If you’re an interior designer, you spend most of your days focused on your clients: thinking about what they would want, anticipating their reactions, and talking to them directly.
In fact, the job requires so much one-on-one communication and is so personal that choosing the wrong type of person to work for can become a big problem for your business.
There are two main ways that a client can be “wrong” for you.
The first is when his or her style preferences conflict too much with your own. We wrote a lot about this problem in our post Don’t Settle: Focus on Finding the Best Interior Design Clients.
The second is when the client is personally wasting your energy because of his or her attitude or communication skills.
Unfortunately, many designers don’t realize that they’re designing for the “wrong” clients nearly soon enough. They either simply accept the fact that they need to deal with problematic clients as the price of doing business, or they may even blame themselves for the problems that the client is causing. They let the wrong clients waste way too much of their energy
We’ll explain a little more about how to recognize when a client (or even a specific job) might be wrong for you, and what to do about it.
Sign 1: You Dread Communicating With the Client
Pay attention to how you feel when you see your client’s name pop up on your phone. Then follow that feeling to its source. What is it about your client that makes you feel this way? Does it have to do with the project itself? Is it the way that the client treats you?
If you’re dreading calls, it’s not necessarily the client’s fault. Perhaps you’ve been struggling to meet deadlines for other reasons and you don’t want to deliver bad news, for example.
But usually when you dread communicating with a client, it’s due to a personality conflict or a communication breakdown. Maybe they’re overly critical, or you’re starting to resent them for making the project much harder than you expected, for example.
Once you’ve established exactly why you’ve been dreading this client, you can make a plan to improve things. Possibilities could include setting boundaries about your availability, such as only being available by email or only available during certain hours. Longterm, you can modify your contracts to stipulate what type of communication is acceptable or even grounds for early termination.
Sign 2: The Project Scope Keeps Changing
A project that has more than its fair share of requested changes is never a good sign. Sometimes it’s just an unlucky coincidence, or due to an unclear vision. But in other cases, it’s a sign that the client doesn’t respect your time or expertise.
Ideally, specifications about the number and type of revisions will have been built into the original project scope, with additional changes resulting in additional charges. (I go into this topic in more detail in my post on Nailing Your Interior Design Product Scope).
If you haven’t built revisions into the project scope, or you feel like the client is taking advantage of you somehow, listen to that feeling and make a plan.
You may decide that project is worth finishing despite any problems and simply take the learning experience with you to the next job. You may decide to go back and mutually modify the original contract to account for revisions or somehow set a clear stopping point. Or, your plan may simply be how to respond to the next request for changes with a professional explanation of your design choices and the logistics that went into the choice.
Sign 3: Your Client is Always Looking for Discounts
Bargain-hunters are likely to haggle on every purchase and expect you to do a ton of extra work to find quality pieces that fit into an unreasonable budget. Why work for this type of customer when you could be working for one whose primary goal is to get a beautiful design for a fair price?
To protect yourself against these types of customers, you’ll have to stand firm on your prices and shoot down any special discount requests right away. The last thing you want to do is send the message that it’s OK to prioritize price over quality. If this causes a prospective client to go with a competitor, don’t worry. You’ll be better off in the long run.
Sign 4: You Don’t Feel Inspired
Look, it’s pretty impossible to love all aspects of your work at all times. But if you’re dragging your feet to get back to work on your projects — especially if it’s the design work itself and not details like invoicing or client management — it’s probably a sign that you’re working in the wrong aesthetic.
Maybe the project is too corporate when you’re a bohemian spirit, for example. Maybe you love clean lines and a modern look and you’ve found yourself designing in a homey farmhouse-style.
Working outside of your niche once in a while is fine. But it’s always best to stand boldly in your own design and really commit to a general aesthetic that you really love.
I’ve written a lot about this topic already, including how to make your interior design business stand out from the crowd and how to turn down projects that aren’t a good fit. Just know that every project you take that fails to energize you potentially takes time away from another project.
Sign 5: You Don’t Feel Challenged
Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. You don’t have to push yourself with every job you take, but if you’re starting to feel like your jobs are all the same or that you’re stuck in a routine, you’re probably on the road to stagnation.
Challenging yourself doesn’t mean a total reinvention. You can just push yourself to do something new or unique within each project that gets you excited.
But challenging yourself also means trying a little harder to find clients who are looking for the type of interior design that can get you to the next level, such as those with bigger budgets or more complicated goals.
Sign 6: The Work Isn’t Moving Your Business Forward
Usually, if you’re feeling challenged and inspired by your work, you’re probably also making progress on your business goals.If you’re feeling challenged and inspired by your work, you’re probably also making progress on your business goals. Click To Tweet
But overall, every now and then, you should still take a look at the type of clients you’ve been working with and see how they fit into the big picture for your business.
You should be seeking the clients who are going to:
- Improve your portfolio because their projects fit your ideal aesthetic
- Improve your portfolio because their projects allow you to showcase a new skill or project type
- Get you access to new connections and networks that will grow your business
Listen: It’s not easy to keep the big picture in mind while you’re trying to pay your bills and meet your deadlines. I want you to know that if you’re tired of doing it all on your own, or just want a better way to level up, you have options.
We run a community of like-minded, strong interior design business owners who are dedicated to staying on top of their games, both in interior design and in business. If you’re interested in joining us each month and holding yourself accountable to making progress on your big goals, click here to learn more about the Mastermind program.
Photography by Angelina Aristodemo Photography