See, this one time, I hired one of those online design companies that got lots of funding. Just for research. Okay, and I wanted to see if they could come up with something better than I could.
Perhaps it's not fair for an interior designer to hire another interior designer firm to see what the experience is like, but I did it anyway. And I wanted to see how it feels to be the client.
Here's how it went...
Found one virtual design site that will rename nameless. I pay for a design. I spent 45 minutes measuring my space, finding inspiration photos, taking photos and answering questions. I upload them all.
A few hours later the owner of this website remembers me from my "designer days", which were very much like my Dance Hall Days, and tells me that there is some non-compete deal in their terms of service and offers me a refund. I, not being a "designer" anymore am befuddled and get my money back.
I went back and forth offering the job to designers I know, but felt that could get way too weird. That's when I decided I needed to go incognito. I know that some of my designer peeps are working at the virtual design websites and I wanted this to be as objective as possible. So I made my hubby create the project, but, people eventually figured it out. #fail
Posing as my husband, I create a project on a website that I won't mention. I went with their most expensive package at $599. This is to allow me to have only their very experienced designers bid on the project.
I upload my floorplan, and photos of the space, but can't find the spot to put my "inspiration" photos. I could have linked my Pinterest account but I'm trying to be incognito here.
I get an email letting me know I can upload inspiration photos as comments to the "Design Brief". Kind of a weird spot to do that, but whatever. I feel better that I can share my desire for dark, glam and skulls.
I check in and not a single soul has a given me a "First Look" (aka a preliminary design). I'm sad because I'm totes impatient. L&W lets me know I could invite designers that have a style I like to the project. I see members of my community and decide not to draw more attention to myself. Plus, I didn't really see anyone specializing in dark, glam and skulls.
I check in again to my account, and there is no ideas for me to check on. I wonder if my design project has been eschewed to the "no one wants to design a dark skull glam office" round file. Virtual tears run down my face.
My first two proposals come in. What?! Is this not the project everyone wants to clamor for? (Someone could rock this as a niche *hint hint*)
I give a quick glance to both and decide to ruminate.
Another design idea came in. And comments. Designers asking for more information. I answer questions to clarify.
I pick a design. It was what I had in my head for the most part. And because I don't want to go traipsing around the internet to source it all, I'm happy someone else's brain thinks like mine. And secretly I'm glad when wearing my "interior design cap" that I wasn't alone in coming up with this idea. (Which should also prove to everyone that many people can have the same idea, it's about the nuances of it.)
I like most of the design. I'm not a animal print person, so I ask her to switch it out. The wallpaper on the back wall has some music graphics as a nod to my inner rock 'n roll chick. I wanted skulls.
My final design is ready and sitting in their online project area. I print it and it prints out totally wonky (i.e. not formatted properly so text is cut off in weird spots). Maybe they don't want me printing it because they just want me to shop through their website for my stuff?
Overall I like the design, so I don't ask for any further revisions.
When I get the shopping list I see the wallpaper for the back wall is $700+ and I'm not totally in love with it. It's better than the last choice, but I'm not in love, so I hold off on wallpapering the wall. I'll go shopping online tomorrow and see what else strikes my fancy.
I go through the shopping list that my designer provided in more detail. I know I told her I liked it, but when I go shopping, I find a bunch of other things I like a lot better. She had picked a rug out for me, but I already had another rug in mind (which she did spec for me).
The bookcase specified I did like, but later found something that looked sturdier, prettier and for about the same price on Overstock. I buy it.
The pink skull when I look at it online looks like something a kid made in a craft class. I find a metal one online.
I love the lamp on my "desk" and order it. Discover later that the shade is translucent and I don't love that.
The wastebasket? I'm crushing, but paying over a hundred dollars for something to hold my trash seems kinda ridic.
In an effort to not regret my decisions later, I nix the whiteboard with a pink frame for now. Cute, yes... but I think I'll wait for something else to really grab me.
I play around with the space plan some more. The plan they designed is what I already have. I've been playing around with options on my own, but ask my designer buddies for feedback. I have a new plan in mind.
