I’ve talked to many interior designers who are wondering what to do when their clients can’t — or won’t — commit to a budget.
This is actually a pretty common scenario, and it can happen for many reasons. Maybe your client truly hasn’t figured out how much money they have available for the project, or they need to come to a consensus with their partner. Maybe they do have a general idea of what’s available, but they’re not sure what they can get for that amount. Maybe they thought they were OK with a certain number, but they start to have second thoughts when it comes time to commit to the full amount for the project.
Of course, you need a clear sense of how much a client can spend before you get too far into their project. But instead of seeing the lack of a clear budget as a stumbling block, you should look at it as an opportunity.
The lack of initial budget will give you a chance to really show your clients that you’re going to work with them side by side, that you’re committed to finding solutions, and that you’ll be bringing valuable expertise that will enable them to get the best value for their money.
Shift From Frustration to Inspiration
In most cases, if your client doesn’t know how much they can spend on their design project, the cause boils down to confusion or overwhelm.
It’s not easy for people who are completely new to the world of interior design to wrap their heads around the full costs of a project.
Costs can indeed vary wildly for interior design projects, and your clients might not have a good sense of what the differences will be at each price point, or how much money it will take to make their vision a reality. As you already know, getting an accurate budget tends to require hours of research, and possibly calls to contractors. This isn’t usually what your client wants to spend their time doing.
In fact, you could see the job of educating your clients about what projects will cost as part of what you’re offering as part of their design package.
They’ve chosen to work with you not just for the design you provide, but for the experience of getting an experienced and savvy partner. You’re selling them a solution, and the solution includes coming up with a budget that works for their needs.
So, when a client can’t come up with a budget right away, resist frustration. Lean into the opportunity you’ve been given to work with them and find a solution.
Help Your Client Create a Budget
Budgets will vary based on the project and the client. But as you work to get more specific about what your client is willing to spend, you’ll have to take some form of the following three steps.
Get Clear on Their Priorities
The first step is to understand what the client really expects out of the design. For example, you can ask them what they really like and dislike about their current house, what they are looking forward to the most in a new design. Get a vivid picture of how they expect to use the space and how they like to feel when they’re spending time in it.
This will help you identify key pieces in the design that are not negotiable, or certain qualities that they don’t want to compromise on.
However, you’ll have to further than style and aesthetic in your research.
You’ll also want to ask about their values when it comes to purchases. Is it important to your clients to invest in high-quality pieces that will last forever, or are they willing to compromise on quality in certain places if it means they can significantly reduce the upfront cost?
Similarly, are they interested in sustainability? If so, are they willing to pay more for products from companies that have demonstrated some kind of commitment to ethical sourcing?
Do they always want to buy new, or are they open to refurbished or antique pieces? Their answers will influence how much their projects will cost and how much flexibility you have to build a room they love.
Give Examples and Alternatives
I’m not a fan of offering multiple design concepts to clients at once. However, in the initial stages of budget discussions, you can give your clients multiple options for key pieces to get an idea of which ones they prefer before you begin the more time-intensive work of creating their designs.
There are certain pieces in every room that will have the biggest impact on the budget (think the living room sofa or the dining room table). If you can identify alternatives to these key expenses, you’ll have identified simple budget-adjusting options to use later.
If you already have significant interior design experience under your belt, you may choose to show clients examples of interiors you’ve designed in the past that fell within the budget ranges they’re considering. Explain to them how you came to choose the pieces you did for each client, and see what resonates with them.
Adjust for Sticker Shock
Once you have a good idea of the client’s purchasing style and vision, you may be honing in on a specific number. (Of course, that number should include your fees, which should work out to about 30 percent profitability, as we discussed in the post How Much Should I Charge for my Interior Design Services?)
You can explain to the client that this initial number is not set in stone, that it may evolve along with the project, and that you’ve purposely set it where it is to make sure that any hiccups or unexpected problems don’t cause you to go over budget.
But if you find that the total number needed to get the client what they want is still giving the client pause, you have some options. You can offer to “phase in” certain elements of the design, for example, by focusing on one room at a time or by starting with one type of renovation before moving on to the others.
You can also discuss options such as removing certain items from a design or focusing on “cosmetic” upgrades and skipping the more expensive renovations portions of the plans (such as new flooring and or appliances).
The key is to help your client understand that this doesn’t have to be a “take it or leave it” situation. It’s not the same as shopping for furniture or for groceries where the number on the price tag is final. You are able to customize your service to fit their needs.
Learn to Recognize a Bad Fit
Of course, there are times when you and your client simply won’t be on the same page when it comes to a budget. If they don’t want to spend on any quality pieces, or they don’t have realistic expectations for how much things should cost, you don’t have to spend hours trying to salvage beautiful pieces from bottom-rung suppliers.
Direct them to some online web design programs whose results tend to be less unique and less tailored.
If you’ve positioned your branding the right way, your clients will be coming to you because they value your personal expertise and aesthetic, which are completely unique. That’s the difference between selling a commodity and a luxury. (Related: Why You Need to Position Your Brand as a Luxury Service, and Where to Start)
If you get the sense that a client is trying to be vague about a budget in order to get a better deal, you might need to go back and work on the way you present your brand. It’s also OK to say no if you get the sense that a particular client won’t value your time.
How do you approach clients who don’t have a budget? Leave a comment below or head over to Interior Design Master Class on Instagram and share your thoughts!