Motivational Monday: Value Your Work…

Artist Quote

This weekend, I had an email exchange I wanted to share ……

Dear Courtney –

I recently discovered you from your SF Chronicle profile and love your work. In particular, I love the condo you did in SF that was profiled on Pop Sugar recently. I was curious where you got the furniture in the living room and dining room. I can’t hire you but I was hoping you would willing to share where you got everything from so I could recreate it.

Thank you,

XXXXX

—–
I responded with this ….

Dear XXXX –

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. The space you are referring to was one of my favorites to work on with the client. It really is a great space that highlights some really great design and paint techniques. I can’t in good faith give you my resources since my client made a considerable investment in having me complete that space. It would be unfair to them and also unfair to me since designing spaces is how I earn my living.

However, I am happy to talk with you to see if we could do a scaled back version that would fit your budget. Hiring an interior designer isn’t as cost prohibitive as many people believe. In any case, thank you again and all the best.

Regards –

Courtney
——

And this was her response ……

Courtney –

I think it’s stupid you are asking me to pay to work with you. The stuff is out there and I am sure if I searched I could find it myself. I thought I would ask to be nice but clearly you are full of yourself.

You have a high regard for your work (which is only ok) ….

Whatever.

I share this not to publicly ridicule the woman who wrote this but to address a point that I have encountered over the last two years doing design.  Among some circles there is a notion that what artists, designers and other creators of beauty do is not “work”.  That the hours of training, years of experience and a career of cultivating industry contacts isn’t work.  That negotiating with vendors, strategizing with contractors and working hand-in-hand with fine craftspersons isn’t work.  That guiding clients through a myriad of decisions, juggling a budget with 100s of moving parts and ensuring that your own business affairs are running smoothly isn’t work.  In one sense, they are right, it isn’t work because work has an inferred concept of a definite start and end.  For many of us, we just don’t “work”, we live our careers…..

A career is defined as “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.”  We sacrifice weekends, nights, family events and sleep to make sure our clients are happy. In turn clients pay us for our dedication to the craft and attention to detail.  The investment our clients make is one in their happiness but also a reaffirmation of their trust in our skills.  Their investment ensures that we can pay our bills, pay our employees, pay our vendors and when all is said and done, pay ourselves.  You see here is the dirty secret about design, I have to pay everyone who works on a project.  No one works for free as much as I would like them to but alas I have not figured out that hat trick.  I run a business and as such, need to compensate my employees.

Yes, employees.  I bankroll on any given project, a minimum of 10 different craftspersons, trades and labor.  The business of “pretty” isn’t easy work, regardless of what blogs, tv and magazines say.  There is blood, sweat and the occasional tears (mostly from me) to ensure that a client’s project not just meets but exceeds expectations.  So when you ask me to work for free, understand I am not saying “no” because I am some greedy designer looking to bilk you out of your hard-earned cash.  It’s because I value my vision.

Envisioning a space and figuring out how to execute on that vision is my job.  In some way, my job is no different from most others – I go into my office with a list of tasks to complete to ensure that a project moves forward.  But here is the difference; I don’t believe anyone would stand for being told that their co-worker wants to copy their project, claim it as their own and receive no additional compensation.  Why?  Because they value their work and see it as their own.  Now imagine if you have already been paid for said project, gave it to your client who thought they had something unique only to discover that the project they had paid you for was given in its entirety to another organization to use for free?  Don’t you think that your reputation in the industry would quickly be tarnished and eventually people would stop seeking your services?

If you want to knock me off, that is one thing but I will not be an accomplice.  In its base form, I am stealing from my client.  But on a larger level, I am now stealing from the countless people I employed to help me complete this project because there is a strong possibility you will not seek out their services to recreate the space.  Last and on a meta level, I am devaluing myself.  By giving away my work for free, I send the signal to every person that my work is not worth payment.  That my experience, vision and execution is something that should not be valued and compensated.  In the end, I give to you for free and rob myself ……

So you see XXXX, I do think of myself highly.  But I also think highly of my clients and my extremely talented team.  It’s only you that I don’t think highly of……

[pictures courtesy yours truly..]

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9 thoughts on “Motivational Monday: Value Your Work…

  1. I can’t believe anyone would be so brash and full of THEMselves to ask you to provide your services for free. If she’s so confident that all it takes is a little internet searching, then let her search the web herself. That’s how most of us who can’t afford designer pieces recreate rooms we see in magazines on a budget! The nerve!

  2. Excellent!! I have written and rewritten this same post. Just never hit ‘publish’. So many of us have experienced this same exchange too many times to count. You explained it perfectly.

  3. Courtney, thank you for sharing this post. I am not a designer, but I have great appreciation for you and others in the creative industries. I also love following your blog and seeing your inspired designs!

    There was an article on Houzz recently that also details the countless things that designers do and all of the work, art, and planning that goes into the craft: http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/16696937/list/10-Things-Decorators-Want-You-to-Know-About-What-They-Do . This article and your post today offer excellent information about your career. Thank you!🙂

  4. I think your answer was a very well written one. It seems like many people still don’t understand that “work” can come in many shapes, and that people with a more creative work also need to charge for their income. Be happy that you are not a writer/speaker, you wouldn’t believe how many times they get asked to speak for free because “it could be a good opportunity for you”.

    On another note, it was VERY interesting to learn more about the design work. Is there any chance you could post more about that? I’ve always wondered who employs the craftsmen etc, and it would be so interesting to hear more about the actual process from start to finish.

    • Jess –

      On occasion I try to profile the process of some of the custom pieces I do in the series Pen to Paper where I show the concept, sketch, rendering and finally the finished product. But truly following the pieces from start to finish is a time consuming process and a matter of hit-and-miss as I will have several items in production with several different vendors, some of which are not in the local area. Second, as much as some of my vendors love the attention, many have no interest in being in the limelight so I need to respect their wishes. Last, their workrooms are a dangerous place (esp those wood working guys) and having a photographer in the way trying to get a shot can be distracting and potentially hazardous endeavor for all parties involved. However, with that said, I do try to profile artisans and their work under the Talkign Out Loud series I do where I interview shop owners, craftpersons and other trades about their work. A link is in the header….

      Thank you again for your kind response and I will try my best to “lift the veil” when appropriate🙂

  5. Thank you for articulately the values of those small and big businesses that make our country great. That is why I am a Republican. I don’t think people should believe everything is free. You work hard. You should be paid for your work. And so should every corporate executive. I wish more people understood that economic concept.

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