It’s tricky to talk about an interior design consultation because we can be talking about two separate things. There’s the stand-alone consultation or consultation that is a precursor to a larger project. And each one should be prepared for and treated differently. If you’ve found yourself getting ready for one and wondering, “am I doing this right?” you’re not alone. The biggest questions around consultations are about what to bring, what to leave and exactly what you should be doing while you’re there.
WHAT IS A STAND-ALONE DESIGN CONSULTATION?
If you’re a designer or decorator that focuses on smaller projects like furniture sourcing, paint selections or textiles you likely offer consultations as a service. This is an in-home visit that lasts for 90-120 minutes. There’s no expectation that this will lead to a bigger project. You go in with answers to the homeowners’ questions and all is wrapped up during that 90-120 minute period.
The purpose of the stand-alone consultation is to:
- Solve problems in real-time for the clients.
- Send a follow-up email reiterating anything you resolved during your time.
- Potentially establish a connection for future work.
WHAT IS A FIRST-STEP CONSULTATION?
This one is arranged by a homeowner interested in discussing their upcoming project. The understanding is that you are there to evaluate the project rather than solve any immediate issues. The goal is for you to discuss the project and share your ideas about the direction of the project.
The purpose of the first-step consultation is to:
- Meet the homeowners and establish whether you’re a mutually good fit personally.
- Learn about the project and see whether it’s a good fit for your business.
- Get an understanding of the homeowners’ design style and make sure it aligns with your style.
Make sure you know which kind of consultation you’re going to before you arrive.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BRING TO A DESIGN CONSULTATION?
- Pen & paper or charged phone for taking notes
- Consultation checklist to keep you on track
- Charged phone or camera for taking photos
- Small paint deck. This is good for taking notes on the colour of materials
- Welcome package
- Small tape measure
- Breath mints
- Bottle of water
5 TIPS FOR CREATING A SUCCESSFUL DESIGN CONSULTATION
1. CHARGE FOR IT AND BE PAID AHEAD OF TIME
A lot of you are doing the first-step consultations for free. I hear you think it will persuade the homeowners that you have a lot to offer with the added bonus being you’re also a great value.
Please take my advice and pretend I’m your best friend who cares the world for you – stop it immediately!
You may be having the opposite effect on your clients. If somebody offers me something that I consider to have high value and they don’t charge for it I interpret that as a sign of insecurity. I also see it as someone who may not have the confidence for the job I’m hiring for. If you are showing up and spending 90-minutes with a client you deserve to be paid.
And while we’re here let me add that you need to be paid before your consultation. What you’re offering is a service, not a product. If someone doesn’t like a product they won’t buy it. If you spend 90-minutes with someone and they don’t like your advice it can’t be returned. You’ve already spent the time with them and it’s both your advice and your time that you get paid for.
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Spend some time investigating the home you’re going to. I don’t mean act like a stalker but just have an understanding of the neighbourhood, the size of the home, and the approximate value. All these things are important to help you get prepared. You’ll be having different discussions if you’re going to a small, urban condo versus a mansion in the country.
This information is going to impact discussions you have around timelines, budget and materials so having a good understanding of the home is essential to you showing your value and standing out.
3. BE CLEAR AHEAD OF TIME ABOUT WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT
There aren’t many things that can derail a design consultation but clarity is singularly the most common. If a client is disappointed at the end of a consultation you’re not going to get the job. Once the appointment is scheduled send the client information about what to expect.
These are some ideas about what to include but create the list based on your process:
- How long the consultation will last.
- What will happen during the consultation (introduction, house tour, budget review, project questionnaire, timeline review)
- Important tip, include what won’t happen during the consultation (space measurements, specific material selections, review of architectural or millwork drawings, space planning solutions).
- What you will leave if anything.
- What you will deliver after the consultation if anything.
4. BE GENEROUS BUT FOCUSED
Don’t hold back on offering ideas because you’re afraid that you’ll give away too much valuable information. For instance, I’ve been to a consultation for a kitchen renovation and ended up on the third floor of the home looking at master bedroom layout issues. If it’s important to the homeowner and they’re already showing trust in your opinion, share what you know.
At the same time, you aren’t planning to be in their home for endless amounts of time so it’s important to take some gentle control. Remind your client that you only have 90-minutes and you’d love to give them as much value as possible. It’s a skill that will take you far in design to learn the balance between these two positions.
5. LEAVE TIME FOR A PROJECT REVIEW
I’ve saved the most important for last. And I’m reverting back to best friend mode for it. DO NOT EVER leave the consultation without having time to sit down and review the project parameters. You can’t prepare any follow-up information if you don’t have the right info.
If you’re rolling your eyes and saying “thanks Carol but that’s obvious” then you’re doing it right. It’s surprising to me how many designers tell me they never have time for a sit-down at the end of the consultation. I know it’s hard but this is a time management issue. You have to allocate the time because for you, this is the most important aspect of the meeting.
This is where you’ll gather the juicy information like:
- Scope of work details
- Outline of areas of work you’re being considered for (don’t assume anything)
- Expectations they have for a designer
- Timelines around when they’d like to start
- Timeline expectations around the duration of time for the project
If you’re nervous or suffer from general anxiety be sure to give yourself loads of time to get there. You want to show up being the confident badass that you are. Good luck!!