business advice | Jul 2, 2024 |
How do I get over my anxiety about handing off client communications to my team?

Dear Sean,

I need to staff up—and when I do, it will mean delegating some client conversations to members of my design team. Up to now, I’ve been our clients’ sole point of contact, so this feels like a big change. In BOH’s coverage, I see that designers are doing this all the time. What’s the secret to getting it right, and how can I stop being so nervous about handing over some conversations and control?

Doubtful Delegator
Scared to Step Back

Dear Doubtful/Scared,

My stepfather loved to buy low, sell high. He owned a factory that made wedding rings and fully embodied the factory mentality: make as much as he could for as little as he could, then try to sell it for as much as he could. He was fortunate and retired relatively early, but that mindset shaped how he approached the world. He once called me on his way to Costco to ask me how much I was going to pay for a bar of soap. I told him whatever the CVS across the street was going to charge me. “Sucker,” he would say—he was going to pay much less. Then he asked me how much I would advise a designer client to charge as a design fee for their creative output, and I said $400,000. When he responded with disbelief, I said, “That is what it is worth, and what the client needed to pay to receive the art they desired.”

I understand that you might feel like you are giving up control of your clients, or that you risk their happiness if you are not the one talking to them. But please remember two things: First, you are too busy to give them the attention they most certainly deserve. Second, by being the sole communicator, you rob them of the idea that the person they are talking to is the best in the world (your world) at what they do.

Why should you actually want your clients to talk to someone other than you? Obsession. My stepfather was obsessed with saving money and hyper-efficiency. I couldn’t care less. But if a client’s project is at the stage where efficiency and value maximization matter, you should want the person speaking to your client to be obsessed with those things. (Whether that person is a full-time employee or freelancer is another question for another column, but one thing is clear: That person is not you.)

Of course, the mirror turns back to you: What are you obsessed with? I presume that is design and how to make a remarkable, singular space for your client. This path of discovery to design, I am sure, is your obsession, and only you can speak to that—so let that be where you live. That does not mean that you will not be aware of all that is happening for any project, just that you will be committed to allowing different voices to sing at different moments.

You may think that by answering every client question you are supporting the client, the project and even your employee. You are not. All you are doing is throwing your employee under the bus and quite literally robbing them of their voice.

So before you embark on the process of allowing employees to manage client communications, ask yourself if you will be able to honor their voice and their role. If not, then you have some work to do, as otherwise no one will be happy—not your client, your employee or you. However, when you accept and embrace that your firm is now bigger than you, and structure it accordingly, you will allow obsession to drive the bus, as it should be.

Which leads me to the most important point: Culture matters. The what, when, how and why of all that your firm does is up to you and you alone, but it must be clear to everyone who encounters your firm.

Never forget the coffee table test. Do not hire anyone, especially an employee that will interface with your clients, until you have done the work of defining your culture. Once you’ve done that, you can let the right team members be bastions of your culture and help carry you and your firm forward. A path uncharted, to be sure, but unexpected opportunity most certainly awaits if you choose to walk it.


Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.

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