Today more than ever, clients are “shopping” designers. What I mean by that is not the issue of clients buying furnishings themselves, but the bigger issue of people looking to designers for free advice, with no intention of ever hiring them.
It’s a big slap in the face when it happens, and believe me, it happens to every designer. There are many facets to this trend, but here are my top recommendations for how to avoid this situation.
1. Qualify. Qualify. Qualify.
Qualifying your prospect is arguably one of the most important skills you can learn. If you spend time with prospects that aren’t a good fit or won’t buy, you’re wasting your most precious resource – time.
Here’s an easy way to remember what you need to know:
• Do they have the MONEY to hire you?
• MOTIVE – why do they want to complete this project now?
• And is this opportunity a GOOD FIT for you?
If your prospect doesn’t meet all three criteria, then you need to politely let them know that you’re not the right designer for them.
2. Don’t waiver.
I know it is hard to turn a client down, but even if they meet two of the three criteria, they aren’t a qualified prospect. Period. I’ve worked with literally thousands of prospects in my career, and I’m giving you sage advice.
3. Always confirm your prospect’s budget in the first meeting.
How can you determine whether you can help them (let alone whether they’re a qualified prospect) if you don’t know their budget? It seems obvious, but I know that many designers allow their prospects to be non-committal. If you don’t confirm your prospect’s budget range, you’re not working very smart. Forgive my bluntness. If you want to stop being shopped, you must know the answer to the “level of investment” they are willing to make. And by the way, you’ll likely lose the business anyway if you take the client and don’t agree on this important detail.
4. Never give design ideas before you have a signed contract.
The reason why prospects “shop” designers is because designers allow themselves to be shopped. So stop giving your ideas away. I’m not talking about giving them “appetizers” or sample ideas – those are OK in small quantities. But you need to confidently educate your prospect on how the process works and that what they see on TV does not reflect the way designers work in the real world. You’re happy to discuss your portfolio, as well as discuss specifics about the feasibility of what they want to accomplish, but designers don’t give away intellectual property without a commitment (use that term). Once they hire you, you’ll create their personal design for them.
If you follow my advice, I promise you’ll spend much less time being “shopped” and more time working with your Ideal Clients – the ones who truly value you and your work.