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Unfortunately, we have ALL had them…the clients that either sucked the life—or our money—out of us and our pocketbooks! Ugh, it is so draining when you take on the “wrong” client, especially when you were so excited in the beginning.

There are some red flag warnings that we shouldn’t ignore:

  1. Inconsistent communication
    You know who they are, the no-boundaries clients. They either stalk you 24/7 via email, text and phone or they are the clients who don’t respond to requests in a timely manner, so you don’t know what to do. You are constantly thinking about this client and your anxiety skyrockets!
  2. Negotiations…on everything
    Yes, they are sweet, friendly and have a gorgeous house, but they have been negotiating from day one. They don’t want to pay your design fee, they don’t think it is a fair markup for purchases. They start sentences with, “My friend said they only pay…” or “It is such a simple project, you can do it really quickly.” Sorry, nothing is easy!
  3. All decision-makers are not available for initial (or important) client meetings
    Even though they say that they are A-OK with their spouse making all the decisions and they can do whatever they want, that’s not at all what happens. You go down a design road and after a presentation, the spouse is bitter and you have to go back to the drawing board!

So, what do you do when you see these three red flags?

  1. Run?
  2. Hide?
  3. Do whatever the client wants?

No, but you should put a plan in place if you do feel your gut, or your “spidey senses” as I like to call them, start to tingle!

Here are ideas on how to plan for each of the red flags.

Inconsistent communication

To avoid finding yourself in this circumstance, put some processes in place. In your contract, or in your initial documents, list your preferred communication methods.

For example, don’t accept texts from clients about work. Why? Well, this advice serves both of you well. You may see a text, but you are in the middle of something, so you open it and forget about it. You cannot have important communication slip through the cracks. A text makes you stop what you are doing and interrupt your workflow and can make you forget details that may be important for a job. Another example is email communication. They may send you emails whenever they want, but let them know that you won’t respond during the weekends, but will respond during business hours.

Negotiations…on everything!

If they start negotiating the contract, markup or scope, listen to your gut and decline the job. If you give an inch, they WILL take a mile. Remember, you are worth your weight in gold! They can’t pull a design together. If they could, they would do it themselves.

Remember, if you already took the job, you can still get out of the job! Yes, fire your client…politely. Here are some ideas to exit gracefully:

You can say that previously committed projects are taking more time than you had projected, so you are having trouble giving their job the best service. Since you are committed to providing the best service, you don’t have the time to focus on their new project the way you had hoped to.


The scope of work is larger than you had committed to and you don’t have time in your schedule to give their job the best service. Since you are committed to providing the best service, you don’t have the time to focus on their new project at the level your firm expects to.


The timeline is too tight to accomplish everything they want to accomplish and it would be a disservice to them if you continued working with them. You get it!

All decision-makers must be present during design meetings

Determining your project budget, your design direction and design timeline are important for all decision-makers. With every job, one person usually becomes the contact point, so it is OK if someone wants to hand off secondary decisions to one party. However, before you go far, always get signed approval so you don’t waste time going down the wrong design path.

Remember…the MOST important thing is to always trust your gut!

If you want a checklist to help you head off bad client experiences, download it here!

What other red flags would you add to the list?



Click Here to Download the Client Touchpoint Worksheet