Top Ten Client Traits

Bob Borson —  March 29, 2010 — 32 Comments

There are clients I like and then there are clients I love. There are loads of reasons why but the best clients always seem to share some of the same characteristics. These reasons might seem obvious to some but in most cases, my favorite clients have every single one of these traits. Feel free to leave your own favorite qualities in the comment section.

1. Involved in the process
Good architecture is the result of a back and forth process, needs versus wants. Clients that participate in the process of evaluating and setting priorities are in a better position to make a diminishing scale of values. This type of client involvement helps create ownership of the process, and ultimately the end product.

2. Understand their budget
This is not the same as knowing your budget. It’s sort of glass half empty versus glass half full mentality – but with money. One has an empty “budget bag” that they think they can put stuff in until its full; the other has a bag with their budget in  it and they take things out until the budget is expended. It might seem like the same thing but it’s not. The group putting stuff in the bag will continually try to jam more stuff in, well beyond when the zipper will close (just sit on it and then try…). The other, well, when you take the last thing out, that’s it, there’s nothing left. Whenever we have clients that stress quantity over quality, it’s a harbinger of things to come. It’s not the clients job to know what things cost, but when they keep increasing the square footage of the project, or continue to add program requirements without ever thinking that these things have costs associated with them, it’s shows that they aren’t thinking about the very base fact that everything has a cost associated with it.

3. Challenge the norm:
The best projects are a result of  clients who push the envelope, those who are not interested in what everyone else is doing but rather interested in getting something that is uniquely theirs. Again, it’s an indication of ownership, both in the process and in the result.

4. Willing to Change
These clients will listen to the advice of the experts they have hired. Just because you have lived in a house your whole life does not necessarily make you qualified to design one. Let’s take a look at the simplest of spaces – the bathroom. In a nutshell it’s a toilet, a sink, a shower, bath or some combination of the two. Used one before and you pretty much have the essence of the thing. Let interject some variables; finish materials, cabinetry, door locations (one door from a hall or single room or shared access between multiple rooms), accessories (bath towel, hand towel, toilet paper roll, etc.) do you have a warming drawer (like you might see in kitchens), is the mirror configured to not steam up, or is there a TV behind a portion of it? I could keep going on – and half of this list involves technologies that weren’t available a few years ago. We even joke with some of our clients that we get at least one “Do what I say” card that we get to play at some point, ha ha right? We always use it.

5. Don’t already have it all figured out
This one seems pretty obvious. If we have someone who comes in and tells us that they already know what they want, they just need someone to draw it up….I’m out. If this is you, don’t even bother calling me because I’m not interested.

6. Expectations  change as the process evolves
This is really about enjoying the process.  Part of the design process will be discovering the unexpected; which is really the best, most exciting part. Some clients get as excited as we do when there is a struggle to find a better way, to explore the possibilities of what we think we know. There is typically a “Ah-Ha!” moment when things come together and the results look so obvious and simple, you wondered how it was that you only just know figured it out. These are great moments and are always the best part of any day.

7. Flexible
This is sort of extension of #6 but I’ll focus on something that goes wrong; because something always goes wrong during construction. There are too many moving parts with dozens of separate individuals working on a project for there not to be misunderstandings, gaps in the documentation or even omissions. A good project requires everyone working together towards a common goal, a great project requires everyone to be on the same page and collaborating. The by-product of this collaboration means that as the project is getting built, things will require the input of the individuals working and sometimes that input requires change. Clients who understand the value of collaboration have the ability to be flexible – it’s an extension of teamwork.

8. Enjoy the construction process
Instead of waiting for the project to simply be done, the clients who come out and do more than project their lives into the building. They want to understand and see what’s happening. When you see clients on the job-site, some might think, “oh no, what are they doing here…”. I think, awesome, let’s walk around and see how things are turning out. I really enjoy explaining what people see on a job site (“see that piece of wood right there? That’s a fire stop”). The construction process is another part of the process and I like clients who are as involved during the building as they were selecting appliances. In some cases, I enjoy the clients who come out to the job-site during construction a lot more.

