actually, the drawings I email clients look so good that my drawings have been good advertising for my business. It looks more impressive than hand-drawn sketches on a yellow legal pad that lots of other shops use. The client feels good that they've got nice drawings, and at $350, I'm a lot cheaper than some of the esoteric designers in town.

From contributor M:
You make a good point. If that is the case (that the design was to be put out for others to bid as well), then it would make sense to get paid for the work. Even though I do not charge for the estimating process, I do have a sign prominently displayed in front of where I do the presentations that reads "Drawings will only be provided upon a $200 to $500 nonrefundable design fee charge, depending on the complexity of the work. This charge will be deducted from the total should an order be placed." This precludes people asking for the drawings, or I will point the sign out if they ask to get them. Even I do draw the line somewhere.