What NOT to say to a Client


The premise for this came from How to Avoid Bad Clients, written last August, 2015.

Working in the building industry a lifetime, from Lincoln Logs to carpenter to furniture builder to designer, I have had an extensive education with what happens during dialogues with clients. For the last 25 years I am often the direct link between the client and the designer-architect-builder-craftsman-installer. I love be part of a team of gifted people.

If you are super busy in the design industry, you already know what not to say. However, if you are not getting referrals from your work, read on:

#1    You don’t want that.
I spent three years as Design Director for remodel contractor in Southern California, where I became acutely aware of what not to say to a client. While listening to his prospective client, the contractor would say often, “You don’t want that!” Later I mentioned to him, “Let me find out what the client wants! It is easier to suggest a change after knowing their
entire picture.”

His advice was almost always correct, yet too many clients left the meeting with, “I’ll get back to you,” and didn’t.

#2    That’s far too expensive!
Moving a client around their budget is tricky; clients usually hide the real budget until a design is presented. If the client is nervous, or doesn’t know what they want, I will say, “Tell me want you don’t want.” This may catch them by surprise, and can save wasted hours creating something that is truly far too expensive.

#3    That’ll never work!
“That will never work,” are words I wanted to take back. I avoid them. I say, “Let’s see what comes out of the end of the pencil.”

The folks who do not have 3D minds can’t “see” the results. With 3D programs, we can share the vision. For me, often a solution pops from “somewhere,” especially after a good sleep!

#4    Are you crazy?
Some clients surprise me with a total lack of how things are made. However, I can sometimes dream a solution surprising even to me. When I listen carefully, I realize abstractions might show up as items I can actually build. I work with craftsmen in many professions, plus wonderful painters who can make anything look better. Often a team may create a solution faster and better than working alone.

#5    Never say, “Too Easy.”
One “Too Easy” remark came with a Better Homes & Garden project when I had my furniture shop.

(Doorbell Ring) She said, “I am the interiors publisher for Better Homes and Garden’s Apartment Ideas. We need you to make simple things for our customers to make themselves. Would you be interested in making this?” She laid out the plans.

With one glace I said, “Yes!”

“We have five variations to make.”

I glanced again and exclaimed, “Too Easy!”

“Great! If you can have them finished in three weeks I’ll write a deposit check right now.”

“This is too easy,” I repeated.

Making a cut sheet that evening, I realized I had seen the smallest unit, and being blinded by Better Homes & Garden Apartment Ideas, I ignored my normal estimating procedure and quoted her 25% of what I needed.

When I called the next day, she laughed; “I was going to call today to be sure because we budgeted $3,500 including installation. OK?”

“Wonderful,” I replied, realizing she allowed me to jump in yet gave me the opportunity to be fairly paid.

I only use the phrase, “Too Easy,” when someone has an easy solution for the project.

#6    I’ve never done that before.
A priest called, asking if I would make a redwood casket for Eleanor, one of the parishioners who was dying; she requested a simple redwood box. Without hesitation I said “Yes.”

He replied it was needed in three days. Eleanor died the next morning.

At the lumber yard the following day, I found five boards all cut from the same tree!  Each piece had the same knotholes creating a mirror effect when flipped next to each other. They were perfect! It fit together like a miracle. It felt heavenly just sitting on sawhorses. Smiling, I loaded it into the van. It seemed lighter than expected.

Two days later as I arrived an hour before the service, Father Don embraced me, then tuned to Eleanor’s husband. He grabbed my hand and kissed it.

“How did you know?” he asked.

Somehow my lips formed and vocal cords vibrated as I said, “Eleanor guided everything from the moment I said ‘Yes’ to Father Don. She made it using my hands.”

“Trust the Process,” and never tell a client you can’t do something unless you know you don’t want to, as in How to Avoid A Bad Client. www.eyesoar.com/BadClient

For the unedited text, please visit www.soaringimages.com/WhatNotToSay

150PBs Protrait img_6395Photographer, Writer, Poet, Publisher, Architect, Industrial Designer, Grandfather, Mentor, Friend, Philosopher, and Furniture Builder. I love to travel as much as possible on a crooked path leading into unknowns. The camera and the computer are my favorite tools, although a pencil and a blank page can do as much explaining as a 1000 words. Because I am color blind (protanopia, red-green blindness) I cannot mix paint colors successfully, so most of my art is created from photographs or pencil. While visiting Monet’s gardens last fall, I became acutely aware of the vividness of the colors in his gardens, and the lily pond. I realized because of the moisture in the air, there is a natural sun filter softening the shadows. This simple natural filter changed my perception of color, photography, and painting. I have a new tool to add to my arsenal: soft light! It allows colors to be vivid because the darkness of the shadows in not competing.

I am living in Moon Valley, Phoenix, with my wife, Adrienne Gill and can be contacted at PeterBurt@soaringimages.com

2 Comments on this Post

  1. Great Article Peter!

    We have all had those weird “moments” with clients. We had one a couple of years ago when I was speaking to a client in Prescott Az after they sent me their deposit check. A week later she called and was asking if I thought I could get their dinning set done for the holidays. I said I would love to but they are only a few weeks from now and I do not want to rush this project because of its delicate nature. She started to get kind of defensive and said that I said I would. So i kindly referred her to our purchase order. She said she never read it! (note: for those of you who know me I can be pretty chatty and informative as well as use photos, diagrams and sketches on purchase orders) Her husband called me back yelling that I baited them..then he read it and his response was, well you did write on or before 12 weeks. But it in such a small font…..What? I knew they were never going to be happy so I returned their deposit.

    Like Peter implied in his article, you never really know what is going on in a customers brain. So we do our best to explain, draw, talk show and tell until we think they understand. I cant think of a better person for the job than Peter.
    Thanks for the article Peter!

    • Thanks, Gerry.
      I know you know I know as well, so we need to follow up with our instincts and intuition daily!
      Or we need a place like an Angie’s list for Bad Clients, and why!
      On second thought, forget it. Bad clients with money can afford to be right, no matter the cost.
      On third thought, I think I’ll go to work at Home Depot!


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