Do you work for your clients?

Designers vs. Clients: The Showdown

Do you ever find yourself venting about your clients?  Do you find yourself complaining that they found that chandelier cheaper after you emailed a tear sheet?  Have you ever lamented that they changed their minds after touching, approving, paying, and installing the rug?

While client woes are all part of the job, there is a fine line between normal complaints and downright hostility.

And lately, I have seen too much hostility towards clients and what has started to feel like a battleground.

And in the red corner, weighing in at 123 pounds hailing from Best Interior Designs, with 45 projects and 14 knockouts is Sally!  In the blue corner, weighing in at a combined 310 pounds with homes in Park City and Tucson are the Wrights and boy do they think they need to live up to their name!

Has anyone else felt this way?  That instead of being in a happy partnership, it seems that many designers go into a project armored?

Yes, working with clients may be getting harder, they may seem more entitled, they may have larger expectations and smaller budgets, they may even have access to the dreaded internet.

But you chose to work together and they hired you to do a job.  They hired you to work for them.

I have always been an adapt or die-er.  Meaning that either you can adapt to the current conditions in business and thrive or you can fight them and likely your business won't survive.  So, in my opinion, you can try to stop the progress of the internet and keep your clients from ever seeing that chandelier OR you can buy that chandelier at a cheaper price and charge them your design fees.  You can keep complaining about your clients or you can set up their expectations from the beginning that there are NO REFUNDS when the approve items, even rugs.


In finance and law, there is someone called a fiduciary, a person required to uphold an ethical relationship of trust with another.  What it comes down to is looking out for the client's best interest.

I think more interior designers should act in this capacity, the relationship between a client and designer should be based on trust and the designer looking out for the client's best interest.

This does not mean that as a designer you need to sacrifice yourself.  But our job is not to milk a client for every penny they have either.  So you need to find the happy medium, where you can keep your integrity and also respect the client.

Because your clients are the ones keeping you in business.

Work for your Clients

So how do you find the happy medium of acting as a fiduciary and not get walked all over?

1. Screen your clients.  Watch out for red flags.  Don't take clients that your gut tells you not to.  Ask good questions.  Don't put yourself in a situation with a client who doesn't respect you and your work.

2. Adopt radical transparency.  Be as honest as you can with a client.  Be super clear about how you price, you're not a retail shop, clients deserve to know how you charge.  You know how to get people to trust you, by being honest.  You can even have a conversation at the onset of the project to put them in control of how much you share: Hey sometimes things happen on jobs. How much do you want me to tell you because from my experience many clients would rather I just handle it, if isn't incurring more costs.  

3. So if you have the conversation above, not only are you being honest, but you are also setting up the client's expectations.  Be clear that you can't finish a kitchen by Christmas.  Let the client know when they can expect invoices (and stick to it), tell them what the next steps are I'll complete the initial design presentation before our next meeting in three weeks, this presentation will include my best selections, but if there is something you are uncertain about we'll talk about it at that time and make necessary reselects, then once you sign off on everything and pay you won't hear from me again until your house is complete in 6 months.  

At each and every opportunity set up their expectations.  Clients are going to have their own expectations anyway (Christmas! Pink not Coral! 2 weeks! $50! 5 hours! Etc!) and they'll be disappointed if somehow you don't live up to those (that they likely haven't shared if you haven't asked).  So when you tell them what to expect you're both on the same page.  Yes, even if you shop for the armoire on your own, I'm still going to charge you a design fee, so why don't you just let me do it?

4. The last thing I don't see as many designers having this problem, but it goes with the above setting expectations.  It is following through, showing up, and doing what you say you're going to do.  If you say you say you're going to markup antiques 25%, don't mark something up 100% because you got a great deal on it.  You say the clients will get invoices every 2 weeks, send those invoices every other Friday.  When you promise that the kitchen will be done by Christmas and then a pipe freezes and everything floods, remind the client that you had that talk in the beginning about unforeseen and out of your control events and it's even in your contract (then stop making those kind of promises).  If you tell a client they get 3 reselects included, then you charge them for the 4th.  If you have a site meeting at 9am, don't show up at 9:15.

So, my friend, ask yourself do you work for your clients?

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