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Ultimate Guide to Working with Affluent Clients in Interior Design

Ultimate Guide to Working with Affluent Clients in Interior Design

Affluent interior design clients, or those with a net worth of $6 million or more, operate differently than those of lower economic brackets. While they share many traits with the rest of us, their lives, attitudes and values are distinctly different. What’s more, they are quite aware of that and expect others to be aware as well. Marketing to them can be difficult, but there are some simple ways you can shift your strategy to attract affluent clients.

Are You Ready to Take on Affluent Clients?

Affluent clients often have ambiguous feelings about working with an interior designer. On the one hand, they want your advice and respect your professional expertise. On the other hand, they fear losing control over the project and can be overly demanding and micromanaging. They are used to being in charge and making decisions, and so may regard you more as a consultant than a practitioner. Before you agree to take on the job, be sure you are both clear on who is managing the project and making specific decisions.

Successful and confident, affluent clients nonetheless may feel intimidated or apprehensive when working with a designer for the first time. They worry that you will judge their taste, their home and their possessions unfavorably, or that you may try to exploit their wealth. Consequently, they may seem overly anxious or defensive. Look for opportunities to reassure them that you are there to act in their best interest.

Network and Educate for Success

Develop relationships with other professionals who serve affluent clients, such as architects, luxury builders, and high-end real estate agents. Collaborating with these industry experts can lead to referrals and expand your network within the affluent market. It’s also important to have industry contacts who can serve the high-end tastes of wealthy clients. Stay updated on the latest trends, technologies, and materials in the luxury interior design industry. Attend industry events, participate in workshops, and pursue certifications to enhance your expertise and stay competitive in the affluent market. Because as you know, it’s an entirely different game than catering to middle-class clients.

How to Attract Affluent Clients

If like many designers, you wish to attract highly affluent clients, you first must understand what it is they want from a designer and how to engage with them. According to Chris Ramey, who specializes in developing best practices to serve the affluent, highly affluent design prospects are looking for someone who serves others like them and “gets” them.

Sophistication First

You might assume that this clientele will be scrutinizing your portfolio to assess your experience, your talent and your taste. Not so, says Ramey. Those are a given. What they are looking for is a certain level of sophistication and respect for their privacy and their highly valuable time. Be assured, they are in the market for a service, not just a collaboration or a guiding hand. If you look at existing luxury design websites, you might notice a strange lack of images and project showcases, and this is a direct result of this behavior. Focus on what you can offer particular clients, rather than your past portfolio.

Fascinate and Enchant

Highly affluent prospects pride themselves on having a home, or homes, that reflect their sophisticated sense of style and taste, their worldliness, their success, and their cherished family stories. With these prospects, says Ramey, you don’t sell them; you fascinate and enchant them with the promise of something unique that will help them to live abundantly.

Bring something to the table that sets you apart from all the other designers competing in this market. Be a connoisseur of something—art, antiques, a historical period, a design style, a culture. Whatever it is, you want to demonstrate that you do things, see things, and know things that these prospects otherwise wouldn’t. Let them see you have the capability to enrich their lives.

What Speaks to Affluent Clients

Based on his research, Chris Ramey states that often highly affluent clients visit a designer’s website and quickly leave. The main reasons are they do not see themselves in the imagery on the site and the designer’s promise does not include words or phrases that are important to them.

Ramey suggests avoiding words like “experience” and “professional,” and instead using more evocative terms like “atmosphere” and “discreet.” Your imagery on websites, social media and marketing materials should be limited and of very high quality. Photos should not be used to demonstrate design skills or finished projects but rather to engage the imagination of the viewer. They should be artful, suggesting a certain kind of sophisticated lifestyle rather than showing it directly.

Designers who normally work with more mid-level affluent clients might worry that they will be put off by a luxury-oriented website. On the contrary, explains Ramey, highly affluent clients will turn away from a website directed at mid-level affluents. Those mid-level affluent prospects, because they aspire to an even more affluent lifestyle, will also respond to a website directed at highly affluent prospects. So it’s best to shoot for the stars!

Before attempting to reach out to this clientele, take the time to get to know more about them and to get things in order to appeal to and serve them in the manner to which they are accustomed. When you get their attention, you want to hold on to it.

