Avoiding Client Nightmares, Part 1
According to Keith Granet, consultant to celebrity interior designers and architects, the biggest reason interior designers go out of business is working with nightmare clients.
Have you worked with nightmare clients before? I have. I remember the sleepless nights, panicky feelings about not getting paid, and in some cases actually had a few clients not pay their final bills. And often if they did pay, they renegotiated the invoices. It affected my cash flow, ability to pay my bills and hurt my self esteem.
Why did I end up with those types of clients? Was it just bad luck or something intentional? I think a large part of it was that I ignored the warning signs and took projects because they seemed exciting or potentially lucrative. Either way, it wasn’t worth it in the end.
Please don’t dismiss the next statement. You can’t afford to take even one bad client. The price you will pay is both financial and psychic. It can make the difference between enjoying this business and wondering why you ever became an interior designer.
I’ll share what I’ve learned over the years in hopes that it might save you a lot of stress and worry. After reading this, the next time you are in a client interview, I hope you will recognize the red flags that might pop up.
From these experiences, I learned to trust your gut instinct. It is always right. Some clients shared their horror stories about working with other designers, and I took it at face value and thought I could do it better. Wrong. That’s one of the biggest red flags. If someone interviews you and they criticize more than one designer, run the other way. You’ll be their next statistic. They either have communication issues, unrealistic expectations, or they use intimidation as their tool for leverage and power (sign of low self esteem).
Remember that everyone is on their best behavior during the initial interview. They want to impress you, and you are also interested in impressing them. However, it is best to be yourself.
Know Your Ideal Client
Your number one priority is to get clear about your Ideal Client Profile. Who is your Ideal Client? It’s not just about the demographics and their income or net worth. The Ideal Client’s psychographics, or values and interests, are vitally important.
What is their personality style? How do you work with that personality style? What personality traits are preferred and which ones are to be avoided? You must take time to define your Ideal Client. Even if you’ve been in business for years, take the time to physically write a profile. I created a workbook for this and highly recommend that you do this ASAP.
Watch for behavioral cues. Because I worked mostly with “C-level” executives, the wives were often very passive and amiable. A few of these executives were so powerful that they used intimidation to manipulate and control their wives. That should have been my first cue. I had a faux finisher that was an incredibly adept people reader. If I had the opportunity to bring him in early in the conversations, he was able to share incredible insights that I missed. I was thinking about how to help the client and the overall scope of work I needed to organize. He was watching the interactions and listening to the verbal and body language cues. He was always right.
Here are a few recommended resources to help you understand personality styles including your own:
Wilson Learning (assessment) – Drivers (C-level executives are usually Drivers), Expressives, Analyticals and Amiables (it’s really good to understand the back-up behavior of these personalities when under stress so you know how to deal with them)
- Book – Unlimited Power – Anthony Robbins (NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming)
- Myers-Briggs profile – www.capt.org/take-mbti-assessment/contact.htm
- DISC – helps you understand the personality styles, too. www.DISC.com $29.95
- Kolbe A – helps you understand your “conative” or natural strengths – www.Kolbe.com $49.95
I’ve used profiles for my employees, too. My husband happened to have taken the Wilson Learning profile as did I. We use this frequently when trying to understand the personality styles of others.
Self knowledge is incredibly important and useful, and knowing how to use it with others is extremely valuable, too.
Here are some other challenges you may also encounter:
- Resenting or not feeling worthy of working with affluent clients – if you don’t feel worthy, you won’t attract these clients. Affluent clients (really all clients) want to work with self-confident designers who can lead them without being manipulative and without feeling that they are seen as a fat wallet.
- It’s important to examine your own relationship with money. It may be related to the influences and experiences you had when growing up. You must work through this to be able to serve affluent clients especially if you didn’t grow up with money.
- If you grew up in a household with difficult family members, you may find that your tolerance is set too high for challenging people. Many people compensate by being people pleasers and being overly patient. Examine your experiences, and think about the limits of what you will and won’t accept.
- If you need revenue, you may be willing to overlook potential problems. Don’t do it. It’s never worth the stress
These are just a start of the red flags you should look for when meeting with clients for the first time. Next week, we’ll cover some of the specific clues to look for, questions you can ask to dig deeper and other warning signs to watch for.