I've worked with hundreds of interior design clients, and even I STILL get butterflies in my stomach when it's time to seal the deal with a new client.
It's no wonder. Who would want to stop talking about a fun thing like interior design, to talk about money and lawsuits?
Don't worry. I’m going to teach you how you can naturally bring up your contract, and shift gears from happy chit-chat to business talk without losing your nerve.
First things first. You MUST have a client contract, and here's the tricky part, you must get it signed before you do one iota of designing. I call it my CYA contract. I’m sure you all know that means “cover your ass”.
Everyone knows, when you go into business with anyone you should always sign a contract. Unfortunately in our industry, it’s easy (and very common) to skip this critical step because the very nature of our business requires us to build a personal relationship with our clients before we agree to work together.
Successful interior designers know You Can't Skip This Step!!!! So here's the secret to turning a potentially uncomfortable situation into a reason to celebrate.
You know the part of your first house-call when you're done touring the house, you've asked a thousand questions, built a great rapport with the homeowner, and you've been getting the undeniable "I can't wait for your help" signals. Now it's time to get to business. (Grab the butterfly net.)
The last thing you want to do is to coldly switch into business mode by saying something like, “All right, here’s the contract, you'll have to sign away all your liability, and now I need a deposit.” That's a surefire way create a hostile working relationship.
It's important to understand that a design contract is more than a document to protect yourself from liability, it's also a simple way to keep your clients happy. Your contract should clearly spell out your expectations and your project procedures, then you’re far less likely to have an unhappy client.
After 25 years of working with design clients myself, I've learned to cover all of the designer specific issues in the contract that I use like; time delays, back-orders, dye lots, and the benefits of speedy decision making.
*An Important Tip. Be sure to take detailed notes on everything that you discuss during your initial walk through. Write them down in your project sketchbook to remind you of who’s responsible for what, any of their concerns you might need to address, and the red flags you noticed. That way you can refer to your notes when you’re going over the contract.
Find some place comfortable to sit down. Take out your contract. Take a deep breath, and then say, “I’m so glad that you’re excited about working together. Your project is going to be beautiful. Let’s get the business stuff out of the way so we can have some fun. I want to explain how this process is going to work.” Simple as pie!
Most people they’ve never worked with a designer, so it’s completely logical that you would have this discussion.
If you keep it in a conversational yet professional tone, it’s not the least bit uncomfortable. There are none of those awkward pauses. You've just opened the door to have your "Chat" and then collect your deposit.