trade tales | Mar 20, 2020 |
The pros and cons of clients who’ve worked with other designers

Not all clients are going to be first-timers. We asked nine designers—Charlotte Barnes, Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo, Everick Brown, Emily Davis, Kevin O’Gara, Kendall Rabun, Lisa Sherry, Colleen Simonds and ​​​​​​​Carolyn Thayer—about the benefits (and drawbacks) of taking on clients who have previously worked with other designers.

Lisa Sherry
Lisa SherryCourtesy of Lisa Sherry

Experiential wisdom
“It’s one of my very first questions. If the potential client has previously worked with a designer, I’ll want to know how it went. The answers are so revealing. Clients change
partners for various reasons—they’re attracted to something in my portfolio, they’re ready for something different, they’ve moved to a new area, or maybe there were bumps in the road with their last designer. Experience tends to breed wisdom. Seasoned clients know the ropes, and it’s usually the start of a great relationship. Obviously, the ideal seasoned client is one I’ve worked with before.” —Lisa Sherry, Lisa Sherry Interieurs, Charlotte, North Carolina

Kevin O'Gara
Kevin O’GaraCourtesy of Kevin O’Gara

Compare and contrast
“When a client has previously worked with a designer, it can make the client relationship a little less stressful than a first-timer, because they are familiar with the exchange of ideas and level of trust underlying the service. That said, the relationship is always different from designer to designer, so you might also see them compare your communication style, pace, billing or how personal the relationship is to their former designer. It’s always imperative to clearly define the details of your service to ensure you’re on the same page when it comes to the dynamic you want to cultivate.” —Kevin O’​​​​​​​Gara, Thou Swell, Atlanta

Emily Davis
Emily DavisCourtesy of Emily Davis

Ask and you shall receive
“It is part of my initial conversation to ask if a potential client has worked with a designer in the past. If the answer is yes, I ask why they are no longer choosing to work with that firm, and their answer gives me insight as to how I can best serve them and if we would be a good fit. If the answer is no, I will have to educate them about my process and how they can best utilize my services to achieve the results they aspire to. Having an honest, up-front conversation from the get-go about what a client can expect from your partnership is the best way to ensure a client relationship is a fruitful one.” —Emily Davis, Emily Davis Interiors, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Colleen Simonds
Colleen SimondsCourtesy of Colleen Simonds

The trust factor
“There's not necessarily a huge difference, but clients who have worked with a designer before are typically more aware of what things cost and how designer fees work versus clients who haven’t—so there’s a little less sticker shock throughout the process. But every client relationship is different, and that has more to do with your individual personalities and needs than anything else. The best clients are always the ones who are trusting and open to your ideas.” —Colleen Simonds, Pittsburgh

Charlotte Barnes
Charlotte BarnesCourtesy of Charlotte Barnes

You’ve got a friend
“I’ve been the second designer a couple of times, but I’ve never asked who the previous designer was. And, thankfully, I’ve never been in a position where they’ve worked with a friend of mine. If they had worked with a friend of mine, I would definitely call that person and say, ‘I’m in the process of interviewing with this person. They said they worked with you, are you OK if I take this job?’ But I think designers understand that sometimes people just don’t click.” —Charlotte Barnes, Greenwich, Connecticut

Carolyn Thayer
Carolyn ThayerCourtesy of Carolyn Thayer

An understanding
“If a client has previously worked with another designer, I consider it a huge advantage, as [it means] two things for a better experience: First, they have come to me, so something has occurred that is keeping them from going back to the original designer. Once this is discussed, we can be certain we don’t fall into the same traps. Second, they have experience with a designer, so they’re educated on how the process works. With this understanding at the onset, it’s easier for them to articulate how they see the process working for them, allowing me to make any appropriate adjustments.” —Carolyn Thayer, Carolyn Thayer Interiors, Nantucket, Massachusetts

Everick Brown
Everick BrownCourtesy of Everick Brown

Confidence is key
“In general, I find clients who have previously worked with a designer tend to be more knowledgeable about the process, thereby making them more confident in the creative process and more efficient in the decision-making process.” —Everick Brown, Everick Brown Design, New York

Kendall Rabun
Kendall RabunCourtesy of Kendall Rabun

Win-win situation
“Within the past year, I’ve been on both sides of this question and I have to say, while the experiences have been different, both have been positive. For someone working with a designer for the first time, it’s an education in the design process, budget and timing. For my client who had worked with another designer in the past, they certainly understood the pricing and timing side of things, but had also learned a lot in their experience and brought that perspective to the table. I welcome that experience the same way I welcome walking someone through the design process for the first time. At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong path to achieving a successful designer-client relationship.” —Kendall Rabun, Kendall Rabun Interiors, Bronxville, New York

Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo
Laurie Blumenfeld-RussoCourtesy of Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo

Happy to See You
“I have found that if a client has worked with another designer previously, they were [likely] somehow disappointed with them and are excited to begin working with me. So it’s actually easy. Clients who have never worked with a designer need a little more hand-holding on how the process works, and setting some boundaries.” —Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo, Laurie Blumenfeld Design, New York

Homepage photo courtesy of Colleen Simonds

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