Dealing with Stressful Clients

Do you honor the “Red Flag” when interviewing a client?

Sound familiar? You are interviewing a potential client and you’re thinking, “Oh boy, this doesn’t sound good.” But, you really want the work, so you ignore the eerie feeling.

As you know, stressful clients can (almost) be the death of you. Every time the phone rings or email bongs, you start to palpitate and get a tightness in your chest. I recently had one of these scenarios myself and while I can happily say, I got through it, I also know I will honor the “red flag” I felt during the interview much more seriously next time.

While you can’t always be a 100% great judge of character, you are naturally instinctive as a designer and you can use that to your advantage. There are a few ways I’ve learned to minimize the risk of taking on a nightmare client.

  1. Have a meaningful conversation with them about their project over the phone before you ever consider going to see their home. Create a list of telling questions to go over on a call.

  1. Assign point values to each of these answers – if a pre-interview above X points, it’s worth exploring, below X points, politely decline. I suggest a script for this, too!

  1. Create the Boundaries right up front. How do you want to work? Take control of the conversation from the beginning. I have dates I take meetings, a texting policy and how I handle conflict between spouses.

I hope these tips will help you evaluate a client long before they become a nightmare. This business is hard enough without taking on projects that deplete us emotionally and financially. Set the ground rules up front and I promise it will be a blessing!

These concepts all support a technique called Magnetic Marketing, where you attract your ideal client and they come to you rather than you chasing them. It’s the right message, to the right market at the right time. We all want great clients who understand the process, are nice people to work with and can afford our services.

If you’re interested in more ideas like this, go ahead and check out my free FB page just for designers like you called In Demand Designer.


Pamela Durkin, founder of Pamela Durkin Designs, has been a professional interior designer for more than 25 years. She is a past-president of the ASID Florida South Chapter, one of the largest chapters of ASID in the country. She has served on the Board of Architecture and Design in NJ, after being appointed by the Governor. She has been a speaker at the IDS Southwest Florida Conference on how interior designers can run a better business. After receiving overwhelming feedback, she decided to write a book on the subject. Her book, Elevate! How to Take Your Business from the Ground Floor to the Penthouse was recently published and is now available on Amazon.