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The start of a design project is the start of a relationship.

Woah, what? We aren’t getting married!

Well…maybe not a marriage, but if you are starting a new build, it is a looooonnnggg commitment. Oh, and what if you do another new build for the same client? Yep, I’d say it’s an engagement for sure! Ha!

So, after that first communication, you need a game plan to make sure you have met the right match. It may take a bit of time, but it is worth it to take it now, instead of trying to find an escape route later when you realize it’s time to separate!

Here is some of my best advice for things to consider and the conversations you must have before starting a job.

One-on-one meeting

I definitely recommend having a one-on-one in-person meeting 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.

You may forget, but 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 a 10-foot dining table in a 12- x 14-foot dining room.)

Be prepared

Since you’re the experienced design professional, be prepared to drive the meeting. Not only does this ensure that you get the information you need to assess if this project is right for you, but it leaves a good impression for your client. You REALLY know your stuff!

Neutral space

Have the meeting at your office, or somewhere where you can sit and chat. If I start at the project site, I often get so excited about what I want to do, that I forget why I’m there! Ha! Remember, you haven’t signed a contract yet, so don’t start giving away advice. 🙂

What should you chat about?

You should do most of the listening and let your client do most of the talking.

Since you’re on an information-gathering mission for this first in-person meeting you want to find out as much as you can about your client’s wants, needs and objectives, the scope of the project and potential budget.

Although you and your client are in the discovery phase at this first meeting, you need to understand if they have Dom Perignon visions but a wine box budget. For similar reasons, you should get an idea of when your client expects the work to be done to ensure their expectations are ones you can work within.

What’s the baggage?

This may not be the first time your potential client has used an interior designer. They might have underlying assumptions and baggage they will bring to your relationship. In order to move forward in a healthy way, you need to understand what those are. Ask a lot of questions!

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 you will work together.

Once you’ve done your best to explain how you operate, it’s up to your prospective client to 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.

How do you feel? How do your potential clients feel?

Well, you may be nervous because you want to make a great impression, but you must think of your client!

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 your expert advice on a project of their dreams! They are inviting a design pro into their home, and they may fear that they will be judged for their past design decisions and the current state of their home.

They don’t know what to expect. They may even question if they are “worth” it.

They may have even been involved in this project for quite some time. 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 might be feeling very weary.

Once you know you will be compatible, it’s down to business!

Although you broached the general budget and schedule parameters earlier to find out if you’re compatible, once you are ready to take the next step, you need to get specific.

Yep, no one wants to do this, but these things need to get nailed down as early as possible! This is when the conversations about the details of the project scope, expectations and roles, budgets and payment terms are solidified, and the discussion occurs about the very real possibility for delays or changes in the project.

After the meeting

So, you like them…and they like you. Now what? At the end of that meeting, let them know you have enough information to determine the project scope AND your design fee. Let them know that you will be putting a document or two together so you are on the same page.

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!

Download the Guide to Meeting with Potential Clients