Top 6 Strategies for Firing an Interior Design Client with Grace and Dignity

As an interior designer, we work closely with clients to bring their vision to life. However, occasionally we may encounter challenging clients that make it necessary to part ways. Firing a client can be a difficult decision, but it’s essential to prioritize your professional well-being and maintain the integrity of your business. In this blog post, we will discuss the top seven strategies for firing an interior design client with grace and dignity, ensuring a smooth transition for both parties involved.

If you’re an email subscriber of mine, you’ve read about my client woes where I had to let go of a client who struggled with boundaries. If you didn’t catch it, you can subscribe right now below ↓ and hear all about my ah-ha and equally frustrating moments. 

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STEP ONE: LEADING UP TO TERMINATION

1.

Speak compassionately but share your frustrations

This isn’t just done when you’re letting them go but throughout your entire project. Document your frustrations to the client. This way there’s a paper trail of how this is affecting you and there are no surprises when it’s time to leave. Throughout all your communication, it’s important to maintain a compassionate and understanding tone. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and frustrations, rather than blaming the client directly. For example, saying “I feel overwhelmed when the project timeline is consistently disregarded” takes the blame off the client and focuses on how their actions affect you. By communicating your concerns honestly and respectfully, you can minimize potential conflicts and maintain your professional reputation. Here is a brief template for addressing this…

"I feel __________ when you __________"
It's important to use an actual emotion in the first blank and an action in the second.
"I feel pissed off when you're acting crazy" won't work here.

2.

Leave the project in the best place you possibly can

  1. Before initiating the conversation about ending the working relationship, make sure to tie up loose ends and bring the project to a reasonable stopping point. If you work on an hourly basis, evaluate how many hours are left in their project and whether there are any outstanding tasks that can be completed within those hours that would matter to the client’s satisfaction. By doing so, you demonstrate professionalism and a commitment to delivering quality work, even in challenging circumstances. 

STEP TWO: THE TERMINATION

3.

Send a final email declaring the project terminated

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Your lawyer (god forbid you need one) will thank me (and you). A lot of legal disputes will stem from the date this is sent. Do not button up everything and postpone this. Once you know you’re terminating, complete the steps above and then send a final email officially declaring the project terminated. (Note: Not “complete”, “terminated”.) This is an important part of the paper trail that explicitly declares this project terminated and the reason for the termination. Try to focus on citing actual clauses from your Agreement and be specific by dating the occurrences in which you experienced those things. Express your gratitude for the opportunity to work together, acknowledge any positive aspects of the project, and reiterate what support they have from you. I typically give clients until the end of the week to review the information I’ve provided and submit questions. Any questions after this period, they will not be answered. Because this client isn’t likely to complete a survey and complete my project completion form, and because it’s not technically complete, I send a formal letter via email to close this out.  

Remember to put this back onto you and how it’s making you feel.

Here's what I used, "Over the course of the last two weeks, this project has become very frustrating for me because of the lack of respect and boundaries as well as the micromanaging I’m experiencing. I want to call these items out because it's now my affecting my ability to show up the way that I need to. Additionally, this project has become far more difficult and time-consuming as a result. "

4.

CYA (Cover Your *ahem* Ass-ets)

      1. Let them know the remainder of the design is on them to implement as they see fit. When communicating your decision to end the working relationship, it’s crucial to clearly convey that the responsibility for the remaining design work lies with the client or their new designer. Politely explain that you will no longer be involved in the project and provide the necessary files, plans, and resources for them to move forward independently. This helps establish boundaries and prevents any misunderstanding about your continued involvement. Additionally, if they choose the implement the design on their own, the liability is now off of you.

STEP THREE: AFTER THE TERMINATION

5.

Write a detailed email with instructions for moving forward

To be very clear, this is nuanced and based on your circumstances. If you feel the client is a liability, another designer is required to see this vision through, or you're in the early phases of designing or implementing, omit this step entirely.

We are not providing documents or information that is not a part of their scope of work. We are also not handing off any proprietary information. We are also not spending any additional time on their project except in answering questions where the answer is readily available. Once you send them their termination letter, these questions get responded to in the follow up. THERE IS NO ADDITIONAL DESIGN WORK BEING DONE.

In the event that you leave the project in a place where the client can see the vision through provide them with a detailed email outlining the project’s remaining steps. This happens in their follow up phase after you’ve communicated the termination. Pertinent information should be passed along such as subs and their contact information. In my situation, I was through about 80% of implementing the design so some of steps looked like this:

  • The handyman was coordinated to be there on [date] at [time]. Here is his contact information and punch list outlined below. [INSERT LIST HERE]
  • The large piece of art will be centered length-wise and centered height-wise on the brick fireplace.
  • You will need to move the area rug according to the new dimensions. As a reminder, here is the plan we’re working off of [attach floor plan].
  • Your furniture will be delivered by the receiving company on [date] between [time]. You will need to be present to instruct them where to place the items and to sign off that you’ve received the goods in good condition. 

When the grace period for follow up questions has come to pass, send a brief email letting them know that time has lapsed for follow up support and you wish the best on the remainder of their project. After this point, replies are at your discretion and not a necessity. I have had to send emails that state “Unfortunately I’m unable to answer that question as that requires additional time or design work on my end. I’d recommend doing a little research before coming to a decision.”

6.

Put everything in writing

To maintain transparency and protect yourself legally, document every step of the process when firing a client. Ensure that all conversations, agreements, and decisions are clearly stated in written form. If you speak with the client on the phone, always follow up with an email recapping the conversation. As an additional step, I always ask clients if that recap is accurate from their perspective or if I missed anything, unless the conversation is tense. This documentation will serve as evidence and protection should any disputes or misunderstandings arise later on. Additionally, having a paper trail can help you stay organized and maintain a professional image throughout the entire process.

7.

Reflect on your frustrations and adapt

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP EITHER. Something went wrong here and it’s up to you to sit down and reflect on this circumstance and make adjustments to your business model so it doesn’t happen again. Ask yourself:

  • What behaviors occurred that led to my frustrations?
  • How do I feel I handled my frustrations? What or how could I have handled this differently?
  • What adjustment can I make to my Agreement or process based on this experience?
 
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For example, in a reflection of mine I realized I get frustrated when I am pigeon-held into someone’s definition of a good design. I prefer creative freedom. I now ask “How open to fresh idea are you?” with set answers before a potential client books a call. This doesn’t rule them out but it does filter them between a Full Service client and a consultation client.
Firing a client is never an easy task, but it’s crucial to prioritize your well-being and professional integrity. By following these seven strategies, you can navigate this challenging situation with grace and dignity, leaving both parties in the best possible position to move forward. Remember, open and honest communication, coupled with professionalism, can help you maintain a positive reputation in the interior design industry.

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  • Hi, I'm Kim!

  • I’m an Interior Designer, HGTV’s Designer of the Year – People Choices and your Interior Design Business Advisor. Through my systems and processes, I scaled my business to 6-figures and now I’m helping you do the same. 


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