Today I wanted to cover the dos and don’ts of providing online interior design services. Pre-pandemic, interior designers would ask me, should I provide E-Design services? Now, almost every designer has been providing some combination of online/virtual E-Design interior design services (whether they’re profitable or not!)
I love E-Design; in fact, it’s the reason why my young architectural and interior design business took off! E-Design was my signature service. But the vital thing to note is that my services were profitable because I created specific services around a virtual business model, and that’s the biggest mistake I see interior designers making with online interior design services – they’re not profitable.
So before we get into the dos and don’ts of providing online interior design services, let’s take a look at what E-Design is and what it is not.
E-Design is a low-cost interior design service. It’s NOT a replica of your main interior design services provided over the internet. Why not? Predominantly because there are only so many interior services you can undertake without entering a client’s property, and only so much value clients see in those services.
That’s not to say that you can’t make a decent living as an interior designer offering E-Design alone. I did, and my mentees do all the time, but the key is creating a specific E-Design service and not just taking your current services and making them virtual.
Take a regular interior design project, for example. More than 50% of the work you’re doing requires you to be on-site, meeting with clients or other consultants/manufacturers or requires you to have absolutely accurate information about the property (requiring a house survey).
A typical full-service might look like this:
If you’re running this type of project from start to finish, depending on how you market your service and who your target market is, you really could charge whatever you want for this and get it! Also, the potential for what you can earn (depending on what your clients are willing to pay for your service) is limitless.
If you swapped this same service like-for-like, however, and tried to make it an E-Design, you’d be hard-pressed to get anywhere near the same fee because much of the work you were being paid to do needs to be done by someone else – namely, the client.
Also, the higher value items on the list, such as project management, sourcing, and installation, are all removed because you can’t provide these services remotely (or shouldn’t). In that case, someone else still has to do the leg-work. So part of the designer’s fee goes to someone else to do the physical labour of the job.
Let’s look at the service we have above. Suppose that was what we referred to as our “lucrative offering” or our traditional interior design service. In that case, as an E-Design, we could offer an affordable version of that service by selling advice or design only.
That means that the clients who want to work with us but don’t want to invest in the expensive offer can still get the design ideas and advice from you, but they would do the manual labour of putting the project together themselves.
So your E-Design version of the above service might look something like this:
It depends on what kind of E-Design services you want to offer, who you’re selling your services to (ideal client) and then, of course, how much you want to earn or make from that service. I’ll use myself as an example.
When I started, I provided a similar E-Design service to the one I described above. I sold this service for £1500 (approx. $2000 US) for a small property and £3K (approx. $4000 US) for a large one (don’t forget that typical houses are much smaller here in the UK than they are abroad). In my first year of business, I had undertaken over sixty E-Design projects.
But after two years and hundreds of completed E-Designs, I was bored and tired. I wanted to work on larger projects with fewer clients, less turnaround of projects, and higher fees per project. I wanted to get into detail, run a project from start to finish again and design everything right down to the last detail.
I had the option to hire more staff, keep the E-Design part of the business running, and take on the larger projects myself. Still, to do that, I would have to change my marketing, grow my office to employ more people and go to an office every day to oversee and manage all the projects. That wasn’t what I wanted.
In contrast, if I let go of the E-Design service, I could take on two to four large projects each year and earn more overall with considerably fewer work hours, less admin and less marketing efforts. So for a designer like myself, who wanted to work on large, luxury or traditional full interior design projects, E-Design was no longer the right service for me.
The main dos and don’ts of providing online interior design services are to remember that E-Design isn’t suitable for everyone! Why not? Because there are so many different configurations of interior design services that we can provide as designers, depending on our niche, our client type and of course, our skillset, and these don’t all lend themselves to online design. Just take the design-source/purchase-install model, for example – these were the first interior design businesses to suffer during lockdowns because they weren’t digitally viable. They required you to physically be somewhere in order to provide the service.
So who should consider providing online interior design services?
Of course, sitting behind your computer and working on your own or holding virtual meetings all day isn’t for everyone. Many designers joined the profession because they considered themselves to be practical and hands-on, liked to meet with people and wanted to be active rather than sit around behind the scenes all day!
Also, No one wants to provide services that aren’t profitable, and not all interior design services can be offered online successfully because we deliver a physical product after all!
So what kinds of interior businesses should avoid the E-Design route?
Don’t forget that if you want to provide a low-level offering in your interiors business, such as an E-Design service alternative to your high-ticket offering, then you can do that. You just need to be creative and see how you can create a new offering based on a virtual set of services (and not simply try to deliver your current service over the internet).
We’ve looked at what online services are and what constitutes an excellent online interior design service, and we have also looked at who these services are suitable for and wrong for. To finish off, let’s highlight the key dos and don’ts of providing online interior design services.
If you’ve been asking yourself, “should I provide online design services?” but you tried, and the services weren’t profitable, you might have been going about your E-Design service structure all wrong. If you provide E-Design services, make sure they’re specifically designed around an online business model rather than replicating existing interior design services and making them virtual.
In contrast, if you have been offering E-Design services and feel you’re ready for a change, maybe it’s time to restructure your marketing and business plan and offer a more traditional full-service instead, remembering that E-Design isn’t right for every interior design business.