6 Boundaries You Need To Set In Your Interior Design Business

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If you don’t want to let your clients walk all over your head, you need to set those 6 boundaries in your interior design business. Trust me, it will change your life! And your clients’ too. Want to see what they are? Read on!

Imagine this:

It’s Friday, 7:30 pm. You’re just about to prepare some dinner and your plans for tonight are to Netflix and relax, relax, relax. It’s been a full week after all. Then all of a sudden you get a text from your clients. They just finished work and finally have time to think about the drawings you sent them earlier this week. You answer one text. And then another. Eventually, they call you because it’s ‘easier’. Before you know it, it’s 9:30 pm, your dinner is cold and the only thing you want to do is drop flat-face on your bed.

Or  another scene:

You’ve just sent an umpteenth revision of your clients’ kitchen for them to review. After a few days, you meet them just to hear that they still didn’t have enough time to decide and maybe they want to change the colors of the cabinets (for something that feels like a millionth time). Or they ask if you think it would be possible to put in the countertop they saw in that magazine from two years ago. Or at a friend’s place last Saturday. In general, every day they come up with something new and you’re completely behind on your schedule because they are unable to make a decision.

Sounds familiar? Yeah, it sends scary shivers down your spine, right? It shouldn’t be like that. And it doesn’t have to be.

Why Do You Need To Set Boundaries In Your Interior Design Business?

Professional boundaries are rules that you decide to run your business by. They apply to you and your clients and define your design experience.

The situations I described before are not necessarily the bad will of your client. It’s human nature to do what’s most convenient for us. And so your clients simply might not realize that a meeting on a Saturday is actually work for you, while they finally have some free time outside of their work. Most of them won’t immediately realize those things unless you tell them. And that’s where boundaries come into play.

When you clearly state what rules you play by in your business, they get a message that (hopefully) helps you avoid situations like that from happening. Those boundaries work for the benefit of both you and your clients. Why? Much like incorporating systems & processes, it helps you organize your business so that it functions like a well-oiled machine. You both know what to expect, you know what to do and what not to do, you know how to communicate with one another, etc. If that doesn’t facilitate the whole process, saving you time and stress - I don’t know what will.

a desk full of colorful items. this article will tell you about the boundaries you need to set for your interior design business

Which Boundaries Are Important In An Interior Design Business?

Ok, now that you know why you need to set some boundaries, you might be asking yourself what kind of boundaries to set in an interior design business. Let me give you some examples.

  1. The most basic rule that you might want to set is your working hours. This way you can decide which days you’re working and which not, plus the hours you’re available. Of course, the official hours you announce (on your website for example), don’t necessarily mean your actual working hours. But they send a message to your clients, that if you work until 6 pm, it’s unlikely that you’ll answer their phone or email if you get it after that.

*TIP*: I recommend setting the boundary of the actual working hours for yourself as well. Especially if you work from home so that you know when to close the computer and ‘leave the office’. I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend countless hours on a project, neglecting sleep, until you physically can’t go on. That’s the fastest way to a huge burnout, so do yourself a favor and set a non-negotiable closing time.

  1. Another important rule that some might oversee is the means of communication. If you’re tired of getting dozens of text messages a day, every time your client thinks of something, or you don’t want to spend hours on the phone discussing the same thing over and over again, tell your clients that the best way to contact you is by email. It should motivate them to think twice about what they want to write. In the end, even if they continue sending you as many emails as they would text messages, you can reply with one email, when you have time. Plus, keeping track of your communication with everything written down helps clear out any uncertainties or settle difficult situations should they appear.

*TIP*: Another boundary for you - don’t distract yourself from work by constantly checking your email and replying as soon as a message arrives. Instead, decide on a time in the day when you check and reply to the emails. Otherwise, turn the notifications off. Your focus levels will get elevated and the work should go much smoother.

  1. Connected to the previous rule is the boundary about times to respond. It’s the amount of time you have to respond to their email - you can set an autoresponse from your email provider stating that you’ll reply within 24 hours (on workdays!). Or the time they have to respond to all the deliverables you send them. Depending on the amount of work you have (working on one or multiple projects at a time) you might give them anything from 3 to 7 work days to come back to you with any comments they might have.

*TIP*: Make it clear to your clients that once they send you their comments, you also have a certain amount of time to respond to or fix them. The 24 h I mentioned earlier are for you to confirm that you got the email and say that you’ll come back to them with a revision in the given amount of days.

  1. Since I mentioned the revisions - that’s another place you can put some boundaries. The number of revisions. To avoid going back and forth for years with those indecisive clients, set the boundary of how many revisions they can have within the scope of the project. I recommend not giving them more than two. Oh, and you have to specify what a revision is. A good practice here, to avoid back-and-forth emails with one thing at a time (see how it’s all connected? Set a few rules and it aaaaall falls into place) is to tell your clients to review the entirety of the deliverable you send and write down everything they would like to change in one email. Tell them that one email = one revision. It should motivate them to go through it all, think exactly if they really want to change it or not, and then write it all down in one message. You can justify such a move by explaining that among all the emails you get daily, something might get accidentally omitted or lost, so it’s much more efficient to keep it all in one place.

*TIP*: If you notice that certain clients are a bit reluctant to this rule, give them the option of having more revisions. But make them pay for everything that goes beyond the number you agreed upon. If they really want them, they will pay. But if they are simply indecisive, that should work as another motivator to make their minds up.

