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11 tips to manage client expectations as an interior designer

Knowing how to manage clients and organise your workflows as interior designer is necessary. Learning how to excel at it is a choice. Learn something new today!

11 tips to manage client expectations as an interior designer
Clara Carlino de Paz
November 8, 2022

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This article was originally posted on Making Space, a Substack penned by our Cofounder, Matteo Grand. Subscribe below to receive more content just like this.

From the outside, many think that being an interior designer is all about moodboards, designing, choosing furniture and paint swatches… But the reality is that most designers' days revolve around administrative work, generally centred around clients. They are the reason behind all the designing, the guiding light behind every choice, and for that reason managing their hopes in a project is key.

While the objective of a design is always about making their dreams come true, reality tends to play its cards with little care for designers’ plans. In order to keep your clients happy, grounded and involved in every step of the interior design process, you have to take active care in managing their expectations. So get involved and keep reading to learn about different ways to nurture your working relationships with clients.

01. Keep and share notes of each meeting

A great way to keep yourself and your clients accountable is to write down notes after each meeting. This could be in a client file, or simply in your notebook or Notes app. This will help you remember what was agreed upon in each meeting, so that the information never gets lost and expectations are maintained.

It is important to share those notes with your clients as soon as possible, with the option to edit anything that may have been lost in translation during the meeting. Sometimes, we say things we don’t mean or we get shy when confronting someone with feedback, so allowing more distanced options to have conversations is key. 

02. Bring visual references organised by budget

It is a known fact that clients can have overinflated visions of their own budget. If you’re not aware of prices in the professional interior design circuit, it is difficult to guess how expensive some items can be, even considering trade pricing. 

To accommodate for this price gap, show them examples from your own portfolio or other professionals’, showing how much a budget can or cannot be stretched to realise their dreams. For more tips on budgets, and how to talk about them with clients, check out the article “The importance of budgeting and 7 tricks to ace your budget”.

03. Establish communication boundaries on both ends

Projects can get incredibly hectic, and clients will want answers and updates from you on a regular basis. You might also want to ask them a million questions about particular materials, elements or the installation process.

This kind of chaotic communication can result in unnecessary stress for both parties, so make sure to agree upon certain hours and methods of communication. Make sure that both you and the client have the opportunity to disclose the best method to reach out without stressing anyone out, and then respect and enforce these boundaries as necessary. 

04. Be open about your rates early on

A classic situation: you start out with a free consultation, which ends up with the client receiving close to a concept idea on your end. The relationship keeps forming, without money being discussed, and the situation becomes tense. All of a sudden, they are shocked by your rates, because initially kindness was keeping you going. But it doesn’t pay the bills. What can be done about this?

Pretty simple, but make sure to introduce money as a concept very early on in the design process. Nothing wrong with a free consultation if it works for your business, but make sure to let them know how you track your hours and make your money. At the end of the day, designers are offering powerful, sometimes life changing services, and it should be expected that money will be a part of the equation.

05. Agree on specific goals

Sit down with your clients and discuss with very specific language what it is that they want in the interior design project. If they don’t have the technical language necessary to help you craft actionable goals, teach them the language – the human brain is great, and there is nothing you can’t explain in the interior design world with a little patience.

Goals come in a variety of forms, but they tend to touch on: time for project completion, budget, room style, number of rooms, and other functional benefits of a design. Whatever it is the client is striving for, note it down and agree on it in writing if possible. The more paper trails the better it is for everyone.

06. Share your work live as much as possible

A key way to have your clients’ expectations match the end result in a project is to keep them on the same page with your project progress and how you’re carrying out your role. With our Spaces page on the Portaire software, you can share with your clients a live version of your concept imagery, sketches and product ideas.

If you’re at the point of sharing schedules, you can also share that directly, with a limited visibility. This will help you be transparent without bogging down the conversation with clients.

07. Involve clients in the sourcing process

Having clients get involved and issue feedback right in the sourcing process will make the scheduling mentioned above much easier and less rocky. Include your clients in expeditions to show rooms, shops and exhibitions to better understand what they’re expecting from the project.

If you’re on the lookout for new high-end suppliers in the interior architecture world, you can browse through our trade portal of 80+ suppliers and 3000+ products to get inspired.

08. Have weekly check-in meetings

At the very least, weekly calls will keep you and your client moving in the same direction, with true visibility on how everyone is feeling and how to keep moving forward. This recurring communication will make setting expectations easier, and will also allow you to pivot quickly in case something needs to change.

09. Know your limits

Design processes can take a toll on designers’ minds. Whether it’s the creative exertion of the design or the trudging of administrative processes, it can feel draining to go through the motions – especially when there’s a tight deadline.

To make sure you’re doing your best work, learn your work limits and communicate them thoughtfully with your clients. This involves being upfront when setting out goals, and explaining what is feasible and what isn’t. No one knows your workflows better than you, so stick to your gut and make it known how the processes work best.

10. Have empathy for everyone involved

It’s important to remind oneself of how little people outside the interior design world know about how a project is handled. Before you lose hope or your temper with a client, remember that to them it’s an incredible achievement and risk to carry out a renovation or design. They might be under tremendous pressure, stress and financial burdens in order to carry this out. It’s normal that they expect incredible things – they’re paying for it!

11. Stick to your pre-agreed dates and systems

Part of managing expectations is to carry out your end of the bargain with the utmost professionalism you can. This means sticking to the deadlines and in-between milestones you have set as much as possible, and if not, explaining why. This will give the professional relationship more solidity, and will help clients’ understand your rhythms and respect them more.


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