Designer Ginny Macdonald recalls two distinct moments when she knew her client boundaries had gotten out of hand. “I had one client text me at 10pm on a Sunday evening, and one on Thanksgiving morning,” she said. From that point on, she knew something needed to change and updated the language of her contract to set clear expectations from the beginning. But Ginny is certainly not alone. Many business owners find it difficult to establish healthy boundaries with design clients, whether they’re just starting or seasoned professionals.
The good news? Guarding personal time doesn’t have to come at the expense of your client projects. Instead, most designers agree that uninterrupted time away is what drives their work for the better. To set the record straight, let's discuss why boundaries are so important and how to put them in place.
Why Set Boundaries with Interior Design Clients?
A huge part of workday efficiency is about organizing your time to best serve your clients. While it's tempting to respond to every client email or text in real-time, this habit can wreak havoc on productivity. It also sets the expectation that you’re reachable at any hour of the day or night. Despite the fact that you probably love your work, there’s a big difference between keeping clients in the loop and allowing clients to take advantage of your time.
Designer Julia Miller of Yond Interiors agreed, sharing what her team has learned about how well-established boundaries can be a win-win. “We've found that being clear about how we work, including when we are available, has helped our projects run smoothly and our clients feel secure and understood,” she said.
The Practical Tips
Set your work-life balance up for success with these three strategies.
Set Office Hours
One of the easiest ways to create boundaries with design clients is to include office hours in your email signature. This lets clients know exactly when you’ll be available and which days and times to try reaching you (hint: not on weekends!) In addition to office hours, Ginny Macdonald said she takes it one step further and doesn’t allow work email push notifications on her phone. “Maybe it’s more of a European way of working than an American,” she said, “but setting boundaries with clients has been key.”
"We find that setting boundaries helps protect everyone's time and keeps projects moving efficiently."
-Julia Miller of Yond Interiors
Put Expectations in Writing
We’ve covered the legal checklist every interior designer needs, and one of the biggest takeaways is when in doubt, put it in writing. Take some time to decide which client communication model works best for your studio, and make sure it's clearly outlined in your contract. It’s important to include not only when clients can expect to reach you, but also how you’ll communicate. For example, if you aren’t comfortable communicating with clients via text or Instagram DM, make sure your contract states email communication only. Also, make a point to discuss this in your initial consultation to ensure everyone is on the same page from day one.
Another practical strategy to set boundaries with design clients is to keep them well-informed on a consistent basis. Most clients are naturally curious about the status of their project, so try sending an email update once a week to outline what’s currently going on, what’s been stalled, and how you’re handling each aspect. Setting up consistent processes like a weekly update is an easy way to avoid back-in-forth emails and allows your communication to be proactive instead of reactive.
“Client boundaries become more difficult if you don't have a good process and clear expectations,” Julia Miller of Yond Interiors said. “We have found that by setting an expected timeline for the project to progress in our design proposal helps our clients understand the pace at which the project will progress. We find that setting boundaries helps protect everyone's time and keeps projects moving efficiently.”