Keep it Professional

Affluent clients are often looking for a very specific relationship between themselves and a designer. Wealthy clients tend to be very private and value discretion. If you can offer this, you can attract these clients. Be careful not to ask what they do or too many personal questions at the beginning of the relationship. Let the wealthy client share personal details if and when they’re comfortable. Clients need to know they can trust you so erring on the side of professionalism rather than being too friendly is the best strategy.

Gather Testimonials When You Can

Since many affluent clients are very private, an actual testimonial or project showcase can hold a lot of weight. Testimonials, case studies, and references from satisfied affluent clients can be powerful marketing tools. Request testimonials from past clients and encourage them to share their positive experiences. This social proof will help build credibility and attract more clients. Alternatively, you may find that word-of-mouth is your most effective marketing technique, and you can leverage the network of the first affluent clients that you work for.

However, don’t make these testimonials or projects front and center on your website. They can exist, but as mentioned above, your website should have an atmosphere and a feeling rather than hard details. Make this information available for those that want it, but don’t make it the focus. You can also save it for the interview process when a client is considering working with you.

What to Know About Affluent Clients

Affluent clients operate differently than middle-class or upper-class clients. It’s important to recognize the distinctions, especially if you come from a different background. Understanding how affluent clients tend to operate when working with service providers will help make your relationship a successful one.

1. They’re intimidated by interior designers and architects

They are very concerned with not looking bad or not having excellent taste. They may need reassurance. It’s very important that you show them that you understand them and take the time to find out what they want.

2. Affluent clients can be spoiled

Many of these wealthy clients are younger, may be savvy businesspeople, or in some cases may have inherited money and are used to getting what they want. When working with this type of client you must act together. Make it a point to always provide accurate bills, listen well and always deliver what you promise.

3. Privacy is critical

Wealthy clients don’t want you or any of your staff talking about them outside of your office. Be very careful about what you say and to whom.

4. Good manners go a long way

This goes for any client, of course. But it can go doubly so for affluent and influential ones. Always write thank you’s and offer small gifts if appropriate that show you are thinking about them outside of your business relationship. Take note of anniversaries and other life events if possible.

3. Manage Budgets and Expectations

Affluent clients may have more flexible budgets compared to other clients, but managing their expectations is crucial. Discuss budget considerations early in the project and establish clear communication regarding costs, fees, and any potential changes to the budget. Be transparent about the value they can expect for their investment.

Challenges of Working with Affluent Clients

Affluent clients aren’t necessarily easy, but they can be worth it. It’s important to know the challenges and realities of this demographic in order to work with them effectively.

1. They don’t spend money frivolously

Wealthy though they may be, many affluent clients are still careful and conscientious about how they spend their money. Don’t be surprised if they question your recommendations and probe for additional information or explanations for your choices. In their eyes, they are only doing their due diligence. Make your answers clear, forthright and to the point.

2. They don’t always prioritize “stuff”

Today’s wealthy consumers, particularly affluent millennials, have a very different attitude toward luxury, consumption and professional services. They are not necessarily interested in having a lot of possessions or in buying the most expensive or prestigious item they can afford. They value quality, craftsmanship, uniqueness, possessions that reflect their taste and values, and doing good and supporting their community, whether local or online. Provide them with attentive personalized service, responsive and succinct communication, and solutions that exceed their expectations.

3. Affluent clients are checking prices online

By now, we are used to clients comparing prices and shopping for furnishings and fixtures online. Affluent consumers rank among the highest users of mobile and internet technology, and of online searchers and shoppers. Be prepared to discuss pricing, markups, and who is going to buy what and why. Anticipate that your client has already researched an alternative to the materials that you proposed, so be ready to defend your choices with your expertise in the field but acknowledge the work the client did.

4. You may not get to take photos

One of the most appealing aspects of working with an affluent client is the opportunity to take photos for your portfolio and get a luxury home on your website. However, since many affluent clients are private people, they may stipulate that you cannot take or use photos from the project. Keep this in mind if it is one of your priorities.

Working for affluent clients is a goal for many interior designers. With dreams of high-value projects, meeting with members of high society, and getting to work with premium materials, it should be no surprise! However, it’s important to understand the challenges you may not have considered, as well as the differences between affluent clients and your normal clients.

And How to Avoid Them
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