The customer is always right. The client calls the shots. The person writing the paycheck makes the rules. We should be happy to have any client we can get. We’re lucky to be making a living this way.
This kind of mindset has been drilled into all of us, and it has very damaging side effects. I see a lot of designers meekly scurrying around, sacrificing their own artistic visions in order to create exactly what they think will get a quick approval from the client.
Of course you want the client to love the design; after all, they have to live in it.
But the fact is that by trying to please clients and not ruffle any feathers, designers too often play it safe and deliver mediocre concepts as a result.
Mediocrity helps no one, and it certainly doesn’t help solo interior design CEOs like yourself.
Instead, be bold! Present statement-making, beautiful looks, and present them with confidence. If you do that, your clients will be confident in their decision to hire you will be more likely to get excited about their new space.
Here’s how to start standing boldly in your designs today.
Position Yourself as the Expert
Your client may be the ultimate decision maker, but you’re the expert they hired to get the job done. If you position yourself as someone who’s merely around to do the client’s bidding instead of someone whose advice is a privilege, you’ll be making the design work much harder on yourself — and potentially corrupting the final result, too.
Many non-designers think that they have an idea of what they want, but they don’t actually know anything about what those details will mean for the final product. If you ask them for their opinion too often, they’ll start to feel like they should be weighing in on all the decisions, when in reality you’re the best person to make them. After all, you’re the one who spends your days poring over layouts. You’re the one with the in-depth, industry knowledge and connections to suppliers, furniture makers, artists, crafters.
Be confident. Instead of trying too hard to please the client by taking directives from them or getting too detailed with questions about what they might like, try harder upfront to get to the heart of how they want to feel about their new space, then take ownership of the details yourself so the owner can relax (this is part of the luxury experience you’re providing).
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Always Bring the “Wow” Factor
I’ve mentioned before in my blog how important it is to make a unique statement with your brand so that you attract the right clients — clients who love you for your unique style. To cater your designs too much to the personal tastes of any individual client is to sacrifice what makes you great and gives you a unique advantage over your competitors.
Part of developing your own unique aesthetic is delivering work stands out. You want to be known for creating looks that your clients can’t easily get somewhere else.
As we mentioned in our post on beating your interior design competitors, it’s getting easier for clients to go online and use computerized tools to lay out their own rooms, or work remotely with designers to get bargain designs for their homes. It’s also pretty easy for people to copy a look straight out of a catalogue with the help of a store-affiliated designer.
Your advantage over these competitors is your offering a luxury experience and your ability to offer a distinctive statement-making style. If your designs are run-of-the-mill, you’ll eventually degrade the value of your services — even if the designs are on time and meet their stated requirements.
It definitely takes extra time and energy to create a statement-making concept than one that’s simply good enough. But by adding about 20% of time to take your designs from good to great, you’re making a good investment in the future of your business.
I like to suggests that designers “marry” their design. In other words, when it comes to their design, they’re willing to put the work in, committed to its success, and passionately believe in its value.
Plan for Critical Feedback
In a perfect world, your clients would all be thrilled with your designs right away.
But when you deliver interesting, statement-making, emotionally evocative designs, you’re upping the ante. Reactions have the potential to be stronger, either positive or negative.
[bctt tweet=”If your client doesn’t have a strong reaction to your initial concepts, you may not have made them interesting enough.” username=”idmasterclass”]
So, if the client is thrilled and has no additional feedback, that’s great — but it’s not going to happen every time. You should be prepared for negative or critical feedback so that you can defend your designs as much as possible from the fate of mediocrity.
Here are some good general rules when it comes to dealing with criticism or requests for changes after you present your initial concepts.
Don’t Scramble to Please
The first step in preparing for feedback is to reassert yourself as the expert, not as the order-taker. Commit yourself to not panicking or scrambling as soon as the client points out that they don’t like something.
Don’t Get Defensive
Although the style you’re trying to sell might be distinctively yours and you’ve worked hard on it, it’s not you. They’re critiquing the product, not you personally. Of course you’ll be emotionally invested, but expect those feelings and observe them. Don’t act on them. Welcome input from the client.
Yes, you’re the expert, and yes, it’s possible that the client is “wrong” — or at least making a suggestion that isn’t ultimately in the best interests of the project. But you shouldn’t assume anything before you fully hear them out. Try not to let your emotions cloud your immediate reaction to a request for a change. Remember that you don’t need to respond right away. If you need to, take some time to think about their input before responding.
In order to appropriately respond to any requests, you’ll need to understand the underlying need what’s driving each one. Your clients may think that the problem with the design is a certain color or piece of furniture, but the “real” problem is probably something else.
For example, let’s say your client says something like “I think a brighter color would look better for the couch.” Instead of immediately jumping in with an explanation of why that isn’t likely to work with the design — or even immediately saying “sure” and starting to mentally rework the rest of the room to accommodate the change — you need to figure out why they want to change the color.
Are they concerned that the existing color will be difficult to keep clean? Do they want to room to feel more cheerful? Did they just happen to see a living room with a colorful couch on Pinterest?
Find out with a response that acknowledges what they said, then try to draw out more information. Try something like this: “Brighter colors can be a great way to make a bold statement. Can you tell me more about why you want to make that change?”
In some cases, clients just need some time to actually get used to the new look. Maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting, but as you to dig a little deeper about their hesitations, they’ll have a chance to settle in and consider it more thoughtfully. If you’re patient, they might decide that they actually like the existing design.
Regardless, you’ll have taken advantage of the opportunity to really connect with your client about their needs.
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If you’re ready to make a real effort to stand more boldly in your designs, you’re not alone. We invite you to join our coaching group just for driven interior designers. Each month, we hold each other accountable to grow the businesses of our dreams. Click here to learn more about membership.