I was coaching one of my Good Clients, Great Money members when she told me this frustrating yet all too common story.
She recently met with a new prospect, who had been referred by another client, and they seemed to really hit it off. The designer was visiting the potential client’s home and they talked in great detail about the work the client desired for every room in the house.
She then returned to her office and e-mailed a Letter of Agreement and proposed budget to the client within a week.
Well, the designer became dismayed when it took several days to get a response, since the client said they were anxious to get started as soon as possible. She became even more upset when the client replied that they didn’t want to design the whole house, but instead wanted help picking out just a few pieces of furniture and to only be charged for a couple of hours of work.
As you can imagine, the designer was furious since this was not what the client said during their first meeting. She was also disappointed because she thought this was going to be a big job and spent a lot of time developing her LOA and proposed budget.
We all agree that this is a very frustrating situation and that it happens more often than we’d like, so here are some effective strategies to help you avoid this situation in the future.
First of all, DO NOT e-mail a Letter of Agreement.
The designer set herself up for failure. Here’s why…
She didn’t re-engage and build a connection with the client. She didn’t open the door for further discussion and thus lost control of the relationship. And worse, sending the LOA by email was almost like telling the client that they weren’t important enough to visit again.
TIP: Always present the LOA in person if you want to get the job!
Secondly, developing a budget without the client’s participation was a BIG mistake. The designer essentially told the client how much to spend, thus scaring the client and building resistance to the designer’s ideas.
And to top it off, this all happened before the designer was officially hired or, more importantly, before she was trusted.
Create a budget with the client and build a mutual understanding of how much to spend on each item. This will increase the client’s confidence that you are the expert, and will have them saying “yes” to the job while crafting the budget.
By the way… this “budget on the fly” is always a casual piece, written out by hand and given to them as a gift.
Another TIP: create a proposal with offers on three levels… Good, Better, Best.
Levels of design services make clients feel like there are options, while placing you in a position to negotiate. You’ll quickly discover that it’s easier to get the job when the client has more than one choice!
Having said all that… there are some methods for damage control.
Get another in-person appointment right away and think of new ways to meet the potential client’s needs while covering the time you’ve already invested.
Some suggestions –
Explain that billing hourly can be done, by offering a block of prepaid hours, but that it always costs the client more in the end.
Emphasize that developing a design plan is essential to having the project work out as beautifully as possible.
Stress that they don’t have to buy it all at once, but instead in stages – as long as they have a design plan.
And finally, show them the economic benefits of buying through you, the expert.