EDITOR’S NOTE: If you missed Part 1 of Amy’s advice on The Initial Consultation, then catch yourself up here because we’re diving right in to Part 2…
During this critical time, gather as much information as possible. You absolutely must gain an understanding of what this prospective client expects from a designer. What will they be looking for you to provide” Find out if they have worked with a designer in the past. If so, what kind of experience did he or she have” If they say it was not a good experience, provide reasons why their experience with you will be different, backing that up with concrete examples. Ask questions that give the prospect the opportunity to discuss their current and future needs, what they like and do not like and how they see the project unfolding and progressing.
Going On Tour
After the introductions and expectations, the next agenda item is usually The Tour. The client will walk you through the property or the idea for the project if it has yet to be built. During this time, you should be doing much more LISTENING than talking.
Get an understanding of what is working for them and what is not, and listen for clues on what they really want because it is often not what your prospect is saying. Review their intentions for the project and any images they may have collected illustrating styles that they are drawn to and features and colors they like. You want to come away with an understanding of their wants and needs, likes and dislikes, and, most importantly, the scope of the project.
Remember to check your ego at the door. This meeting is about your prospect. Leave yourself out of it. You are not there to talk about your personal life. You are a professional, not a friend.
Although the question of whether to come right out and ask “What is your budget”” is sometimes hotly debated, you must get an understanding of what kind of investment your prospect is willing to make in the project and their anticipated timeline.
The reasons for obtaining this information during the consultation are two-fold. First, you need to understand what you have to work with and if it fits with the size and type of project your firm accepts. Second, these two factors give you the best indication of whether or not this prospect understands and values the design process. If a prospect says they have $5,000 to gut and remodel a kitchen or wants to have an entire home redecorated before Thanksgiving (and it’s already September), then you know that you either have some work cut out to educate this prospect on The Design Process OR you need to walk away from the job/client.
Perform A Gut Check
Now that you have spent some time with this prospect, what is your gut feeling about him or her and the project as a whole” Do you have any reservations about developing a relationship with them” Do they have unrealistic expectations of perfection or what a designer should do, how much it should cost or how long it will take” Did you actually like them” Is the project interesting to you” Do you have the time for it”
If the answer to these questions is no or you just have a bad feeling about the prospect, take a pass as this one isn’t for you. At the end of the consultation, explain that your office is very busy right now and that you, unfortunately, would not be able to provide the level of service that you, as a professional, give to each of your clients. If appropriate, provide the prospect with referrals to other designers who may be a better fit.
I don’t care how much you need the business; if you don’t feel good about a prospect or they have ridiculously unrealistic expectations, do NOT take the job. This person will most likely not be happy with your work – or anyone else’s for that matter – and may even tell others that they were not happy with you. This is much more damaging in the long run than letting this one go. Take projects that you know you can knock out of the park for people you know that you can make happy. You’ll build your portfolio and your reputation, all while keeping your sanity.
Remember, this is what you come out for – a to determine if this is a project you want to take. You don’t have to say yes to everyone.
Wrap It Up
Before you leave, determine whether you have all the information you need to write the proposal. Do you know what you are expected to do” Will you be doing the purchasing or providing specifications only” What will the architect or contractor be responsible for” Be sure to reiterate the prospect’s main points and the importance of a good relationship with the design team.
Show excitement and confidence and ask for the business, but do not appear desperate. Confidence is attractive. Desperation is not. Ask the prospect if they are ready to move forward. Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale. If you don’t, someone else will.
Ask your prospect, “When would you like to start”” and then let them answer. Make it easy for them to hire you. They will either tell you when you can start or give you some very useful information – i.e., what is holding up the sale. Is it that one of the decision makers isn’t there” Then offer to schedule a follow up meeting with that person. Are they concerned about how much you might cost” Discuss how you can work with a budget.
Lastly, review the Next Steps on your agenda with the prospect. This may be setting up an additional meeting or call or you may be ready to move forward with a proposal. Be sure to set expectations and do what you say you will. Smile and thank the prospect for their time.
Now, get back in your car, exhale, and congratulate yourself on a great meeting!