When you’re starting out, it’s hard to be confident. You’re not quite sure if your designs are exactly what the client is looking for. If you’re going to cause tears of joy or sorrow. You start to wonder, “Is it really even the best choice for the space? What if another designer, a better designer, could come up with something more beautiful, brilliant, and creative? Maybe this job is too much for me to handle? Maybe I shouldn’t even be a designer at all?” It’s easy to spin out of control very quickly at the beginning. Heck, even for seasoned veterans who feel a bit overwhelmed it can happen. But, confidence is key.
When turning prospects into clients, getting approval on a presentation, convincing them to spend a little more, etc. your confidence is one of the greatest deciding factors. If you’re not sure of yourself, your clients won’t be either. They’ll start to take control of your project. Make all of the decisions. Boss you around. So let’s keep that from happening and review some key ways to show off just how confident you are (even if you’re not).
How to Confidently Sell to Your Clients (Even if You’re Ready to Upchuck from Fear)
A. Don’t over explain your choices. – When you’re presenting to a client, or even just talking with a prospect about your portfolio, don’t over explain your design choices. That doesn’t mean don’t tell them about the gorgeous, exquisite shine that will come from the natural light hitting their lucite hardware. Details like that get people excited. Details like that get people ready to buy.
But what that does mean, is don’t justify all of your choices. No need for “Well, I thought that it might be a good idea to choose this chair because you have children. And it’s soft and durable, and you said you liked curves. So I looked through a lot of curvy chairs. And I thought this was the best one. Plus it’s not too expensive. And the fabric I chose is washable too. Plus it’s a good brand and it should last. And I just think it’s really pretty. I really like it, don’t you?.” Whoa, too much. The more justifying you do, the less confidence the client has in your choice. A more pointed and concise explanation will do. “This chair beautifully represents the curves you love, provides great durability and washable fabric choices, and will be a wonderfully comfortable place for the children to read in.” Much better, eh?
B. Don’t ask for too much approval. And don’t ask if they disapprove. – When you’re presenting, avoid asking for approval over and over and over again. Of course you need to know what of the design they approve, and what they would like tweaked. But you don’t want to stop with every new item you bring up and ask, “What do you think? Do you like it? Is it what you wanted? I hope so. I really want you to love it. Do you love it?”
And certainly don’t suggest that they won’t like something as you’re presenting each item. No need to say, “I love it. Do you? If not, I can change it. I can find something else if you don’t like it. Just let me know and I can change it. You don’t hate it, do you?” Again, whoa too much. It’s like an overly eager date. It’s just not attractive. Instead, before or after your presentation (or both, but no more than that), tell them you’d love to hear their feedback. Let them know that you want them to love the design, so feel free to ask questions and to let you know what they’d like tweaked. But when you continually ask someone if they like something, they naturally start to question you, and your designs. They start to undermine your professional opinion a great deal more, and take control of the project. And that rarely goes well for anyone.
C. Prepare a list of great questions. – Sometimes the greatest sign of confidence, is a great question. The more you ask very pointed and direct questions, the more confidence a client has in you. Questions like, What hesitations do you have about starting a design project? What would you like this room to do for you, that it isn’t right now? Do you have any concerns about the design process that I can address for you? Any past negative designing experiences that you want to avoid in the future? What percentage would you like to spend on designing versus products? If I find something incredible but it will put us over budget, would you like me to share it with you or not? Is your budget a range, or do we need to stay under an exact number?
Now, don’t just say “Hi, nice to meet you, what hesitations do you have about starting? And can I actually spend more money than you first tell me?” But, don’t wait till you’ve met 3 times and talked on the phone twice to ask these types of questions either. Feel out the situation. Once you get a little comfortable, start asking the big questions. You’ll be surprised what you can find out. And how well received they are.
D. Directly and concisely answer questions – Just like you shouldn’t over explain your choices, don’t overly answer questions either. I recently went to a parenting class and with every question that was asked, we got a loopy, circular answer. No one was ever sure if they got their question really answered or not. And the teacher even said at the end, “I’m not sure that really answered your question.” That doesn’t make for a receptive audience going forward. She was an incredibly sweet, kind, and considerate woman, very likable. But with every long winded, all over the place answer, we just lost more and more confidence in what she had to say.
So when your client asks you how much it costs to hire you, give them a straight answer. Don’t confuse them, don’t over explain why you charge the way you do, and certainly don’t suggest that it’s negotiable (even if it is). If you have a flat fee, tell them. If they ask why you have a flat fee versus hourly, then tell them why (but don’t tell them why if they’ve just asked how you charge). No need to give more information before it’s even asked as sometimes this opens a can that otherwise would have stayed closed.
E. Try to answer as many questions as you can, but only if you know the answer.- You certainly don’t need to have the answer to everything. But, you do need to have the answers to the majority of your clients’ questions. If you start to see a pattern of frequent client questions or hear a really great one, write them down for next time. And run over them every time you go meet with a new client for the next time. The goal is to confidently answer 80-90% of your clients’ questions. Anything lower than that, clients will start to question your ability to handle their project. But, certainly don’t make up answers if you’re not quite sure. It’s much better to say, “Let me get back to you on that. Things might have changed since I last answered that question/worked with that company/etc.” than “I told you wrong. It’s actually a 10 week lead time instead of a 5 week lead.”
F. Practice your presentation – When you’re first starting out, it’s best to practice your presentations. And ideally, I would do it with someone else. Just like a mock interview. My best friend and I did a mock interview when she was looking for her first out of college job, and it worked wonders. It gets your brain ready and working for objections, how to handle them, how to stay confident, gives you great question ideas you didn’t think of otherwise, etc. It’ll of course probably make you feel a little ridiculous trying to present your white English roll arm sofa with contrast black piping and a coordinating black and white toile Louis XVI chair design to your husband, best friend, or if nothing else, dog, but do it anyway. It’s one of the best things you can do to prepare for your presentation. Don’t work 40 hours on the look of a design. And then 0 hours on how you’ll present it. Give your design the respect it deserves and start preparing what you’ll say.
G. Don’t apologize for selling or tell them you don’t want to be a salesman – Very few people love sales. Nor being identified as a “salesman.” If you say you’re a salesman, people automatically picture grease, out of date ties, and maybe even a gold chain or two. Or, on the flip side, pin strip suits, expensive shoes, and a million ways to fool you out of all your money. Either way, it’s just not something people like being associated with. But no matter what you feel about selling your designs, don’t tell your customer. Don’t tell them,”Sorry, I’m not much of a salesman.” Or things like “You can trust me.” Or, “You tell me what you think is a fair fee.” Or, “I hate the sales part of this. I’m not a sales person. I’m a designer.” It just gives people bad vibes.
Most customers don’t like for you to bring up the idea of you selling them something. Or being a salesman. Even though you are a salesman, at least part of the time. You’re trying to sell something so you can get their money. There’s no other way around it. So, just keep your hatred for sales (and even the word “sales” or “salesman”) to yourself.
Learning How to Sell is Essential
Getting people to not only like your ideas, but pay you for your ideas, and then pay for you to bring your ideas to life is not an easy task. It takes practice, confidence, and skill. But do it well and you’ll notice clients giving you control, approval, and respect a lot more freely. Successfully selling is one of those non-negotiables when it comes to running a business. You just have to learn how to do it. And when you do, you and your clients will be a lot happier for it.