The Start of a Beautiful Relationship: Communication is Key
Before jumping into a new client relationship, there are some things you should consider and conversations you should have to be sure you’re compatible.
Let’s face it: When you enter a design project, it is a commitment. Even though it’s not a lifetime commitment (though some matches may make us feel that way 😊), some projects can take more than a year to complete. And that’s a LOT of time with one client, am I right? But, it’s worth your time (and future time savings) to ensure that you and your client are a match made in heaven, or at least aligned enough to result in a successful design project. Here is some of my best advice for things to consider and the conversations you must have before starting a job.
What’s the baggage?
You may not be your client’s first foray with an interior designer, so you need to understand the assumptions and baggage they bring to your relationship. As we all know, there are nuances to each of our businesses and there’s no way for our clients to know what those are for each of us. So, it’s our job to help them understand how we will work together.
They are most likely very anxious and vulnerable and possibly even intimidated. Your prospective clients are looking to spend a fair amount of money for the project plus your expert advice. They are inviting a design pro into their home, and they may fear that they will be judged for their current design status. They don’t know what to expect. They may even question if they are “worth” it.
What’s it like being in their shoes? Did they try to be a DIYer and quickly became overwhelmed? Or did they start working with another interior designer, who wasn’t as awesome as you, and got burned? If so, they have been involved in this project for awhile and might be feeling very weary.
Nitty-gritty of the relationship
Once you get through the get-to-know-you phase, there’s the get-down-to-business phase where sometimes things can get a little dicey. This is where the conversations about expectations and roles happen, budgets and payment terms are solidified, and the discussion occurs about the very real possibility for delays or changes in the project.
Put your clients at ease
As the expert on the scene, before starting a job, you should put your clients at ease. Ask questions to uncover the baggage they are bringing to the relationship and do your best to answer how you operate and what you do so your prospective client can determine for themselves if they are comfortable with your working process and style. This is one way you can help build the trust that is super essential for a happy, productive project.
I definitely recommend having a one-on-one meeting in person before starting a job. Not only is your client vetting your credentials and style, but you as the professional need to determine if the project and the client are going to be good for you. It’s OK to NOT take a job. It REALLY, really is! You shouldn’t force things together that are not meant to go together (you know, like 10-foot dining table in a 12 x 14-foot dining room.)
Establish the scope in writing
Your written letter of agreement or contract is a crucial communication step before starting a job. Keep it simple, but clearly outline the scope of work in detail with estimated completion dates and price and payment terms. You and your client should sign on the dotted line. This protection will help resolve any disputes or liability issues (AKA cover your butt).
I wish you the best in the start of every new client relationship! Have a great week!