June 19, 2014:

Empowering Your Clients - Budget Crunching & Negotiations

I think a lot of people have a misperception on how budgets and working with a designer actually plays out, designers included. I have friends who are designers who put together a presentation for a client with zero backup, contingencies or options. Many designers, especially those fresh out of school, fail to realize that putting together a design for a room, a floor or an entire house is ALWAYS a negotiation. What is presented is often done so as the "Best Case, What Budget?, Option"  - but is in no way the only option that you will proceed with. In fact, I can count on my hand THREE projects in the last 17 years that were accepted outright without any variation on the plans that were presented to them and I'm shocked that I have had that many. I should also note that two of them only happened in the last year and the other one within the last three years. This is a combination of luck and experience. I would say that I am exceptional at reading people, their tastes, their likes and dislikes. I don't always hit it right on the nose, sometimes I have a harder time reading people - the few I've had the most trouble reading we've ended up parting ways as it's not a good fit for either party. Sometimes you have to woo certain people and romance them a bit more than most before they are willing and/or able to open up to you. Even THAT can be a negotiation.

Before I put a presentation together, I like to explain to a new client that together we have to create the semantics of our design relationship. What does Cozy mean to you? I had one prospect tell me that she had seen the homes of her friends that were all open and airy and she wanted that but refused to part with her matching dark wine leather furniture set in the family room and her dark olive, black and gold living room furniture. Light and Airy will NEVER EVER EVER HAPPEN if you have these pieces. I'm often persuasive in getting clients to part with pieces that don't exactly work with their design but sometimes - confession moment here - I deliberately leave the existing pieces in the design plan so that the client is able to realize on their own, just how much their pieces will not work in the new scheme. You can lead the horse to water, but they have to choose to drink themselves ya know?

I've also shared my secrets to presenting to clients. I like to create a feast for their senses that include easy opportunities for them to say no to things. Being able to reject selections is powerful and it helps a client who has issues with giving over control, feel in control. It also helps those who don't have a great confidence in these matters to feel like they are involved and are able to be decisive. Many people who hire a designer, have an issue with making decisions for themselves and are easily overwhelmed. Creating opportunities for a client to say no to something is a huge  win for them and for you. It quickly tells you what they had an immediate and visceral negative reaction to - if your entire presentation plan hinged on that fabric that they summarily rejected, you have a moment to switch gears and head to plan B. If you didn't put a plan B together you best be a natural tap dancer as it is now time for you to Dance for your life. If a client X's a big favourite of mine - I often whimper a bit to them so that they know I loved that choice. If I'm truly passionate about it, I ask them why they responded with an Emphatic NO to better understand what set them off. I've been known to subsequently talk a client back into a HATED fabric when I have understood what it was that they've hated about it. I've even had clients slink back to me apologetically weeks later because they've now become obsessed with their rejected option.

Sometimes a client will be neutral or MEH to a cornerstone for your design plan. I find it is imperative at these times to explain the design principles behind your selection. Is it necessary for scale, colour, variety, repetition of a theme/motif? Is it the cornerstone fabric that the rest of the colour scheme will be dependent on. Sometimes, it's essential to point out to a client that it was selected because of it's price point or I reassure clients that even though it looks like a big bossy fabric on my meeting table but in actuality it will be a small player in the room but a necessary one. Once you've got the yesses lined up, it's often time to price it out.

We are VERY conscious when we are making a selection of fabrics to present to a client of price point. We know which brands and their respective lines come at what price point before we put them on the table and we are cautious when suggesting the application or use for a given fabric based on pricepoints. Case in point, we recently specified the most scrumptious of wool drapery fabrics for our #SawMill project. We knew going in, it would be an expensive fabric for drapery but the colour is perfection, the drape and hang will be spectacular and it was our first choice. We did however, have a back up if the clients felt it too expensive. We worked with our workroom to design the panels to maximum fulless without needing additional yardage - work rooms are your FRIENDS and can help you cheat a look and save you money! The clients gave us approvals on our first choice yesterday and we are elated. Plan B does not need to be activated for the drapery.

It does however, need to be actioned on in a few other areas where the clients thought the investment wasn't going to pay off. A stunning chaise/daybed for example. We didn't disagree with the client on this - we clutched pearls and gasped audibly when we got the price but we still presented it. I am happy to reselect items that a client feels are not worth the investment or defer others that they are very happy with but feel that they can't allocate the funds toward that at this time. We tuck the item away to revisit later. Other times, we defer selections until other items are installed first so that we can re-asses in the space itself with more context. The lesson in all of this - don't be too quick to say yes or no to something. Often, the best answer is to meditate, ruminate, ponder, consider, reflect or defer a decision. I routinely tell clients that we should slow the process down and think carefully or wait to think entirely about something to do with their project. This helps to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed and gives me time (and the control) to figure out the best way to navigate through these murky decision heavy waters. My philosophy about life and design - if it's a lot of effort to make something try and work it's probably not the right decision. The right decisions and choices are easy to say yes to. They fall into place. You feel like you are in a good groove. You are excited about the prospects that are unfolding. These are all exactly WHERE your project needs to be heading. If it isn't, stop and regroup. Maybe the designer you are working with isn't the right fit. Maybe the client you are working with isn't ready to work with a designer or is an equally as bad a fit for you.

Slow it down. Remain calm but determined. Leave it alone for a few days and revisit. 

And always have a Plan B.

and remember - if you can't afford it right NOW, save up and WAIT. TOTALLY worth it. Be honest with your designer and empower them to make the magic happen even if it means they have to give you the original look for less. Better the original designer do this than trying to settle for close but not quite close enough.