trade tales | Sep 25, 2020 |
What do you bring to your first meeting with a client?

Your first meeting with a client can set the tone for the entire working relationship. We asked nine designers—Jake Arnold, Harry Heissmann, Charlie Hellstern, Kevin Isbell, Isabel Ladd, Lauren Nelson, Lori Paranjape, Lauren Tribbett and Sarah Wittenbraker—what they bring to that key encounter.

Sarah Wittenbraker
Sarah WittenbrakerCourtesy of Sarah Wittenbraker

Start with a gift
“On our first site visit with a client, our team—masked, of course!—shows up first with a gift to celebrate the start of the project and our working relationship, usually something bubbly! We also have a binder from a past project to help communicate and set expectations about our process, as well as [asking] many questions to narrow down the client’s vision and goals for their new home. Finally, tape measures and phones live in our pockets to take quick measurements and plenty of detailed notes and pictures.” —Sarah Wittenbraker, Sarah Wittenbraker Design, Austin, Texas

Lauren Nelson
Lauren NelsonCourtesy of Lauren Nelson

Observe and report
“When I meet clients for the first time, it's usually at their home so we can do a walk-through of the spaces we'll be transforming. Even if it's a new-build project and the plans are just on paper, it's always helpful to see how they live, their current style, and where they're trying to go. The most important thing to bring, next to my tape measure and camera, is careful observation. I listen, observe, and try to pick up on their lifestyle, what type of people they are, how they use each space, what's working now and what's not. These are the things that will ultimately inform our design direction and determine the success of a project.” —Lauren Nelson, Lauren Nelson Design, San Anselmo, California

Charlie Hellstern
Charlie HellsternCourtesy of Charlie Hellstern

Come prepared
“We always treat our first client meeting as a ‘chemistry’ meeting. This is the first chance to see if we will enjoy working with each other, and an opportunity for both sides to use the magic of first impressions. We always travel with a meeting kit full of goodies, but for a first meeting, the most important items are a tape measure, a camera, a notebook, an open mind—and snacks, because you always need snacks.” —Charlie Hellstern, Charlie Hellstern Interior Design, Seattle

Jake Arnold
Jake ArnoldCourtesy of Jake Arnold

Pay attention
“Bringing my full and undivided attention is the most important. For a first meeting, my primary goal is to establish a rapport and ensure the client and I are aligned in terms of aesthetics and approach. Achieving that is less about any specific tool or resource, and more often about doing enough research about the property and the client to ensure I have a compelling set of initial schematic ideas in mind.” —Jake Arnold, Studio Jake Arnold, Los Angeles

Kevin Isbell
Kevin IsbellCourtesy of Kevin Isbell

High-wire act
“I bring a smile and a small notebook. These meetings are often a tightrope walk, because you need to offer up enough general ideas for the client to move forward without giving away too much. We are selling our artistry and creative ideas, so we have to give enough to entice them to move forward, but without giving away the house, so to speak.” —Kevin Isbell, Kevin Isbell Interiors, Los Angeles

Isabel Ladd
Isabel LaddCourtesy of Isabel Ladd

Positive intentions
“As a believer in the power of thought and energy, I always center myself and focus on bringing positive energy into the meeting. I’ll do a quick meditation in the car before going in to clear my head and set my energy. Then, I set forth with good intentions: May this partnership be mutually beneficial, thoughtful, successful and positive. The rest is all about listening, taking detailed notes and bringing a tape measure in case something technical comes up during the conversation.” —Isabel Ladd, Isabel Ladd Interiors, Lexington, Kentucky

Laura Tribbett
Laura TribbettCourtesy of Laura Tribbett

Ease In
“I try to strike a balance of having everything I need but without overwhelming the client, as this isn’t the meeting to get too detailed just yet. I bring my staple supplies: notebook, tape measure, laser measure, phone and paint deck. I have also found it’s helpful to bring the iPad preloaded with examples of relevant portfolio work or inspiration photos that can aid in discussing design development. It also never hurts to bring a little new client gift.” —Laura Tribbett, Outline Interiors, Chicago

Harry Heissmann
Harry HeissmannCourtesy of Harry Heissmann

Trace out the path
“I arrive old-school, with a roll of the canary-colored tracing paper I like to use, a sharpened pencil or two, and several Flair pens, with at least one in a fun color, and a scale ruler. I also carry a red linen-covered binder with projects that have recently been published and a leather-bound book with blank pages for notes. Lastly, I have a large printed postcard featuring four images of different-style projects illustrating my ‘client-centric’ approach to leave with them. On the back of the card is all my relevant information. Some people prefer a business card, which I also carry in a small leather case.” —Harry Heissmann, Harry Heissmann Inc., New York

Lori Paranjape
Lori ParanjapeCourtesy of Lori Paranjape

Teamwork makes the dream work
“My clients live all across the U.S., so I typically meet them for the first time in-person on a job site. I travel with my design manager, plus a lead designer. During the meeting, they are taking careful notes, measurements and photos, so I get the luxury of being hands-free. That’s huge, because it means all of my attention and focus is on getting to know the client and really listening to their needs for the project. In the short amount of time we get together, I want to connect with them as much as possible. So what do I bring to a first client meeting? My team and my undivided attention!” —Lori Paranjape, Redo Home + Design, Nashville

Homepage photo: A project by Lauren Nelson | Photo by Bess Friday

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