Episode 31: 10 Red Flags You Should Never Ignore

We’ve all been there. We’ve found ourselves with a PITA client and say to ourselves, “If only I hadn’t ignored those early signs.” But the truth is, only experience can teach you those things. Today we are talking about 10 Red Flags that we think you shouldn’t ignore.

Episode 31 Show Notes

Key Takeaways:

  • [4:07] We just want to remind you that while these are red flags, we aren’t necessarily telling you these are deal breakers and you should immediately walk immediately. You are the only one who can decide that! 
  • [5:17] Most of the times, red flags aren’t blindingly obvious. It’s more of a subtle feeling or tingle of something not being right. But to be honest, most of the times small things end up being problems later on
  • [54:24] The main takeaway here is to trust your gut. If something feels off or if it’s one of these ten things,  don’t ignore it! 
  • [54:48] In our experience, when one or more of these are in place, the project does not end well   
  • [54:58] Be open to slowing down. Be generous in your assumptions but don’t be afraid to talk to your clients to make sure you’re all on the same page

10 Red Flags You Should Never Ignore [7:31]

#1 Discounting Debby – When a client asks you for discounts on services

  • [8:44] This diminishes your value and your expertise. It sets the tone for the rest of the project
  • [9:00] If a client asks for a discount, tell them that you appreciate the fact that they’re investing in their home and asking for professional help
  • [9:08] Assure them that the value that you bring is going to save them time, money, and mistakes so they can focus on their other priorities
  • [9:40] Asking for a discount isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, it could just be an indication of a client’s habit of negotiating

#2 – #1 Discounting Debby’s Twin Sister – When a client asks you for your designer discounts or for tax exemption on purchases

  • [11:11] If you are familiar with purchasing as a designer, you know there’s a retail price or MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) but as a designer, you get to purchase it for less – that’s your designer discount
  • [11:23] Your discount is your special price as a wholesale client. When you sell it to your client, you sell it at a higher price and make money on the product
  • [11:34] There are a lot of designers who pass on their designer discount to clients to be competitive, meaning they sell it at the same price as their designer discount
  • [11:46] This is incredibly damaging to our industry because your designer discount is proprietary information and your privilege as a designer to have access to that pricing
  • [12:23] This practice will just hurt you in the end because there’s no room for you to make money
  • [12:27] You are giving away proprietary information that vendors trusted you with. This is not pricing that consumers are supposed to have access to
  • [13:53] If clients ask, be transparent. Let them know that as a designer you have access to wholesale pricing and that part of how you run your business is by having a margin on products you sell
  • [14:06] Typically, we do our best to match the price that is commonly available online or do a little better but without going into specific numbers or names
  • [15:11] One way to get around this is with custom. If you sell custom pieces, clients can’t ask for a special pricing because there is none
  • [16:26] Get clear with yourself and your staff on what your policy is regarding pricing. You need to put it in your contract and have a clear response that you use every single time this comes up

#3 Boundary Breaking Barbara – When a client ignores clearly identified boundaries such as texting/calling and asking for meetings on weekends or nights

  • [18:12] Emphasis on clearly identified – it’s one thing to ignore boundaries but if you  have not set them in place, clients may not even know they’re breaking boundaries
  • [18:58] If texting is a big no no for you, a good response would be to ask them if they could send it over email. If they keep texting, not replying will usually give them a hint
  • [19:40] Make it clear by putting it in your contract and your welcome package
  • [20:24] If they want to set up a meeting at night, charge them double your rate. That usually does the trick so they can find time in your set schedule

#4 Negotiating Nancy – When a client tries to negotiate your contract terms

  • [22:14] If a client doesn’t like something in you contract, that is not a good enough reason to change it
  • [22:23] An exception to this would be regarding sharing photography of finished projects. Some clients are not comfortable with sharing pictures of their home and that is totally fine
  • [24:32] Clients should make it clear that they don’t want pictures to be shared prior to signing the contract
  • [25:54] Your portfolio is what helps you continue to get jobs. It’s important you build it with new work and photography. For this reason, it’s justified to charge a higher hourly rate

#5 Indecisive Ian – When a client can’t make decisions

  • [27:20] Indecision is crippling. If clients take a long time to make decisions, it will really throw off your schedule and your work week
  • [28:53] Indecision also costs you money. If clients keep going back and forth, the whole project can go off track and take even longer
  • [29:39] Have a conversation around what kind of information would be helpful to make decisions. Reassure and support them so that they can make decisions with confidence\

#6 Ghosting Gary – When a client straight up ghosts you or take way too long to respond

  • [32:37] Poor communication is a big red flag. If you can’t get timely responses from clients, it breaks down trust  
  • [33:55] Consider putting a clause in your contract that you expect clients to respond within 5 business days. You can also give more specific timelines depending on what phase you’re in of the design process
  • [34:01] Clearly identify what are the repercussions. You can either abandon the project completely or bump them down in your calendar indefinitely

#7 – Trash Talking Tina When a client worked with a designer before and trash talks him or her

  • [35:17] If a client tell you how they had an awful experience with their past designer, find out as much as you can
  • [36:52] Proceed with caution. It might have actually been a bad designer, but it might also be that the client is difficult to work with
  • [37:04] It’s almost never about the past designer, especially if they have complaints about multiple designersInevitably, it’s about them!

#8 Expert Emily When a client ignores your expertise and loaded with her own opinions

  • [40:43] Clients like these are very difficult to work with. Whenever you try to give your opinion on something, they immediately shut your suggestion down
  • [41:24] There are ways to be flexible but you have to know your limits
  • [42:18] A good phrase to use with your clients is “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that your budget/space planning idea/timeline is not based on reality” 
  • [42:56] Be respectful and let them know you’re hearing their requests but then go on to talk about solutions
  • [44:10] Another helpful phrase is “experience has shown me…”

#9 Wishy Washy Wendy – When a client has no idea what they want

  • [46:03] This is why your initial consultation is important for you to get to know your client and see if it’s a good fit
  • [46:22] It’s your job to help guide and facilitate understanding but pay close attention to how receptive they are to your ideas
  • [47:00] If they have no clear vision, it can be hard to execute that into a project. They need to have some sense of what it is they’re struggling with and why they’re hiring you

#10 Solo Sally When a client decides not to include their partner or someone who will have input in the financial and style decisions 

  • [49:02] This client seemingly makes all the decisions, but when it comes to money their partner is suddenly involved
  • [51:30] Situations like this never end well because the partner who wasn’t involved since the beginning will have no trust and rapport with you as a designer
  • [51:59] It’s difficult to force a client to involve their partner throughout the whole process, but you should put this policy in place
  • [52:51] One way to approach this is to inform them before the initial consultation that you expect both decision-making partners to be present. If one of them won’t be available since that initial consultation, then they cannot be involved throughout the entire process
  • [53:25] The real difficulty with this, however,  is that you cannot enforce it 
  • [53:35] Every family is different and everyone has different relations with their partners and their money

Hey Designer! Grab Your FREE Mini Business Toolkit to run your business like a rockstar.


Get Your FREE Mini Business Toolkit

Inside you'll find an Install Day Box Checklist; a handy reference guide with Typical Design Project Hours; our favorite design and business tools we use, and more. Grab it right here.