Read as Donna Frasca talks about her career as a Color Expert.  Find her at www.decoratingbydonna.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a Color Expert who specializes in choosing color schemes for the inside of homes, particularly homes that have open floor plans.

How would you describe what you do?

Other than having the best job in the world? As a Color Expert, and I can say expert with my credentials and 20+ years of field experience, I design color schemes for homes. Sometimes I choose exterior color palettes as well but 99% of the time it is for the interior. 

What does your work entail? 

Designing a color palette for a home is really quite involved. Since I’ve been doing it for so long and I know color, home layouts and lighting so well, it’s really become a science. 

Color consultations for a home about 4,000 square feet take about two hours to complete. I walk the home with the homeowner and go from room to room to discuss the color options. Taking decor and lighting into consideration, I show several colors to the client and THEY are actually the one who finalizes the color. I wouldn’t show a color to the client that won’t work but I want them to choose a color that they like and not be influenced by what I think they’d like.

After we complete every room in the home, I take some photographs of the areas that open into other rooms and the consultation is complete. I compile a color portfolio for the client. This comes in super handy because all the color information, color placement, and color chips are all there in one folder. They really need this portfolio when they shop for decor such as drapery, art or furniture. It ensures that they are staying in the same color palette that I designed for them. It also provides the painter with useful information such as where the colors start and where they stop. 

What’s a typical work week like?

I’m sure you’ve heard this before but there really isn’t a typical work week. I have busy seasons and slow seasons just like everyone else. Busy season usually is in the spring which is home improvement time and lasts right into the summer months. There is also a holiday rush before Thanksgiving and Christmas right before home entertaining begins.

How did you get started?

I was always interested in color and design. Every single one of the jobs I’ve had through out my entire life somehow related to color and design. After years of learning and working in the field, the natural progression was to start my own business and work for myself. This is super important but highly unusual. It’s extremely rare to pinpoint a career from day one and I’m talking in my 20’s as day one. I was never a waitress or flipped burgers at a fast food joint because that would not help my career plan. I know money is money and when you need a job you get one but if you can pick and choose the jobs you have early in your career and start building a platform for that career, it will help you 110%.

What do you like about what you do?

So many things! I love working from home and this was super important to me as a Mom. I was able to schedule work around kids and the home schedule so I never had my kids in daycare and I was always home when they came home from school.

Other than the obvious fact that I love working with just color, I love to see the color palettes unfold as I design these color schemes for my clients. Matching up color to my clients personality and likes is very exciting!

I also like working with just myself and at my own pace. There are days when I have a trillion ideas (one of the reasons I have 4 blogs. You can see my main blog at www.DecoratingbyDonna.com) and then there are days that are fairly quiet but as a Color Designer, that’s far and few between because the color wheel is always spinning so to speak.

What do you dislike?

Hmmmm, what do I dislike? As you can see I had to stop and think because there’s really nothing I dislike about my job. If I had to pick something, I’d say slow season. I like to keep busy so if I’m not out on a color consultation, I’m home writing on my blogs or taking photographs for them. There’s always something that needs to get done and there should never be times when you’re doing nothing. The more you write on blogs about what you do, the higher you’re ranked in the search engines for what you do. I haven’t advertised for many, many years because I have very high SEO’s. My clients either find me by way of the Internet or word of mouth. That is a whole other subject but an extremely important one for a sustainable and successful business.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I’m paid in full by the client at the end of my color consultations. I also get referral fees from my paint team and window treatment Designer.

How much money do Color Specialists make?

The more education and work experience you have, the more you can charge but you still have to be in a reasonable range for your demographic area. For instance, someone who works in New York can charge more per hour/project than someone lets say who works in Montana. 

When I first moved to Charlotte, North Carolina I had no idea what to charge for my services. I didn’t know any Designers yet so I couldn’t ask them and I didn’t know the demographics and income of my potential client base. This is super important if you’re going to have your own business and it takes time to find out this information. 

I highly recommend setting up your home office and read, read and read about your surrounding areas. Once you know what income THEY make, you can pinpoint a starting fee. Try it out and see how it works. I did this for my first year of business here in Charlotte and realized I was undercharging. I started out at $125 for a color consultation. It still was good money to start but keep in mind you have to charge for time and multitude of the factors as well. I wound up + doubling my fee and oddly enough, business doubled as well. I found that clients are leery of businesses that charge too little.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

This is highly important! There are two types of Designers. The first type are people who are schooled and educated in the field of Interior Decorating and Design and who’ve had a very strong background in color and design such as myself. Between education, work experience and a natural talent for color, the career choice of a Color Specialist would be perfect for you.

The second type are the people who have a flair for design and just decide to pick it up later on in life. They may have a degree in Fine Arts which is general but helps and they may also have a natural flair for color. Both of these are good and neither type is correct or wrong, however, I personally would say that you’ll definitely have a leading edge if you have a specific degree in Interior Decorating and Design and your work experience solely relates to color. 

Pick up any certifications relating to color and design along the way and that will be an added bonus both personally and professionally. You may find that some of the color certifications are a bit redundant at a point but if you learn just one thing from it, it’ll be worth it and I highly recommend anything you can do to round out your education.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Hands down, the most challenging undertaking about being a Color Expert is having the right tools to do my job. This is such a dilemma among Designers that it’s really quite concerning. 

Some of us have to beg, barter and just about steal the tools we need to sell color. It’s imperative to build a relationship with the people that will provide the tools that you need to do the job. If I can tell you one thing, leave out the middle man and go right to the man – if you know what I mean. It’s all about who you know and how you get to meet the people that will help you with what you need. I still see Designers struggling to get the tools they need for their business. This takes a while to figure out and many people don’t have the, how should I say this, the “boldness” to get what they need in a professional manner. Again, this goes back to education and working in the field for 20+ years. After a while you’ll know who to go to, how to go to and where to go to … and a class in Business Marketing and Management helps tremendously!

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding is when I walk by my home office and look in. I see my messy office, color swatches everywhere, papers on the desk, computers on 25/7 and a full, full clientele file. I’ve worked my entire life towards this and it’s nice to see it in full swing.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Other than education which is #1 on my list, the one thing that I would say is that if you don’t eat sleep and live color, this is NOT the field for you. You can’t just wake up one day and say,“Oh this color looks so pretty and it would look great in a bedroom.” Loving and living color is more than that. It has to be in your blood from day one in order for you to be successful in it. You can be good at it but in order to make a career out of, you need to feel it in your toes.

How much time off do you get/take?

This is a trick question. My mind is never at rest when it comes to color and sometimes I even annoy myself with it. I try to shut the color button off on the weekends if I don’t have a client, or in the evening during family time. Even during my slow season or time between clients I’m constantly at colors door. I think physical vacations that keep me away from my computer are my only saving grace but that is far and few between. This is the career path I chose and I love it this way!

What is a common misconception people have about what you do? 

I honestly don’t know! I think people are puzzled by the fact that I based my entire career around just choosing color for the homes in South Charlotte. Most, if not all, my clients are within 15 miles from my home office.  I don’t travel the world talking about color. I don’t try to sell my clients any other design services when I’m in their home. I don’t hook up with other companies to try to promote myself or what I do – I just provide color schemes for my clients. Simple, refined and it works!

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

The world is constantly changing in the “now” that I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. I think it’s good to tweak as you go and let everything unfold as time goes on.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Working for yourself is far better than working for someone else. After you have everything you need to fly, and you’ll know when you get to this point, just do it! It’s extremely rewarding both in the professional world and personally. Good luck my future Color Experts!

Donna Frasca, Color Expert, www.DecoratingbyDonna.com