I can’t stress enough the importance of first client meeting and how it sets the pace and tone of the project. I believe that the relationship between a client and designer must be friendly, healthy and full of trust. I rather have a client who I “gel” with than no client at all.
The one thing I learnt from my experience working in London with other designers (and clients too) is that if the client doesn’t trust the designer, or doesn’t provide enough information (i.e. special wishes, budget, furniture specs, preferred colours and styles etc.), there is an obvious tension mounting between the two parties until one of them walks away.
It’s not unusual that designers and clients cancel the contract for whatever reason. But mostly it’s because they are too different and not a suitable fit for each other. A lot of clues about the working relationship can be determined at the first meeting. If you’re a client hiring a designer you should go by instinct and the energy you feel in the designer’s presence.
Designers should be naturally “customer facing people”. They should be able to listen, observe and emphasise. They should be presenting themselves as trustworthy and non-judgemental. They should be open-minded and tactful. And you should be able to pick this “vibe” up by instinct. Go with your gut, I say!
THE MEETING’S AGENDA
So what’s the first meeting actually about? Well, mainly it’s for both parties to get together and discuss briefly the client’s needs. This is what I take to my initial client meeting:
1. Client’s survey questionnaire
To help my client with the project I need some information. It includes questions about all household occupants, the purpose and function of the space, what needs to be done and what is desired. I survey the client, the space and desired preferences/outcome.
Two things I want to mention when talking about questionnaire:
As part of the survey, I need to have a general idea of a client’s budget. Nothing specific or detailed but a general figure is always extremely helpful. This can be quite tricky for some clients because they don’t want to give this information for the following reason. If they do they feel that they are limiting themselves from something better. I wrote an article about this before called “How to buy smartly for your home” where I discussed the importance of knowing your budget. Click here to read it.
The most important take away here is that without a budget indication, no project can be executed successfully.
Similar to budgeting, I always ask about the timescale of the project. Some furniture and bespoke pieces can take several weeks to be produced and delivered, so knowing the timescale will help greatly with organising the logistics and labour.
I always have a tape measure and colour chart fan in my bag. You never know when you’ll need it.
3. Portfolio book
I like my Portfolio to be presented in hardcover book rather than a brochure. It has a nice texture and finish plus I think it’s more creative and professional. I’m just in the process of updating my Portfolio book 2015 but you can have a look at my last year Portfolio book here which will give you an idea how it looks like in the digital format.
4. Business cards
This is just how I do things, but I always leave my business card with my client, even though they might already have my contact number and email address. When the opportunity arises they might pass it on to their friends or family.
Apart from going with your instinct which should give you some idea of whether or not you can see yourself working with the designer, I also like to provide my references as an extra reassuring element. Houzz, for example, which is the trusted interior design platform for professional designers and public, has one of the strictest review processes I know. Each review is carefully inspected and validated before it’s approved.
6. Smart phone with camera
Finally, sometimes mobile is handy not just for the obvious but also for taking quick pictures for reference, when compiling the design proposal after the first meeting. Images and notes are absolutely vital to taking the next step with the client.
7. Lipstick (not compulsory)
To me refreshing my lips before the meeting is part of my mini ritual. There’s nothing better than seeing someone new with great hair & make up, clean clothes and good manicure. I’m the “face” of my business so I need to look my best, especially when meeting new potential clients.