How to tell a client something can’t be done

Sometimes a client may present you with an interior design idea that simply can't be done, no matter how hard you try. Communicating this to the homeowners or a project leader can be difficult, so follow this advice to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible.

What's the issue?

Firstly it's important to establish exactly what the problem is and what it is that can't be achieved. Sometimes a client may request a certain product that is no longer in circulation or production. For instance, they may have their heart set on a specific wallpaper pattern that the manufacturer doesn't make anymore.

One example may be a homeowner looking to create a jungle-themed room complete with a specific textured wallpaper with an animal skin finish. They may have seen this in an outdated magazine or online and it's impossible to purchase enough of the paper required to complete the job.

How to fix it

In this situation, simply look around for as close a duplicate as you can get and present it to the client as an alternative. Resene African Queen 422542, a crocodile skin wallpaper with a silver tinge, may be exactly what the owner had in mind. Its modern, washable finish may mean it's actually more suitable for the job than the original suggestion.

Providing an alternative solution when the first option is impossible is a fantastic way to show your client you're committed to the job and dedicated to meeting his or her needs. It will also show you understand their design aesthetic, giving them peace of mind their project is in the right hands.

Manage expectations

Another way to avoid disappointment down the track is to manage your client's expectations right from the start of the project. Before you start sourcing materials and products, have a thorough sit-down meeting with the individual to discuss their ideas, aesthetic, how they want the space to function and any limitations they have. This is a good time to discuss the project's budget so that both parties have this figure in mind as work progresses.

Maintain clear and honest communication throughout your design process. Don't ignore a problem and let it simmer away in a client's mind – address it when it arises and discuss possible ways to solve it. If they're asking for the impossible with a limited budget, gently guide them towards more cost-effective options within their design palette.

If they ask you to complete your work in half the time you'd originally agreed, remind them of your initial timeframe and explain that you have planned out your duties to work towards that deadline.

Above all, treat your client with kindness and respect and it's likely they will do the same in turn to you.

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