Mastering Time
for Success

Designing Your
Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach2023-09-25
Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach2023-09-25

From Contributing Editor, Andrew Mitchell, director of MR. MITCHELL, Interior designer and founder of The Design Coach.

Time and money are the two most important metrics that can be used to measure the health of our business.

Andrew Mitchell The Design Coach
One of the most challenging aspects of working in the design industry is managing expectations around project budgets. Whilst we’re all aware that the design outcomes on a project should be of paramount importance, it’s common for designers and architects to sidestep the sometimes-challenging conversations about costs due to lack of confidence talking about money.

All too often relationships sour midway through the project, when quotes don’t align with the clients’ hopes and expectations. In many instances, this can be avoided by taking a more proactive role in helping the clients to establish realistic expectations about likely costs at the start of the project, and then helping them to manage these expectations throughout by providing regular updates. Such services require solid processes and reliable tools for estimation.

With current cost volatility in the construction industry, clients and professionals alike are hyper-focused on budget blow-outs, causing a reluctance to have honest and open discussions about the reality of the current market costs. Proving to potential clients that you place just as much care in managing their money as you do in formulating and communicating the design intent will help win their trust and increase the likelihood of securing the business.

This article addresses why managing a budget is necessary (not optional) and provides some tips to implement into your business immediately to help provide this important service to your clients.

When making the decision to add procurement as one of your services, these are some of the most important factors to be considered:

  • How do you effectively and efficiently manage purchasing, manufacture, and delivery?
  • How to charge for your time and add margins to the product?
  • What do you need to set up to manage these projects?
  • What products should you buy? What should the builder be responsible for? How do you protect yourself from the risks associated with procurement?
  • How much time will this service take, and what team members will you need?
  • How will you streamline the process for accuracy and efficiency?

As a starting point, we should be thinking about the overall experience of our customers. A premium interior design package should provide a complete end-to-end service that makes the whole process as seamless as possible. The ideal client more than likely doesn’t want to lift a finger, and completely trusts that we, the professionals, will take care of every last detail. Procuring on behalf of our clients should form an integral part of that service. Taking care of this part of the project can also help to manage the budget on behalf of the clients, ensuring blow-outs and major variations are minimised.

Why is managing a budget important?

Even before getting started, the budget should be an integral part of the onboarding process. If a budget is unreasonable, and the clients are inflexible about what they hope to achieve, designers should be cautious about proceeding with the project.

Furthermore, a budget should be used as a guide to the extent of the scope of work, and the associated fees. Ignoring a conversation about the budget at the proposal stage risks presenting fees that are not aligned with the customers’ expectations.

One of the most important things we can do as design professionals is to listen. Listen to how our clients want to live/work in a space, feel in a space and share their space. Taking a detailed brief that understands the clients’ preferences requires high level listening skills, and will set us up to deliver successful outcomes, especially from a functional and aesthetic perspective.

However, the greatest skill lies in extracting, and interpreting things that are unsaid, including comfort levels around costs. Reading between the lines about what’s missing from the conversation can make or break a project’s success. Realistic considerations around the budget are usually missing from conversations between design professionals and their clients. Making these conversations comfortable is what makes good designers and architects so incredibly valuable.

How much a client is willing to spend should influence how we approach the design. Delivering a beautiful, functional design can vary immeasurably in cost, depending on the level a client wants us to specify at and the level of detail and customisation. Part of the design journey should include real conversations about the budget, so expectations can be managed.

Quite often, clients’ aspirations don’t align with what they’re prepared to spend. It’s not our job to make magic happen and deliver this mismatched expectation. We do have a responsibility to analyse the viability of a clients’ budget and make recommendations when we identify that they need to either spend more money, reduce the scope, or lower the level of specification (or a combination of all three).

Why can getting a budget be so difficult?

Whether they are upfront about it or not, almost all clients care about how much the project is likely to cost. However, they’re frequently cautious about sharing their budget, due to a range of reasons, mainly linked to trust.

Firstly, the design industry isn’t renowned for handling budgets effectively, with many stories of cost blow-outs circulating throughout the community. This causes clients to either provide conservative/low-ball figures, assuming our intention is to spend more than they are comfortable doing so, or to withhold information completely, for fear of having this figure completely disregarded.

In addition, many clients have no idea how much things cost, so are reluctant to share figures for fear of sounding unrealistic or uninformed. They would much prefer to avoid the conversation all together, even though it’s a major source of concern for them.

If they haven’t worked with design professionals previously, clients don’t know the protocols and processes for discussing the budget, so will take the lead from us. If we, as the professionals, are uncomfortable or lacking in confidence when talking about project finances, chances are that the clients will follow suit.

In all cases, we have the responsibility to open a conversation about money from the early stages of the project, before any contracts are signed, or design concepts are commenced.

Tips for Managing a Client Budget:

1. Get comfortable talking about money.

  • Nobody wins when conversations about money are uncomfortable! Incorporate processes that help make these conversations easier.
  • Adopt tools and templates that can help make it simple to analyse and manage project budgets effectively (access proven systems, tools and templates through Managing Project Finances online course).
  • If you’re uncomfortable asking the question directly to the client, consider incorporating a Questionnaire into your onboarding process with a section on the project budget.

