“A Little” Can Go a Long Way

There you are, well into your initial consultation with a prospective client when he or she, or they, inform you that they intend to “do a little” of the work on the project themselves. How do you respond? Does your professional instinct tell you to bring the interview to a close as quickly as possible and exit gracefully? Do you thank them and refer them to a contractor? Or do you embrace the opportunity?

As I have pointed out on other occasions, like it not we live in a DIY world. And it’s not just in the area of interior design. Think of the money “home chefs” spend on commercial appliances, cookware and gadgets. Despite the vast selection of craft beers and bespoke spirits readily available, the home brewing industry continues to grow. Programs like “Project Runway” have created a market for making high fashion clothing, shoes and accessories at home.

Capable or not, some clients want to be personally involved in the design of their home. For some, it is an opportunity to apply themselves in an area that is very different from their normal work or activities, to do something “creative.” Like preparing a gourmet meal, it can be a very satisfying experience if all goes well.

You can, and should, walk away from a project that does not feel like a good fit. But before dismissing the DIYer out of hand, take some time to explore with them what they have in mind. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and to guide the client toward a good result. Explain to them what is involved in terms of skill and commitment. Be very clear about marking boundaries and delineating where you will and will not have responsibility or liability. If you and the client can come to a satisfactory arrangement, be sure you put in writing what you both have agreed to in detail and make it part of the contract or letter or agreement.

Working with, and not just for, a client can be a challenge. It can also be an opportunity to gain rather than lose a project – and future referrals. And there is always the possibility that as the client gains trust in your skills and abilities they will want to engage your services further. That “little” could turn out to be a lot to you.


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