After working in this industry for so many years, I am well acquainted with all the things that can go oh-so-wrong when working with clients. Yes, there are many occasions when everything goes smoothly and there’s no conflict whatsoever – but you probably know that these are the exception, not the rule.
As in any relationship, the key to success is clear communication, right from the very beginning.
It’s completely unrealistic to expect that each client is going to fit into a cookie standard operating procedure, and if you approach them that way, you’re going to lose their business and referrals. You even run the risk of getting sued if you don’t manage your client relationships carefully.
So here are the key things you should be doing to ensure that your clients come to see you as a trusted advisor and friend to the family.
1. Set your boundaries from the beginning.
Be crystal clear about what you will and won’t work on.
If you don’t do water features, tell them that, so that 3 months down the line, project nearly finished, they don’t get huffy that you won’t add a fountain to the corner of the living room.
2. Get comfortable talking about budgets.
You need to know what the client’s budget is. You can’t do your job if you don’t know how much money is in the pot.
Talk to them about these even before you agree to work together. it’s the responsible thing to do and no one ends up with any surprises.
I would also recommend charging a flat fee, quoted according to the scope of the job. Hourly rates are a quicksand for goodwill.
3. Explain your process and responsibilities.
Most clients think they know how an interior design job is going to play out. But the fact is, usually they don’t.
So be up front about how you work, and what they can expect from you day to day. It’s also important to discuss whether you are being responsible for all, some or none of the purchasing decisions.
Encourage them to give honest feedback and to be involved in the process, but make sure you’ve covered all your basis before you set foot in that house.
These are simple business practices.
But they are often overlooked when they can give you and your business a much-needed layer of protection. They also make you seem more professional and organised. Clients appreciate knowing exactly what the deal is, and it breeds goodwill (and referrals) to be completely honest and upfront with them.