Are you asking the top 3 questions that all Architecture and Interior Design Firms should be including in their Client questionnaire? Let’s find out…
When approached by new Clients it’s easy to mistake our commitment to the project with the Clients commitment to us.
Before we invest too much (unpaid) time, it’s good business practice to remind ourselves that writing a winning fee proposal can be a costly endeavor, especially if you’re self-employed.
Why a Client questionnaire?
So before making any commitments, you’ll want to give some consideration as to how committed the Client is to your firm and the project.
One of the best ways to address this issue is to create an architecture or interior design Client questionnaire.
(Note: To help you with your fee proposal and negotiation strategy we’ve created a free Starter Kit packed full of useful resources):
What is a Client questionnaire?
The Client questionnaire is a checklist of questions that you should ask all your potential Clients. This checklist can be used in conversation during Client phone calls or as a physical document that all Clients are required to fill out.
Here are the top three questions you’ll want to consider when creating your Client questionnaire.
Top three questions to include in the Client Questionnaire:
Q1. How Committed is the Client?
Perhaps a less delicate way of phrasing this question is:
“Does the Client have any intention of hiring your firm and completing the project?”
While you can never be 100% sure here are a couple of questions to point you in the right direction:
- How did they hear about your firm?
Was it a referral, advertisement, internet search, or something else?
- Where are they in the process?
Do they currently own the land (or property) to be developed, are they in the process of acquiring it, have they started work, or are they currently shopping around?
If you’re still unsure then give the Client an opportunity to demonstrate their level of commitment. This can be achieved in a couple of ways:
- Office Meeting:
Invite the Client to meet with you, at your office, (not their project site) free of charge. This meeting will give them an opportunity to make a small (but vital) commitment to you and your firm. It’s a commitment of their time and resources to get to your office for a meeting.
- Client Questionnaire:
Alternatively, you could start the process by furnishing the Client with a questionnaire in written format. This physical document will give the Client an opportunity to make a small (but vital) commitment to you and your firm. It’s a commitment of their time and effort to complete the Client questionnaire and return it to you.
It’s important to remember that it’s your responsibility to choose the right Client as much as it is the Client’s responsibility to choose the right Design Professional.
This can be achieved through an exchange of commitments at the start of the relationship.
So before committing to meet with the Client at their project site (or office) give some thought about how they may be able to commit to you and your firm.
For more ideas on what questions to ask your Clients refer to The Design Professionals Guide to Fees & Contracts.
Q2. How Well do you Know your Client?
While it may seem inappropriate to ask a potential Client too many personal questions about their experience and financial standing this should not deter you.
If you’re considering a business relationship with them you should have some knowledge of their ability to complete their side of the agreement.
Just how far you should investigate is your call depending on the type of project, your exposure, and the Client.
Here are some points to consider:
- Does the Client have a history of successful projects?
- Is there any evidence that the Client will pay on time? Or evidence to the contrary?
- Will the Client make decisions in a timely manner?
- Will the Client see the project through to the end?
- Who is financing the project?
- Does the Client have a design budget?
- Is the Client willing to provide proof of funds?
Although you may never know the answers to all these questions, this should not deter you from carrying out some research.
Alternatively when working with commercial Clients you may want to ask for a list of previously completed projects/references.
This does not mean you should automatically avoid potential Clients with a poor financial history or a lack of relevant experience/references.
However, it’s good to know the type of Client you may be involved with, should you decide to pursue the relationship.
To keep the process professional, and less personal, write your questions down and ask the Client to fill out a Client Questionnaire before you provide your fee proposal.
Not only will the Client questionnaire deter those less committed Clients, (helping to filter out potential tire kickers) but when completed, it will provide you with valuable information that you may have felt uncomfortable asking in person.
Also, it’s always good business practice to make sure that you get some form of mobilization payment, deposit or retainer before committing too many resources to the project.
Remember to exchange commitments at every step in the relationship.
For an example of a Client Questionnaire and other contractual and commercial issues to consider refer to: The Design Professionals Guide to Fees + Contracts
Q3. How Much will it Cost Your Firm to Respond to a New Inquiry?
Requests for fee proposals and company literature attract costs that are typically unavoidable and relatively affordable for most Design firms. The costs associated with entering a competition, however, can be much more damaging. Competitions need to be approached with caution.
Even paid competitions require careful consideration. This is because design competitions are typically set-up to achieve design excellence, not to provide fair and reasonable financial playing field for competing firms.
Important issues like design fees and contractual terms and conditions are rarely addressed appropriately prior to the competition entry. It’s more common for these issues to be left for the winning team to negotiate.
This inevitably leaves the Architect in a precarious position, especially when the competition entry fee does not even begin to cover the costs the Architect has already incurred.
Design Competitions can be Expensive
Competitions also have the habit of becoming much more expensive than originally anticipated. This is, in part, because competition guidelines typically describe the minimum level of deliverables required for entry. Most firms are, in practice, required to provide far more to win the competition.
Unfortunately, an Architect’s costs don’t always stop upon submission of the competition entry. It’s not uncommon for judging panels to request additional information following the initial presentation.
This additional information will typically be provided at the Architect’s cost because the competing firms are usually too close to the prize at this point to ask for additional financial compensation.
Winning doesn’t Guarantee Work:
Finally, winning a design competition does not always guarantee future work. Many projects do not proceed beyond the competition stage and Clients do not always appoint the winning firm.
However, this does not mean you should avoid competitions altogether. If managed properly, competitions can be a great way to win new work and receive publicity on a large scale.
By following these steps on all your inquiries, you will be in a much better position to filter out the chaff and capture the best potential projects for your firm.
For ideas on what questions to ask your Clients refer to The Design Professionals Guide to Fees + Contracts.
• Manage your risk by asking the right questions
• Be selective by giving Clients an opportunity to commit to you
• Implement a system to help recognize and avoid unprofitable leads
Let us know what you think:
Are these the top 3 questions you ask your Clients? Let us know in the comments section below by saying “Yes” or “No”.
The following resources are available right now to help you write more successful fee proposals:
• The Ultimate Fee Proposal Workshop (CE/CPD points available): https://blueturtlemc.com/feeproposalworkshop/
• The Design Professionals Guide to Design Fee Psychology (eGuide):
• Fee Proposal and Contract (Template):