The Ideal Client

Updated: Apr 15

Welcome back to Design Create Inspire. It is officially fall and I can feel it in the air.

This week has been a big week already, as yesterday we launched our first course series, focusing on mindset! If you missed this course be sure to tune into the next one, beginning in October which focuses on business logistics. If you are interested in joining course two, sign up here.

Now back to the blog. Last week we talked about Limiting Beliefs, which directly leads to our topic this week, Who is the ideal client?

What does the ideal client look like?

To me, the ideal client is someone who truly values what a professional does. From the architecture and design world this begins with clear communication. My ideal client is vocal, able to express their vision, interested in educating themselves about the protocols, experience, and lengthy process of building their dream home. As a designer, it is important to educate the clients on all that I will do for them, what my responsibilities are, and what to expect of the project, as well as from me.

I find it extremely beneficial to present each potential client with a very clear proposal, which may at first seem over detailed and somewhat overwhelming for some clients. This proposal (one that has taken me years to perfect) allows clients to gain a transparent explanation of each phase, what the owner is expected to provide, a tentative timeline, as well as frequently asked questions that I often receive from clients.

Overall, providing the client with a clear proposal shows the client that I value them and their experience. Through this process, I set boundaries - how we are going to work together, who is responsible for what, and something for us to continuously refer back to.

In regard to value, this process is about the client and their space. This space will be their home and it is imperative to hear the needs of the client while sharing my knowledge as the architect to reach those needs. For many clients, hiring an architect is often a one-time opportunity, an expensive decision that they have been thinking about for a while.

As for the architect, this is (usually) not their first project. While it is important to listen to the client’s vision, it is just as important to provide the client with the most efficient, sustainable design. This may mean telling a client the doorway should be in another place, there is not enough space for everything they are dreaming of, or the budget does not match their expectations.

This can be a tedious process, as some clients have a vision and do not want to steer away from it, consistently coming back to one detail that you have insisted, based on your knowledge, will not work. If you, as the designer/architect, find yourself in this position, be patient and confident that you are the professional in the situation.

While I would love to work with everyone, not every client is ideal. Talk to any architect or designer and they will share some of their horror stories with you, clients that they brought on that ultimately lost them money.

There are a handful of red flags to lookout for before bringing a client on.

1. Do they value you?

How do you check for this?

Start with asking them some questions.

Have you worked with an architect before? If so, how was your experience?

If someone hasn’t worked with an architect before, that is okay, that’s not an instant red flag, as many clients only hire an architect once. If they have not worked with an architect, it just means you are going to want to make it even more clear what the process will be like. If they have worked with an architect before, pay attention to how they talk about that past experience. Of course not all architects are perfect and it is possible that client/architect relationship wasn't symbiotic, but if they have a lot of negative things to say or they've gone through multiple architects on a single project - be aware.

If a potential client contacts you with the scenario, “We already have a plan, we just need an architect to get a permit”, chances are they are not going to value what you actually do. Plans are much different than design ideas, a Pinterest board, inspiration.

Kindly pass if they “just need plans” and send the client along to a drafting company. You are protecting yourself in the long run, as this type of client typically increases your liability. Overall, this is a red flag.

2. Does their budget match their desired scope of work?

If their budget is half of what they are desiring, this is a red flag. In order to avoid this, I ask for a budget in our initial conversation. If the client is unwilling to budge on the budget or vision, the client will either end up nickel-and-diming you or changing their scope multiple times, thus increasing your fee and stress. If you cannot agree to a budget with your client, chances are someone is going to be upset in the long run, whether it be the client or you, the designer/architect.

3. Do they have a clear idea on their scope of work?

This does not mean the client knows exactly what the design is going to be, rather they have a clear idea of what they want and do not want. If the client does not have an idea, ask them to write out their top priorities, as well as their budget, to create a plan and clear contract of what you are being hired for before you begin designing. If they need assistance, offer to help them with programming as an additional service.

While there are additional red flags, these are three that I have personally experienced.

Moving on, how do you start getting the projects you really want?

An architect I love, Bjarke Ingles, once said, “In architecture there’s a catch 22. Nobody will entrust you to build a building until you’ve already built a building.”

I could not have said it better myself.

I am not going to lie, it can be tough when you are first starting off, as you do not have a portfolio or word of mouth to support your work. I believe in order to get the projects you really want, and what worked for me, was to show the types of projects you want in your portfolio.

How do you do this if you haven’t actually designed any dream projects? Make them up. Get creative. Use your resources and sketch! Be your own ideal client and come up with what you want to be doing.

There is a great strategy called Be Do Have, which teaches that in order to have what you want, you have to really believe and act as if you already have it.

The typical individual’s thought process is to Have Do Be. When I have something, I’ll do xyz, and then I’ll be whatever it is I want to be. For example, when I have my dream project, I’ll do a design and showcase it on my portfolio, then I will be the architect that I always wanted to be.

Rather than waiting around, act as if these projects have already happened. Post photos and sketches of your dream projects. Ask yourself the following questions: How does my favorite architect dress? What do they spend their free time doing? What sort of people do they hang out with? What do your dream clients do? How do they find architects to design their dream space?

Taking time to ask yourself these questions, then answering them, deepens your knowledge of your dream, showing the world that you are already the architect you want to be.

With this mindset, you are BE-ing your dream, attracting your dream projects, DO-ing the work, and when that work is done, HAVE-ing those dream projects for your portfolio.


You can do whatever you put your mind to. Invest your energy and watch the magic happen!

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