The Secrets of An Anxious Interior Designer To Working With Clients.
Updated: Sep 4, 2022
There is nothing more intense than the butterflies you get right in your gut right before meeting a potential Client (prospect) for the first time. The Adrenaline rushes in your veins, and Cortisol flows along and keeps you on edge.
That's how your body responds to stress and this is as much of a stressful situation as one can be, but also, dopamine, oh sweet dopamine, gives you this thrill and happiness, a positive outlook on the project and the future, you get a visual of your client seeing the space you designed and smiles, maybe tears up from gratitude? This. This notion is what keeps you going.
Why do you think meeting a client is one of the most stressful situations?
Well, meeting a client for the first time can make or break the deal, they are looking at our actions, tone, portfolio, and deciding whether to give us a literal piece of their heart (their homes, their shops, or anything that they need to be designed).
I don't know about you, but that definitely is a lot of pressure on me.
Overwhelm starts washing over me every single time and a little voice in my head is saying these literal words:
"Oh hell no, no, no, DANGER, we are not going there!
this is a new experience, these people think of me not only as an ADULT! but a PROFESSIONAL, do they know I don't have my life together? I don't even feel like an adult 99.9% of the time.
Do they want me to handle their MONEY and DECISIONS? that's way too much on the table.
REMEMBER THOSE HORRIBLE MISTAKES YOU DID IN THE PAST? You mismeasured that space and that contractor made a joke of you!
You WILL FAIL again, they will hate you, forever.
Oh also, they can totally see your double chin right now and what kind of designers is FAT?"
By the way, I am a fat designer and is one hell of a designer. In case you ever felt this way, you are not alone. Your body is only your exterior and a small part of who you are not the whole picture. And no matter what, don't save your happiness or confidence for a later weight or a later date. (thanks @nabela for this)
Then, I catch myself in the vortex of doubt and fear. I inhale, exhale, to calm my exhilarating heartbeat, then I start analyzing these thoughts, it all happens very quickly, but acknowledging your feelings is
Being in Control.
"Okay young Aseel, you are afraid, it's a new person who is putting their trust in you, and that is scary, your fear is valid. But you are going to stay in the backseat and I am the one driving my consciousness. You are trying to protect Us from crashing, but we can't live our lives afraid of everything, everything is scary. And you have failed before, you are going to fail again, but failure is how we learn. It's a part of life. So settle down and get comfortable with the uncomfortable situation, I love you and I am grateful that you are trying to protect me. Thank you, I need you, just not right now."
This little talk was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic Book. She taught me to address my fear and see it for what it is, without your fear you would be doing things that might literally kill you all the time.
When you are anxious, you are all in your head, looking INWARD, you are thinking about everything that can potentially go wrong but it's all a big 'maybe'. The way to counterfeit this is Active Listening.
Active Listening is when you sit across from your client and listen to them properly. As in asking them questions and mirroring their answers. Whether it's personal or professional this helps you learn a lot about them and get out of your head to the very moment right across from you.
Designer: you told me over the phone this is your family house, can you tell me more about your family members?
Client: Oh yeah! We are a big family, I have 3 daughters and 4 sons, I also live with my parents-in-law, we also have 3 cats so you see why we need someone to help us co-exist in a beautiful space!
Designer: Oh wow! You ARE a big family! God bless! That's so cool. How do you envision your family's day in your new home?
Remember, your questions need to be prepared and personal enough but not too personal. Questions that co-relate to functions in the space.
Mirroring is a technique that works wonders in building rapport and trust between you and your client. So when you repeat the gist of what they say you are building trust.
Get your laptop ready, your notebook, whatever kind of aid that helps you stay organized and jot down their requirements. Keep a questionnaire template handy and a Welcome Kit. Having the tools ready can ease your nerves and give you the tools needed in case the conversation falls dead. Don't get me wrong, I am all about spontaneity but that doesn't mean that preparation isn't essential. Find your sweet spot in both!
Label their feelings (and yours, and both of your fears).
I highly, highly recommend reading: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, it's all about negotiation techniques but it also teaches you a lot about the human psyche.
What do you mean by labeling their feelings?
Well, let's say it's time to give them a ballpark figure on how much your services might cost and they get a little tense which can be a really weird situation to be in as an anxiety-ridden individual. First of all, acknowledge that the ask is a lot (if it is). For Example: "I can see that you are worried, and it's normal to feel afraid investing this much money in your Interior. And to tell you the truth Interior Designers have quite the rep of being a little too greedy but I can assure you, I am after giving you the space of your dreams where your family can cuddle up and bond and will be putting all of my blood sweat and tears into making it come to life".
This might seem crazy, especially the part where you say Interior Designers have a reputation of being greedy, but they are already thinking it, so when you address it, it helps them feel understood.
Now just because I am saying that doesn't give you a pass for overcharging, charge for what you feel is fair of course but make sure you acknowledge their emotions and you will build even more trust in the process. It's a win-win situation.
Step 5: NEVER give your estimate or pricing from the get-go.
Ah, the agony where you tell your client a much lower price from the one you actually need to bill, then having to accept it because you gave your word.
Do you know where that stems from?
100% of the prospects all the time ask how much this is going to cost. Do not answer just yet, instead, hit them with the reverse Uno Card. Ask: what is your budget for this project? Then tailor the deliverables according to their budget.
If they ask you again, tell them you can't know for sure until the design is done and that you will keep their budget in mind but you can't make any promises.
Giving an exact number will only do one thing, will come to bite you later where you don't want to be bitten so consider yourself warned, lol.
This was how I cope with meeting clients for the first time as a designer with a severe anxiety disorder and ADHD. I have to remind myself of these steps every time, so I thought sharing them with you could be helpful if you are going through the same experience. Even if you are a chill person, I hope you find some value in this post! Thank you for reading! See you next Wednesday ✐