9. Sum of the whole is greater than its parts
We have all heard this phrase but putting into action can be tough. The items listed #1 through #8 all contribute towards a great client and the more of those traits (to me) the better. All of these characteristics have value and I don’t have them listed in any particular order. That having been said, the benefit of these traits seem to exponentially compound on one another and more time than not, when  a client exhibits a few of these traits, they tend to exhibit them all.

10. Owners with Ownership
This is sort of the tally line for the entire list. Clients that go through and invest themselves into this process validate the end result because they didn’t just order this project, they helped create this project. Being involved and knowing why a thing exists they way it does, helps support its justification for being that particular way. Every owner I know who has committed themselves to the experience through their involvement has turned into my greatest advocate. I believe this to be true because they choose to get involved and be a part an act of creation – but they didn’t just “place an order” for a product, they came along for the experience and the “product” just happened to be the end result.

.

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  • Brett Wolfe

    don’t forget the importance of a paying client!

    also, never forget the importance of a decisive client – when the client is continually indecisive, the entire team loses faith in their ability to make decisions, and nothing gets done.

  • http://twitter.com/Marilyn_Russell Marilyn G Russell

    Well said…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000490030018 Connie Lee

    Great Post

  • Josh Herrman

    Bravo- Item #5 is what I call hitting the nail on the head!  These are all excellent points, thanks for expressing them so clearly!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Josh!

  • http://twitter.com/Splintergirl Amy Good

    I appreciate that you are willing to bow out of a working relationship if it doesn’t meet what you need from a client as well. Let’s face it, we have all been in situations where that little red flag goes up…then another….then another. This way, you primarily already have your list together to check against.

    As a consumer and someone who has seen several jobs come to a screeching halt because the architect’s drawings took on a life of their own, I’d say listening is important. That is early on to filter out the client you’re pretty sure you don’t want to work with, but also listening to what they want and need in the house and not designing what you think they want and need. You’d be surprised how many projects locally drop $40,000 to $50,000 (or more) on the architect, only to find out that they could never afford to build the thing….same architect too.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Funny how I miss comments – just now seeing this one over a year after it was posted (because I did see the comment from Josh – just above – came in). 

      And look what you mention – the little red flag – which happened to be the topic of yesterdays post -
      http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/red-flag-words-and-phrases/

      Your comments are painful to read but I’ve heard that tale many times before. I have advocated that the most important skill an architect needs to develop is their ability to  communicate.

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    As I am a consumer, I can only comment on what would inspire me to be a great client. Trust. If I trust you, then I am going to work hard to make your job fun and easy. If only we had known you 5 years ago when we paid an architect to do a house here in SB. The house still isn’t built, but over 100K is long gone. And we never did quite discover where our money went. So trust……

    • Anonymous

      Oohh … I hate hearing stories like that. And to think, working on a house in SB should have been part of the compensation (at least to someone from Dallas).

      Trust is everything because sooner or later, I will ask you to do something you don’t want to do or don’t agree with me on and I am going to tell you that I need you to trust me. I can’t do that if I haven’t earned it so I kill myself to get there. So far, I think I have every time. They may end up not liking me but they won’t ever question that I have their interests in mind and not some other agenda.

      Thanks for commenting

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    As I am a consumer, I can only comment on what would inspire me to be a great client. Trust. If I trust you, then I am going to work hard to make your job fun and easy. If only we had known you 5 years ago when we paid an architect to do a house here in SB. The house still isn’t built, but over 100K is long gone. And we never did quite discover where our money went. So trust……

  • Paul

    Trust. Clients who trust me, for whatever unfathomable reason, always come to mind when I think of my favorite clients. Having someone willing to let me make the call when so much is at stake is an incredible motivator.

  • Kelly

    A sense of humor is a bonus (or if they at least laugh at my jokes.)

    Thanks for reminding me why I love my job too.

