The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 11 The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 11

Way back in the first installment in this series, we covered the Three Basic Facts of a Decorator's Life. As you'll recall, the third fact was: Most clients will eventually spend more - sometimes, considerably more - than they initially state to be their absolute top budget. Now it's time to investigate how budgets work, how clients think about them, and how you should discuss this sensitive topic with your clients.

First of all, how do most people set a budget in their minds in the first place? Do they go to the marketplace and price different pieces of furniture, and then make a carefully thought-out list of what they need and what it will cost?

Of course not.

Generally, clients pick a round figure from somewhere, and that's the number they state. For example, if they have a new home or apartment that cost them $150,000 and you ask them how much they want to spend on the interior decoration of all the rooms, they might answer, "$15,000."

Is this a realistic number? Probably not - unless they have a houseful of fabulous furniture from their prior home that will work well in the new one. But it is a nice round number, and it was an easy calculation for them. In addition, it may be reasonably within range of the amount of money they have available in their bank account for this purpose.

What should you do at your first discussion when they state that $15,000 is their limit? Laugh? Cry? Tell them they're crazy? Send them to your least favorite competitor?

No. Simply accept the number with professional seriousness, duly writing it into your interview notes. At the same time, casually mention that it may be a bit low to do a complete job at that price. Generally, that will lead them to ask, in effect:

"How much more do you think we'll have to spend for a complete job?"

Don't answer this question with any specific number or even a range of numbers. Rather, simply note that instead of giving them an off-the-cuff figure, you'd prefer to get back to your drawing board and work up some ideas for them to look at along with a preliminary budget. Point out that they will not be bound by this budget, and that they can always reduce costs by leaving out some of your idea or cutting back on quality. Point out, however, that since they've already indicated a strongly developed sense of appreciation for good design and high quality, you would rather work up a plan that will meet their standards, and then work with them to scale down the costs as they think necessary. This will usually satisfy them at this meeting, and you should proceed in your office to develop a top-quality plan and budget to be presented to them later.

Watch their reactions as you explain all this to them. Sometimes, they will surprise you and say something like this:

"No. Don't bother trying to scale the job down. It's a once-in-a-lifetime investment, so we may as well do it right."

However, you won't get this reaction most of the time. More often, the clients will agree that perhaps a less-expensive solution would be appropriate. Eagerly agree with their sentiment, and tell them that you're sure you can provide them with a satisfying interior at a reasonable cost that they'll be able to handle. Again, explain that you would like to get back to your drawing board and work up a few ideas. Point out, casually:

"While I can't guarantee that I can do everything you want exactly within your budget, I'll try to keep it within range."

  • Tip: The exact words are not so important. What is important is the manner in which you deliver them. Show that you understand their needs. Show that you are sympathetic to their situation. Convey to them by everything you do and say that you are ready and able to help them fulfill their dreams.

In effect, you want to reassure them, and make them feel confident. Again, whether you use these exact words or others to convey the sentiment, what you want to say is:

"You've got nothing to worry about. I understand. Leave everything to me. I'll take care of you. You're in good hands."

The next step, which we'll take up in the next installment, is the preparation of a preliminary budget.

Excerpted from the Lessons "Client Designer Relationship" and "Planning for People" from the Sheffield School Complete Course in Interior Design.
Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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