Toxic Clients and How to Manage a Client Relationship Gone Wrong (Part 2)

Yesterday we talked about toxic clients, how to spot them and when to know it's the right time to politely end the relationship. Today's post is concerned with avoiding those bad situations in the future.

Avoiding Future Situations (Reducing the Risk)

The more Toxic Clients a Design deals with, the easier it becomes to spot the warning signs early on. This will at least allow the Designer to break off a contract before things get 'ugly'.

However, there are a few things we believe will help to improve the Client-Designer relationship from the onset and reduce the risk of 'toxic' situations.


  • Get to Know Your Client Before You Sign a Contract: We used to have a site meeting, prepare a quotation and then sign the contract. Nowadays, we have learned that it's worth having the Brief meeting (45 minutes to an hour) after the Client has seen the initial quotation, but before the contract is signed. This gives us a bit more time to really get to know our Clients and get a detailed understanding of their project requirements. We try to ask questions about how they see their property on a personal level, such as 'Do you see yourself entertaining a lot of guests in this room' or, 'is your living room where the whole family would come together to spend time'? The more we get to know our Client's early on, the easier it is to spot the ones we may not be able to help.
  • Be Clear on Your Services: Every Designer runs their business differently and not all Clients will have used a Designer before, so it's important to be clear on what services you can offer, what stage in the project different tasks will be completed, what the Designer's role and the Client's role is and what is and what is not included in the design package. Ask your Client if they have worked with a Designer before and if they have any questions. Be clear on the terms and conditions of the contract, your fees and payment schedule and when the Client might have to expect additional fees. The more information you provide early on, the less likely it is that you will encounter misunderstandings or disagreements later on.
  • Educate Your Client: Remember that you are the professional and the Client (even the headstrong, stubborn and opinionated ones) has come to you for advice. It is your job to advise your Client not only on the design (the layout that works best, the colours that work together and the brands that are the best value and so on) but also on the project particulars, such as how long the Planning Application will take, what to expect from Building Control, how long the building works might take and when the design decisions need to be made in order for the kitchen to be ordered on time. One of the most important factors in a project that we find Clients constantly tend to underestimate is the budget and this is where we find we need to provide the most guidance.
  • Be Clear and Honest Throughout the Design Process: We have a clear outline of how each project needs to be run - from the first site visit to the final checklist on completion. The more consistent the Designer is, the less likely it is that the Client will stray away from our 'formula'. We try to keep our Clients up to date with what's going on throughout the project to avoid unexpected surprises or confusion. 
    • Make sure you have an email address, phone number (or two) and address for your Client to make sure you can reach them. The easier it is for you to reach your Client, especially in an emergency, the better.
    • Provide weekly or bi-weekly updates, as well as additional updates as necessary. If the Client is informed at all stages it gives them the opportunity to give comments or to request changes before things have been done and the Client is disappointed.
    • Keep track of your working hours and of the project deadlines. If your Client is taking too long to make a decision or is constantly making changes to the design, keep them informed of how many hours this is taking and what cost implications this will have or what delays are being caused to the project. The Client has a responsibility to keep the project on track as much as you do.
    • Be realistic about delivery and completion dates. It's better to over, than to underestimate the time that things take (if in doubt) to avoid disappointing your Client. If your Client asks for a set of drawings to be completed overnight, be clear and explain why this is not possible and when they will realistically be ready.
    • Be STRICT - we don't mean scare your Clients into submission, but, we have all felt the pressure of a pushy Client. You know how much your services are worth and how long tasks are likely to take so be confident and tell your Clients! Politely. 
    • Keep track of your fees and payments due - don't let a project run until the end without getting paid. In fact, we go as far as saying once we run out of pre-paid hours, we stop working. This has so far been the surest way to avoid non-payment.
The final piece of advice we can offer you, although it may seem cliche is smile! Remember that a Designer provides a customer service and a positive, friendly attitude can go a long way to keeping your Clients happy. If you are smiling, it might just be contagious. 

Good Luck!