Increase my fees? How is that possible?

We were walking out of a clients office when I heard something I never thought I would hear.  Here's the story.  One of my referring brokers and I were meeting with his client to program and plan their new space.  A typical scenario.  The client was an engineer and as engineers do, he peppered me with questions on whether they should do "this" or "that" as he worked his way through his decision process. 

All along the way, with each question, I would respond with the cost and timing impact on making either choice, then make my recommendation to him on the choice to make to meet his goals of design, budget and timing.  It was a good meeting and we left with decisive information and were able to move quickly forward with his planning and design.

"It was as simple as that.  Within a short time frame, I had moved from Architect to trusted advisor with this client."

In the parking lot my broker looked at me and said, "You know, you should consider increasing your fee based on the service, information and knowledge you impart that help my clients make educated choices and great decisions."  I am pretty sure I have never heard those words used together in one sentence before.  But, that message was strong and clear.  Clients will pay a premium for quality advice and sincere unbiased professional recommendations.  It was as simple as that.  Within a short time frame, I had moved from Architect to trusted advisor with this client.

I have mentored many young professionals who have excellent experience and offer clients options and choices, but stop short of making the recommendation needed to guide the client.  I worked with a very savvy building owner who had replaced their designer because he lacked the ability to advise.  He was a good designer and prepared ample design sketches and variations but lacked the confidence to actually recommend the best option and properly advise the client.  I took over and the client was greatly relieved to accept my recommendations each time I offered.

"The flip side is that clients may ask for recommendations as a way of testing our skills and experience.  Don't second guess their questions, just let your experience be your guide."

Part of the process that makes providing recommendations so valuable is the early programming and visioning discussion with the client.  This is where the designer listens to the client and prompts questions that delve deep into the issues that need solutions and how those solutions will work.  It's a conversation that allows the designer to see inside the clients mind and gain insight into their culture and style .  I like to share stories about other clients and best practices we applied to their solutions to test the waters of each client's tolerance for accepting more innovative design.

As a result of all this we doubled our fee over a short period of time, testing the water with each increment of increase.  We lost no clients and in fact often incorporated recommendations about design and process to clients right in the interview for the project. The flip side is that clients may ask for recommendations as a way of testing our skills and experience.  Don't second guess their questions, just let your experience be your guide.

By the way, that client became a long term multi-project client over the next 7 years until he sold the business as planned.  If I can help you understand if improved fees might be in your future, give me a call.  It could have a major impact on your firm.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com