2. Make it a habit to get a budget at the start.

  • Avoiding the conversation about money doesn’t manage expectations and will most likely cause a breakdown further down the project path.
  • If the clients seem nervous talking finances, use language they might feel more comfortable with, rather than formal terms like “Project Budget”.
  • Try asking “What are you hoping to spend?” or “What do you feel comfortable investing in this project?”
  • Reassure the clients that you need to know this figure in order to help manage their expectations from the beginning to the end of the project.

3. Have the hard conversations upfront and avoid even harder conversations down the track.

  • Assess whether the budget is viable before taking on the project.
  • Be honest if you believe the budget isn’t aligned with the size of the project, or the level of specification they are hoping to achieve.
  • Don’t commit to a set figure prior to starting the project, but do have open discussions about a reasonable price range, referencing past projects (see Point #5)
  • Reconsider taking on the project if the client isn’t realistic about potential costs.

4. Establish a process to help review, assess, and manage the budget throughout the project.

  • Create a streamlined Design Process that ensures that you have touchpoints to review and manage the budget throughout the project (consider a Business Bootcamp to learn solid processes).
  • Use tools to review the budget (access our Budget Forecast via our Managing Project Finances online course).
  • Create templated projects through Programa to provide indicative project costs.

5. Reference past projects when asked by clients about likely budgets.

  • Create a spreadsheet of past projects as a reference tool for talking about project costs. Include details such as date, location, scope overview, level of specification and project costs (break down these further into categories such as Base Construction, Joinery, FF&E for advanced cost referencing).
  • Allow for contingencies in this period of rising costs.
  • If you’re new to the industry talk to experienced colleagues/trades about likely construction costs for different-sized projects.
  • Know your limits! We’re not Quantity Surveyors, and you shouldn’t feel compelled to offer on-the-spot quotes. Explain to the clients that the figures you’re referencing are from other projects and are a guide only.

6. Use your process for managing the budget as a selling tool when meeting potential clients.

  • Get confident in your abilities by adopting sound processes for managing project finances.
  • Build trust by showing potential clients your process for managing the project finances.
  • Create systems that update the clients regularly on any variations to the budget.
  • Sell the services you can offer, beyond your design talent!

7. Get educated.

  • Get educated about likely costs. Research product pricing and create references for past project costs (see point #4).
  • Don’t stick your head in the sand. If you’re unsure about how to approach project finances, consider working with a coach or seeking the assistance of a more experienced mentor in the industry.
  • Upskill on all areas of business in Business Bootcamp to access tools, templates and processes to streamline your business and make conversations about money easier and more effective.

Developing healthy habits for seeking and managing clients’ financial expectations not only fosters trust and transparency but also encourages long-term relationships and referrals. Embracing a proactive and disciplined approach to budget management empowers us to make informed decisions, prioritise key elements, and adapt to unforeseen challenges, all while staying true to the project’s vision.

Additionally, maintaining a careful eye on project finances enhances our ability to foresee potential cost blow-outs and enables us to seek cost-effective solutions without necessarily compromising on the overall design vision. Ultimately, by mastering the art of talking about money comfortably, design professionals can ensure the realisation of exceptional projects that meet both artistic and financial aspirations.

To find out more about Andrew and The Design Coach:


Instagram @thedesigncoach_au


Book a Discovery Call here .

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In the dynamic world of interior design, mastering time management is crucial for maintaining productivity, profitability, and overall job satisfaction. At Programa, in partnership with The Design Coach, we understand the unique challenges faced by interior designers in balancing creative endeavors with business responsibilities. That's why we've curated expert tips and tools to help you streamline your workflow and make the most of your time.

Time and money stand as the cornerstones of business health, especially in the design industry. As Andrew Mitchell of The Design Coach rightly states, effective time management is essential for creating a thriving design practice. However, many designers find themselves overwhelmed and sacrificing personal time due to poor time management practices.

Recognizing the importance of time management, we've outlined key indicators that your business may be struggling in this area. From exceeding recommended work hours to consistently missing project deadlines, these signs highlight the need for intervention. By implementing strategies for personal time management, such as performing regular time audits and managing distractions, you can take control of your schedule and enhance productivity.

Moreover, effective project time management is essential for delivering exceptional results to clients. By establishing clear project timelines and communicating expectations early on, you can minimize delays and foster trust with your clients. Utilizing tools like Programa's project management software can further streamline your processes and keep projects on track.

To cultivate lasting time management habits, we recommend incorporating the following practices into your routine:

  1. Perform a Regular Time Audit: Gain insights into your time usage and identify areas for improvement.
  2. Manage Distractions: Minimize interruptions during periods of focus to enhance productivity.
  3. Program Your Projects: Implement a structured design process and share timelines with clients to maintain accountability.
  4. Plan Your Week: Use time blocking to prioritize tasks and schedule important activities.
  5. Keep Records: Track time diligently to assess efficiency and profitability, rewarding consistent tracking among your team.

For interior designers seeking to enhance their time management skills, our Premium Group Coaching Program offers advanced training and support. Join us as we empower designers to optimize their workflows and achieve success in their design endeavors.

With Programa and The Design Coach by your side, mastering time management is within reach. Explore our resources and elevate your design practice today.