I go on Home Advisor to find a painter. I sign up, put in my zip and what I need. I get a list on the screen of people I can call. That list isn't what I thought I'd get. I could find a list of people in the Yellow Pages or through a Google search.
I go on Thumbtack. I put in a post about what my job was and got 3 responses in 20 minutes. I pick a guy and he's coming out tomorrow. Good thing my husband is home (never want to hire the random Craigslist killer on accident)!
The painters show up, they're normal and polite. A weird experience for me since I've worked with other home improvement people before and it's rare to encounter normal people who aren't looking to cut corners.
They paint my office in record time and I heart it. Looking back on it, I should have chosen a different sheen because there is a bit of a reflection when I turn on my lights, but oh well. I'm not going to change it now.
I start to get some of my accessories and pieces I've ordered. I ordered a buffet to sit behind my desk. It takes a week and a half for it to get it here. When it arrives, the mirrored top is cracked. Womp womp.
It's been almost a month, and my room isn't done yet because I'm still waiting for my last piece to arrive so I've got nothing to show yet.
The buffet I ordered never arrived. Z Gallerie screwed the pooch on that one. I'm still waiting for a refund. I went to a local furniture store and found a Hooker. A Hooker console that is. I got delivered on the same day I bought it. I heart it and my office is now finished.
Tips On Improving Your eDesign Business
1. When someone pays you, get them onboard right away
Right away I was given some homework to do. I wasn't impressed with how they collected my inspiration images as I had to post them as comments in their design questionnaire area. And it wasn't made clear to me until after I submitted my questionnaire.
2. Give time estimates on when your client can expect a 'first look'
When I logged into the client area, all I had to look at was a message that essentially said, hold tight we're working on some great ideas for you. I don't know if there are internal deadlines over there or not. I was anxious to see like a kid is for Christmas to arrive.
As a solopreneur, you're not waiting on others to present a 'first look'. Make sure you give your clients a firm time frame in which their first design will come.
3. Create packages that make sense
The only real difference I could discern on their website as a difference between packages was the higher package would give me the most experienced designer. As a client, I don't know that that is necessarily a big selling point, but when you're running an eDesign competition website, maybe that's the best way?
As a client, I want to know what are you going to give me to complete the design. If I don't need all the bells and whistles, give me that option. If I need some phone/Skype time with you, give me that option.
Also, I think if I was going to do this again I would look for someone who specialized in my dark/ skull/ glam office. It's hard as a designer to adapt to an "odd" style like mine if you're not used to doing that. #nicheitrealgood
4. Your final product is very important
Like I said, I couldn't get my design to print out in a nice format. Shit was cut off and used far too many sheets of paper for me to be able to review it (I still like to print stuff out and review things like that). Double check how your final design and related documents print out (if you're not delivering a physical guide).
5. The "After" Shots
I had the funds and time to put my office together, but it took months in the making to complete thanks to Z Gallerie (hello broken shit, bad customer service, etc.). Getting after shots from clients is extremely difficult. Now that it is complete I'm torn about sharing the after shots. The final room design only has a couple of elements. Later I changed the design as I went along.
So as a designer, do you want the after shots if your client is like me and changes most of it? That is if the clients actually complete the room. And it might be helpful to create an autoresponder sequence to help your clients stay on track once you complete the design for them.
Why You Can Beat The Pants Off 'Those Sites'
They've put a process in place that isn't perfect. And I imagine these companies have a lot of staff. That isn't always a good thing. You're able to adjust your process, make it better and furthermore make them irrelevant.
Finally, don't worry about their price points. Just because you offer virtual design doesn't mean you have to take it in the ass. That's their business model, what's yours? What are your income goals? Who do you want to work with? How are you different?
The bottom line is if your business isn't working for you, you need my help. Or if you just need some online marketing strategies to get more traffic and clients to your website, join the Society.
Alycia Wicker is a business coach for creative entrepreneurs. Her clients land more of their own dream clients and make more cash, period. Celebrity gossip whore. Elvis-obsessed.