The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 2 The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 2

In the last installment, we closed with what we call: The Basics Facts of a Decorator's Life. At the beginning of every job, you will quickly discover three very basic facts of life:

  1. When you first discuss a design job with the clients, they rarely know what they want.
  2. If, in your initial meetings, they do tell you what they want, the chances are that you will end up - with their blessings - doing something completely different.
  3. Most clients will eventually spend more - sometimes, considerably more - than they initially state to be their absolute top budget.

These three facts are so important that we're going to discuss each one.

Fact One: When you first discuss a design job with the clients, they rarely know what they want.

Let's pretend that you've secured a new client. We'll call them the Redfords - Joan and Bruce Redford. They've purchased a new home and want your help decorating it. You're going to meet them for the first time. For the moment, it doesn't matter whether you're meeting them at their current home or in your studio. You know that they want to discuss with you the plans for the new home they have just purchased.

At your first meeting, assuming they already understand how you are going to charge for your services, you have three main goals - to educate yourself, to help them educate themselves, and to set a follow-up meeting date.

Part of your job will be to learn about them, and we'll get to that shortly.

However, you also need to begin their education as well, based on Fact One.

Most of the time you will need to educate your clients, and probably the best way to do that is to ask them questions that will help them define their taste. That is, to help them define their own likes and dislikes, and in that way clarify their sense of taste. You can do this in a way that they will enjoy, and which will help establish a very positive relationship with them.

Regardless of whether your customers start by telling you that they "don't know what they like," or by assuring you that they "love" this and "hate" that, do the following:

  • Tip: Ask them to do some research before your next meeting with them. Tell them to get every good design magazine they can find, and to look through each one, marking the interiors they like and perhaps the ones that they particularly dislike. This provides an interesting and enjoyable project for the clients and helps them learn, perhaps for the first time, just what marvels fine interior design can accomplish. If your client is a couple, make sure both people participate in this research.

As your clients refine their ideas, it can only help you in your desire to achieve the best possible result for them.

Guide them in their choice of magazines. You don't want them to waste their time, so suggest the two or three magazines that you think exhibit a high standard appropriate to their needs and status. In fact, if you have a large supply of recent back issues of such magazines, why not lend them a few copies?

Suggest to them that it would be very helpful if they went through these magazines before your next meeting.

For the time being, it's good to let them consider a host of options. As you get closer to making some actual suggestions, you'll help them narrow their ideas. At this time, let them dream a bit.

In a first meeting with clients, in addition to discussing how you charge, you will want to start to draw out a sense of who your clients are - not who they would like to be, but who they actually are. You need to gather a good deal of information about your clients' lifestyle. We'll get to that in the next installment in this business series.

And don't forget goal number three - you don't want to end this initial meeting with your clients until you have set a date for a follow-up meeting.

In the next installment, we'll show you how to tactfully get answers to the questions you need to ask for your own education about the couple's lifestyle.

Excerpted from the Lesson "Client Designer Relationship" from the Sheffield School Complete Course in Interior Design.
Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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