Have you ever spent time selecting and specifying items for clients only to have them decide to shop around and purchase the items themselves? I’m guessing it’s happened to most of you at least once. If so, it’s time to ensure it does not happen again. Let’s talk about how to stop your design clients from shopping around behind your back.
Identify Your Ideal Clients
First, it again goes back to asking – was this your ideal client? Often that is at the root of the problem. It is important to screen your potential clients to be sure you are a good fit for each other.
Are you effectively screening your clients through your website, social media, and emails? Your branding should communicate who your ideal clients are, so there is no confusion. You want to showcase projects with custom pieces, not DIY projects, if DIYers are not your ideal clients. Otherwise, you will attract people whose priorities conflict with the way you do business. Make sure your posts and visuals tell the story of how you transformed your client’s vision into reality.
Communicate and Educate
Start by discussing expectations – yours and theirs – and use the opportunity to educate them. This is where you begin to build trust, which will serve you well in avoiding clients“shopping your selections themselves. Before they sign the contract, explain how your firm works and take them through the process. You can use an example project similar to what they are envisioning to verbally and visually take them through the process. Be upfront in your initial meeting. Explain that this is an opportunity to find out if you are a good fit for each other. Even if you feel they fit your ideal client profiles, a more effective education will result in less chance for problems later, including doing things without communicating with you.
Even if they are ideal clients, removing the possibility of their shopping your selections should start before the contract is signed. Educate clients so they understand what is involved in selecting and purchasing design pieces. You don’t have to go into detail but let them know that there is much more to the process than just ordering a piece of furniture from a website. Explain that your knowledge includes various levels of manufacturing quality, types of fabric choices, furniture details such as arm or leg style, etc. Part of your value is using your knowledge to help your client traverse those kinds of choices. Because of that knowledge, you will be able to help them create their vision. Make sure they are aware of your expertise.
Clear communication is important throughout the project. If you have promised outstanding service, then that means regular communication – particularly when challenges arise. Confront the challenge immediately. Weekly updates, even if it’s only to say everything is on schedule, are another way to showcase your value. Clear communication can remind a client that they hired you for your professionalism or trustworthiness.
A client may not have worked with a designer before. Don’t assume they understand the value and advantages of working with a designer – and you, in particular. Educate them as to the division of responsibilities and include why they are important. For example, it’s their responsibility to make timely decisions for you to then move the project forward. It’s your responsibility to use your experience to identify and purchase the best pieces for the project that fit the client’s budget.
Make sure they understand the value of your expertise in working with trusted resources. Clarify that because of your relationship with those resources, the process with go smoother. It also offers great value if any troubleshooting is necessary. Because of your relationship with those resources, the problem will be addressed quickly. Plus, it means the client won’t have to spend time on the phone with a shipping company. Instead, your firm can carry that burden. It doesn’t sound fun, but it will go a long way to making a good impression on a client.
When sharing an overview of your design process, discuss the product selection segment. Explain that you suggest two or three possibilities in a variety of pricing tiers. Discuss how top-quality service and effective use of your clients’ investment are very important to you. In short, build trust, and assure them that they still have choice in the decision-making.
Despite what designers think, clients are not always focused on price. They want information. Why is one piece better than another? Why is a certain material ideal for this home? Blow them away with your wealth of knowledge. This is part of the value you can offer.
Be sure you have a “no substitutions once the overall design is approved” clause in your contract. Then be sure to discuss that clause when you review the contract with the client. Also include a clause that states you will charge a premium percentage to manage items the clients install that you were not involved in selecting. Explain that you will likely have to adjust your design to incorporate these items to achieve the vision that had been agreed upon, and that may take billable hours.
State in the contract itself that there are two ways that the designer is compensated. Then, again, when you review the contract with the client, be sure they understand this. Include language stating your pricing will never exceed MSRP.
Your contract should include purchasing terms and conditions which you also want to review with your clients. Help them understand the limitations that are common with your resources. That might be sharing that timelines are not guaranteed, price increases happen often and are out of your control, etc. This is also the time to explain why timely decisions are important. The price may increase or the item may be discontinued or out of stock.
In conclusion, to help eliminate clients shopping around and build long-term client relationships, be sure to:
- Clarify your ideal clients
- Educate your clients
- Communicate clearly and often
- Explain your unique value
- Write up a strong and clear contract
If you check all of these boxes, you’ll reduce the risk of your clients shopping behind your back, or of your clients ghosting you altogether.