When it comes to sizing up a new client, every designer has their own set of red flags. Maybe it’s a dispute about fees or even something as simple as a clash of tastes. Whatever your personal deal breaker may be, most designers have developed a sense of when it’s time to walk away. We asked two designers and an architect—J.P Horton, Stephanie Sabbe and Geoff Chick—how they know when to say no.
DON’T FALL INTO THE INTERN TRAP
“If someone has worked with more than two local designers already, I am very hesitant about taking the project. Nashville is a small town and I think most of the designers do what they do very well. Also, the third time is rarely a charm. The South is full of clients who are aspiring designers and hooray for that, but I am not interested in being someone’s paid intern. So when potential clients throw out terms like ‘I’d like you to assist me’ or ‘I'm really good at design but need help pulling it all together,’ I know it’s probably not the right fit. We do not take projects that have less than 80 hours worth of design fees, which in the realm of professional interior design is nothing. But it helps weed out all of the little things like, ‘Can you pick a paint color?’ and also gently initiates the conversation about how much time interior design actually takes, because most people have no clue.” —Stephanie Sabbe, Sabbe Interior Design, Nashville, TN
BE WARY OF AN UNINVOLVED SPOUSE
“A major red flag is a client who ‘shops’ me. This happened recently, and I had to let the client go before even more time and money was wasted. I spent three months designing rooms from scratch and the client took the pieces I’d proposed and tried to find similar items online while refusing to pay my bill. A client must understand your value and what you bring to them as a professional designer. If their intent is to just get ‘design ideas’ from you, then you should walk away. Another red flag is a client who doesn’t involve their spouse. You don’t want to encounter a situation where you suddenly lose a project when an uninvolved spouse discovers how much is being spent.” —J.P. Horton, J.P. Horton Interior Design, Charleston, SC
HOLD YOUR GROUND
“As an architect, floor plans and elevations are the vocabulary we use to communicate ideas to a client. Nothing is worse than hearing a client say, ‘I can’t read plans,’ or ‘I can’t see it.’ While 3-D technology has made it possible to bridge the gap, it’s tough to provide services for someone when you aren’t speaking the same language. I’ve started showing people plans and sketching through concepts in the initial meetings to see how they respond. If they are unable to read floor plans or have a dialogue about design ideas on paper, I usually have to disengage. My final red flag is contract-related. If a client marks up the design agreement and haggles over terms, I have learned the hard way that they are more likely to abuse you throughout the process. The relationship usually deteriorates along the way, and I always regret not following my gut instinct to pass. If a client takes an inch in the beginning, they will see it as permission to continue taking. Establish what terms you are willing to work for, and hold your ground.” —Geoff Chick, Geoff Chick & Associates, Santa Rosa Beach, FL