Design Consultant

What you should know if you are working as a design consultant

Working as a design consultant

An architect from Putney comments: “When you find designers you can work with, who are professional and dependable, they are like gold and you don’t let them go.”

Before you start:

  • Keep your portfolio up-to-date and smart, include a variety of images, and take it with you when meeting new clients.
  • When starting up in business, remember that high-profile clients on your CV add credibility and branding to your business.
  • Be prepared to work to a specific project brief, with tight budgets and deadlines.
  • Allocate a new project number to each project and use this for all correspondence, invoicing and costs.
  • Carefully consider all aspects of the project, and plan how you would manage each stage before committing to a contract.



  • Prepare for client meetings well in advance.
  • Get as much information from the client beforehand: scale, colours, materials, etc.
  • Make notes during important meetings with clients, or immediately afterwards, and don't lose them!
  • Always back up any telephone communication in writing, particularly concerning changes in project specifications such as deadlines, materials and budgets.
  • As a consultant you have strict project briefs that must be adhered to; do not expect to have a great deal of artistic licence in re-interpreting the brief! One of the main creative skills of a design consultant is to be able to work within tight creative boundaries and budgets. However, do have the confidence to offer design input if needed.
  • Draw up a project action plan (which can be revised) that you use to measure progress and milestones achieved.
  • Communicate deadlines and liaison dates. If you need further information, don’t hesitate to ask.
  • Consider attaching a schedule of work or client order specification to the contracts.
  • Often as a consultant you are not in control of the projects you will be working on. Team work is needed, and it is important to keep communication channels flowing during projects, particularly if they are over extended periods of time.
  • If you need to present work in progress, do this professionally. If it is appropriate, try and get all the contractual team present so that any issues can be communicated and dealt with at specific times.
  • If a client is not sticking to his part of the agreement, discuss this with him before matters get out of hand. If you have concerns with a commission or contract, express them as a professional. Sometimes problems arise through innocent misunderstandings that can be easily rectified.
  • Understand the market for the project and who your client’s clients are. Ask if it is possible to see other samples of relevant work carried out.
  • Keep a separate file for each project for reference.



  • Be flexible with your daily rates. A long-term fixed contract can often be more valuable to your business cashflow than a few short-term contracts and can enable you to plan your time more effectively.
  • Daily consultancy rates vary according to experience, expertise required, work involved, reputation, etc.
  • Negotiate and agree all design fees and project costs before starting work.
  • Try to charge a design fee for any of your ideas and all preliminary design work.
  • If the project is in phases over a long period of time, ask for payment in stages to help cash flow.
  • Don't feel pressured into quoting too hastily. Make sure that you include everything, and add a contingency in case of error or delays.
  • Ensure that all quotes received include VAT.
  • Remember that if you provide a quote, you will be held to it. You may want to give an estimate rather than a quote for a project. This allows a small margin of flexibility in your pricing. Once you are sure of the cost, then give a quote, but this amount is fixed unless the brief changes.
  • Cost in all time, materials, research time, travel costs and presentation costs, plus a percentage of your fixed overheads.
  • No matter how little time you seem to have, make sure that you draw up agreements between you and all sub-contractors that detail completion dates, costs and specifications.
  • Clarify ownership of copyright.
  • Keep receipts and expense forms together. Use them to refer back to the next time you are asked to quote for a similar project.


Don’t forget:

  • Communicate your ideas clearly.
  • Be flexible and open-minded.
  • Know your limits and your limitations.
  • Planning is fine but is not always possible; often you feel that you need to be in 20 places at once, so try to organise each week with an element of flexibility. Make action lists daily and revise them each morning.
  • Don't be too proud to ask friends and family for help, especially with some of the mundane work.



For a list of selected Crafts Council galleries, see the Crafts Council’s website:


comments powered by Disqus

Back to top