There is no doubt that communication is one of the most important hallmarks in the designer/client relationship. It is very important to have certain conversations from the first contact a designer has with their client, and certainly a lot of questions that must be answered to determine if there is a good fit
In my early career, many years ago during the recession, when that office phone rings with a brand new prospect, I would be so excited that I would often forget to ask some of the important questions that are now mandatory in my on-boarding process. Needless to say, things would pop up that would catch me off guard. Fortunately nothing that was ever super serious that couldn't be remedied, but some valuable lessons were learned and new systems built as a result.
The headline may have led you to believe that these questions are high drama, but honestly, they are simple questions that should be obvious, but I know designers who don't bother to ask them.
They don't have to be asked in the way I outline them below, but they must be asked, and I'll explain why.
If you are getting ready to shop for a designer for your next project, whether it is a decorating project, remodel or new build, be ready to answer these questions to start off right, and on the same page.
1- Have You Worked With A Designer Before?
What's the big deal with this question? Why is it so important? Why should it matter if you've worked with a designer before? Well it can matter, but not always. First of all, if you have worked with a designer before, you may already understand how we work in general. But all designers, and I mean pretty much all of us, work differently. There may be some new expectations that need to be managed. It would be fairly easy for you to assume that your new designer should work exactly the same way as your former designer, when nothing could be further from the truth. That question will open up the conversation and gauge your expectation of the process, and of course the opportunity to educate you on their actual process, design fees and ways to communicate.
It also becomes important if you as the client would prefer not to work with the designer again due to a disappointing outcome or experience. While I would never probe for details of that experience, I would likely want to know what was disappointing so I can be sure to avoid that, or at least talk about it. Typically a client will call in the same designer for future projects, and frankly, we all aim for that. So when we find clients looking to work with us after working with a designer in the past, it does raise a question for us.
2- How Do You Prefer To Work?
Over the years, I have had many clients who have different expectations of how the design process actually works. Not that they should know, but they do have their own expectations. Some think they are required to be super hands-on and involved in every minute detail, while some prefer to be completely hands-off and trust the project in our capable hands, and some who are somewhere in between. This question helps us to determine where you are on this spectrum. We are flexible, and we can pretty much work however you prefer to work, but we do need that information upfront to determine our role and the scope of work and deliverables we are responsible for.
So for example if a client says that they enjoy doing their own shopping because it brings them immense joy, then we know that they do not need a full service project from us, but instead a design plan that we hand to them and they can do their own shopping with a list we provide them. Can you see how that could be a problem down the line if that is not asked and answered upfront? These are two totally different services with two completely different deliverables and fees. Imagine us trying to do what our client hired us to do, when they are off doing the same thing because they enjoy it. A lot of time and money would be wasted, and that could lead to some serious breakdown in communication later.
3- What Is The Total Investment You Are Prepared To Make?
Notice I didn't ask what is your budget? Most clients don't know what a budget should be for their project, but they most likely have a number in mind of what they are prepared to invest. Two totally different things. Read this article I wrote about determining budgets.
We ask this question because money is a major part of the designer/client relationship, so we need to get comfortable talking about money. It helps us gauge your comfort level with the subject. Money is tied to emotions that run deep for some clients, and we just want to assure them that we understand, respect and know how to manage their money.
It is also a great opportunity for us to educate clients on what things really cost, and what they can expect in the overall budget that they perhaps would have never thought of in a million years. Things like freight - most clients don't understand and are shocked at freight and delivery prices. The messaging in today's market surrounding what design costs is most often incorrect, and clients are definitely misinformed. We help to set the record straight, and this question can be the deciding factor if we can take on a project or not. We always happily give examples and even draw from past experience to help clients understand what their budget could potentially be. But we are also careful to let clients know that we cannot know that number for sure until we start selecting and quoting products, materials, service fees and labor costs. A key role for us is to help our clients establish a budget for their project.
4- What Is Your Timeframe For Completion?
If you have a party coming up in a month and you need a whole lower level completed with custom furnishings to look like a Luxe Magazine cover shot, then we may not be able to take on your project. Surprisingly some designers don't ask this question because they assume that the client should know how long this stuff takes. It is something that they do everyday and it comes naturally to them that timelines are usually several weeks, if not months, that they don't stop to think that this is all new to a client.
We ask this question because we don't want to let you down, by leading you to believe that the project will be faster than we can actually do it. Sometimes we have a super full schedule and cannot start immediately and need to give the client the option to wait or not. But typically it is just the standard timeframes that we have to educate clients about. Sometimes I go as far as drawing a timeline and estimate as best as I can. Clients are typically shocked that a piece of furniture can take up to 2 weeks to get to our loading dock from the time it is picked up from our vendor. These are timeframes that we cannot control but must factor into the big picture. We want you to know that upfront.
In some cases we can accommodate a rush, because again, we pride ourselves on being flexible. But a rush service will definitely cost you more across the board, so that needs to be explained upfront
5- How Do You Want Your Home To Feel?
Now we are finally getting to the creative part. Haha. Actually there are several more questions that we ask before this one, but for the sake of being brief, we listed only the previous 4.
Why do we ask this question versus how do you want the space to look? Well, we ask that too, but it is more important to us to address the way you want your home to feel. It is easier to pull a look from that feeling that you're trying to capture. It is also a lot easier for most clients to describe that feeling instead of describing the look. I am hired to come up with the look and clients are more in-tune to the way they want to feel.
And even if a client is having a hard time articulating the mood they want, it is easier for us to throw out words like: serene, casual, formal, loungey, fun, beachy versus eclectic, contemporary, modern etc. These terms are so broad and confusing to clients.
So you can see how these questions can ensure a much smoother process if they are asked and answered upfront. It is always better to ask too many questions instead of not enough.
We would love the opportunity to answer any questions you may have about your upcoming project.
Book a 30 minute free discovery call with me and let's get those questions answered right away.