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  • Writer's pictureCraig K. Whitehead

Are you a good client? How would a professional rate you?

There are many articles out there that discuss how to work with a designer/decorator, but not much when you talk from the client's perspective. I will address those in due course. For now, I want to put to you how many designers (myself included), perceive a client. What makes a good client? Would you consider yourself a good client? In the mindset that the customer is ALWAYS right, which people love to throw about with such powerful intent as an excuse to misbehave, is it possible that the client is often wrong or uninformed and mostly it is because of poor business habits or simply put very bad manners? I would say this much is often true. I have heard and seen some things and I know my design community would agree. There was even talk once that there should be a black book for listing problematic clients who made it their business to pit us against each other as professionals or do everything in their power to shortchange us. Unfortunately for us this is illegal or I think that could have been a best seller in the right hands.

For many people, the prospect of working with a professional seems daunting and expensive. As a general public, our access to information and the world of decor and an array of home goods is so vast these days that almost anyone imagines you may not need a designer to help you at all. Sometimes this much may be true. But for the person who wants to know their space is well thought out, creatively considered and designed to work best for them and their needs, then hiring a professional may not be so far fetched. In the eighties and nineties I would say it was ever so on point to say you had a designer do your home. It was a sign of status in many circles especially if he or she were the top in their professions. Competition was high and so too were the expectations to have a particular designer do your home.

There are a few ways in this industry that one can work with a professional and many choose to work differently. This doesn't make it easy deciding whom you should work with but its a personal matter and when you do, you may consider not confusing the issue by drawing comparatives in the trade with how people work differently. In the next few articles in these blogs, I will discuss with you some of the ways in which I work and why I find it beneficial to do so, versus how some other designer's work.

As a professional decorator and designer, I spent some years acquiring the knowledge and skills I have and often at very expensive pitfalls in my working career. Sometimes trying to do something easier rather than correctly to appease a demanding client who frankly would like to think they know it all. It seldom if ever is a good idea and often ended in drama or disappointment. Thankfully I have learned early on enough that I will not do certain things because they jeopardize my name and my quality. When you find a client that thinks like you do as a designer, then working as a professional becomes an entirely different ball game. You get to work with a client who understands that there is just no shortcut to doing things right. The client respects your knowledge and your skill sets and gives you the support you need to do your job well. Inevitably it's often the other way around when a client becomes too engaged without taking advice to heart. I have had quite a few of those in my life too. My best work stems from the client who cares to give you the support and who embraces your creative judgement rather than questioning it at every turn or dare I say trying to undermine it. The relationship remains strong and you end up doing multiple projects for them through the years.

But how would a designer rate you? What makes a good client? Well, simply put, one who respects you enough to do your job and pays you on time to do a good job. Much like any employer should. I am not in any way undermining the value of asserting a good deal and ensuring you get what you pay for. This much, for the purposes of this article, goes unsaid. We have had our share of aspiring designers and home decorators who think they know it all jump on the wagon and take our good clients for a ride. I've cleaned up a few design disasters in my lifetime. But as a client, do your homework first. get the referrals you need, ask the questions you need, and be sure you understand what your designer means when he uses his terminology. I have a "document of good practice" now that tells my clients how I work, what my fees are and how I charge. It also explains my methodology and procedures to them and acts as a reference material to any questions they may have.

For heaven's sake, take the time to do this prior to working with someone and you may avoid the pitfalls of grey areas and messy expensive break ups. It is my duty to inform a client of these things upfront and their responsibility to understand it before signing our contracts. A good designer is transparent about timelines, delays and expenses and has no issue resolving quality if there are ever instances that arise because they use brilliant and responsible manufacturers. Sometimes things happen. But how does the designer treat his clients when they do?

Moreover... how do you as a client react? Are you professional? Reasonable? Do you pay promptly when you should? Dependable too, all the things you come to expect from your designer? Or are you unnecessarily rude , demanding and threatening. Do you manipulate processes withholding payment and leave a string of unhappy suppliers in the wake of your activity? Trust me, I have had clients who refuse to pay without good reason, leave you stranded, and some even open the line of negotiation with a horrid threat even before appointing you. There is no room for such conversation when you intend to start with someone and create something good. In my experience, as a designer, I would rather decline the opportunity and make room for something else.

Such behavior speaks volumes about the character and nature of the client you are dealing with. So swiftly put, no sir, or madam, the client is not always right. You are equally as responsible to a good business deal and working arrangement as your designer is. It is naturally as important to make your client happy as it is theirs to honour the agreements between you, but this is done with mutual respect and doing a good job. I would assume this is true for any industry.

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