  1. Thinking again about those nightmare-ish clients, you might want to set a boundary concerning the frequency and time of meetings. You already told your clients that you don’t work on weekends. So Saturday or Sunday meetings are off. Ok, so what would be the best time for a meeting? If you’re most concentrated and get the most done in the morning, then block that time for work and schedule meetings for afternoons. If, on the contrary, you like to start your day slowly and then work until you’re done - the mornings are best. You might leave some flexibility to meet your clients halfway. Just remember that the most important part of your day (work-wise) is when you actually get the work done. So if you don’t think a weekly meeting is necessary - don’t do it. Your clients might be curious about the progress, but that can be fixed with an update email once a week. Do the meeting only if necessary to go through a big chunk of the project or an urgent matter. 

*TIP*: Similarly to the previous point - if you feel like it, or if your clients are desperate, you can give them the option to meet you after hours or on a Saturday. For an extra fee that is.

  1. Something that should definitely be put in place is the rule about payment policy. You’re devoting your time, knowledge, experience, and a lot more to a project, so you should never, I repeat - never work for free. And since you don’t work for free, you should decide what your payment policy is. Do you divide your project into phases and bill before/after each phase? Do you bill by the hour and do weekly sum-ups? How much time does your client have to pay the invoice after you issue it? All this is important so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where the whole project is done and the client is avoiding the payment. 

*TIP*: I personally set up the time limit for my clients to pay the invoice for a given phase, stating that the next phase will continue after the payment is done.

*Quick disclaimer - by no means should this be understood as legal or financial advice. You should always contact a lawyer or an accountant if you have any doubts*

a woman writing in a planner. organize your interior design business by setting boundaries

Communicating The Boundaries

For the boundaries to work, you need to clearly communicate them to your clients. Remember - if you don’t tell them that something is off-limits, they won’t know. So choose a place where you can inform them about the boundaries and rules they need to follow if they decide to work with you. There are several ways you can communicate them:

  • in your contract - in this article, I mention that you should never work without a signed contract. And it is the best place to describe your boundaries to your clients. This way you make sure they read them and by signing the contract - they agree to them. It keeps you safe from any misunderstandings along the way.

*disclaimer - again this should not be understood as legal advice. Ask a lawyer to help you create a contract with all the necessary information* 

  • in your welcome page - along with all the information about who you are, what you do, etc. It could serve as a reminder of all that you wrote in the contract. The more they read it, the better.
  • FAQ - some of the information might be put in the FAQ  section of your website or in other places where it makes sense. I’m thinking about working hours, means of communication and such. I wouldn’t go too much into detail here, leaving the most important part for the actual paying clients.
  • Asana - if you work with a project management tool, like Asana or similar, you can create a section or a tab within a project, where you put all the boundaries and rules you set. Share it then with your clients the same way you would other parts of the project.

Don’t be afraid to communicate the boundaries you set for your interior design business. You are the CEO and you are allowed to have rules to follow. Stating them from the beginning will make you look more professional. Trust me, people want to work with someone who knows what they’re doing, not a pushover. And if you stumble upon a potential client that would like to treat you as their servant - turn around and leave the room.

The only people who would have problems with you setting up boundaries are the people that would like to break them.

It’s okay to expect your clients to respect you as much as you respect them.

Hold On To Your Boundaries

This has to be said. You set the rules to follow them. For both you and the clients. But if you break your own rules, you can be sure that the clients will not take them seriously and they will try to push you to break them more. After all, your boundaries mean nothing if you don’t enforce them yourself. 

You might be uncomfortable at first, but be persistent. If you see your clients break a rule, don’t adjust to them. Remind them about what you agreed upon and stay strong. If they try to do it next time, simply ignore whatever they tried to say. 

You can also copy the phrase I wrote earlier and put it somewhere visible to remind you that if there’s someone who has problems with your boundaries, it’s not your ideal client and you don’t have to work with them.

Treat it as a form of respect towards yourself. You’re establishing the famous work-life balance and making sure you’re not going to burn out after two projects.

Homework

Yes, I’m going to give you some homework to do 🙂. Take a piece of paper, put away all the distractions, and try to brainstorm the boundaries you might set for your interior design business. Do it for 10 minutes and see how many you can come up with. Repeat the exercise at some point if you need to. And remember to communicate them clearly with your next clients.

If you’re feeling a bit reluctant or afraid to set any boundaries, your exercise could be to journal about it. Make it a mindset exercise. Ask yourself - why am I afraid to set those boundaries? What do I think my clients might think of me? What is the worst thing that could happen?

Do Whatever Feels Comfortable

Remember that everything I wrote in this article is a suggestion. I firmly believe that setting up boundaries will change your client experience for the better. I’ve seen it happen in my business. And it took away a lot of stress. Remember, though, that it’s ultimately up to you to decide if and which boundaries you are comfortable with. Analyze your workflow and the whole process. See where it might benefit from rules in place. You can get inspired by my examples and create your own. Just do whatever feels comfortable 🙂

hi there!

I'm Aleksandra, an interior architect with multinational experience, on a mission to help beginning or self-taught designers gain confidence and create systems that will help them bring their businesses to the next level.

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hi, I'm Aleksandra!

I will help you create an organized interior design business with systems and processes, and to gain confidence to bring your career to the next level.

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