  • http://twitter.com/SmartHome24 Knut Wingsch

    Hey Bob,
    sorry again for my delayed reply. At the end of the month there are always these silly thinks to do, like taxes and so on ;)

    I agree with you that there are still enough potential home owners with the financial background to not care about what banks or lenders say. Because of the recession a lot of these guys contact my office to try to sell the one or the other property to have some more cash in the bank accounts for their actual projects. Anyways those guys are in the market and when you are lucky you find them or they find you. As you are from Dallas you might know Crow Holdings/Trammel Crow. I once worked as the Head Concepts & Development Germany and Member of the Board for their European subsidy. Besides commercial real estate we also worked on bigger residential developments throughout Europe. It was a fun time and my first try to earn some shares within this part of the business. Since then I work on fully automated, energy-efficiency and sustainable so called “Intelligent Homes”, extended to automated commercial real estate. A very special niche with its own challenges, but in the end we might work in this segment with the same customer group. Those who really seek for a special, unique home to show it to their friends “Look what I have!” ;)

    I also agree with you on the environment of a workplace and a better functionality of buildings, which results in better work results, but as I wrote earlier it’s not an April Fools joke that the Architecture budget is partly included in the Marketing budget, because knowing all the pro’s and con’s upfront makes it way easier to finance/let/sell the property. Well, but I know where you are coming from. As you are the creative who develop the plans for a building it’s pretty clear that you have to see it your way, otherwise you couldn’t put enough passion into your work. On the other hand there are guys like me who focus on the numbers to make the project an economical success for the investor. At that point we are in an interesting situation, because if I as the project manager for the end-investor, let an architect do what she/he wants to do I often help myself and therewith the project in total to become a success. Sure, I often have to say “Folks, please have a look at the budget and don’t only let yourself lead by your fantasy” but to find the right compromise really help everyone to get better results.

    Greetings and Happy Easter
    Knut

  • http://twitter.com/SmartHome24 Knut Wingsch

    Hey Bob,
    sorry again for my delayed reply. At the end of the month there are always these silly thinks to do, like taxes and so on ;)

    I agree with you that there are still enough potential home owners with the financial background to not care about what banks or lenders say. Because of the recession a lot of these guys contact my office to try to sell the one or the other property to have some more cash in the bank accounts for their actual projects. Anyways those guys are in the market and when you are lucky you find them or they find you. As you are from Dallas you might know Crow Holdings/Trammel Crow. I once worked as the Head Concepts & Development Germany and Member of the Board for their European subsidy. Besides commercial real estate we also worked on bigger residential developments throughout Europe. It was a fun time and my first try to earn some shares within this part of the business. Since then I work on fully automated, energy-efficiency and sustainable so called “Intelligent Homes”, extended to automated commercial real estate. A very special niche with its own challenges, but in the end we might work in this segment with the same customer group. Those who really seek for a special, unique home to show it to their friends “Look what I have!” ;)

    I also agree with you on the environment of a workplace and a better functionality of buildings, which results in better work results, but as I wrote earlier it’s not an April Fools joke that the Architecture budget is partly included in the Marketing budget, because knowing all the pro’s and con’s upfront makes it way easier to finance/let/sell the property. Well, but I know where you are coming from. As you are the creative who develop the plans for a building it’s pretty clear that you have to see it your way, otherwise you couldn’t put enough passion into your work. On the other hand there are guys like me who focus on the numbers to make the project an economical success for the investor. At that point we are in an interesting situation, because if I as the project manager for the end-investor, let an architect do what she/he wants to do I often help myself and therewith the project in total to become a success. Sure, I often have to say “Folks, please have a look at the budget and don’t only let yourself lead by your fantasy” but to find the right compromise really help everyone to get better results.

    Greetings and Happy Easter
    Knut

  • http://twitter.com/SmartHome24 Knut Wingsch

    Hi Bob, thank you for sharing this article and asking for my opinion. I’m coming from commercial real estate, mostly worked for investment companies, like banks, insurance companies and other bigger investors. Looking from that perspective the architecture part is, let’s be honest, partly part of the marketing budget. You have a given budget, a given landing corridor (ROI/ROE and so on) and some options to fulfil both. Architecture is in such projects something which not only gives the property its unique look, but also says a lot about the investor itself. No bigger investor (at least at Europe) can ignore latest architecture, energy-efficiency and environment protection trends on the one hand or leave out top comfort for the occupants on the other hand. Meanwhile lenders and end-investors explicit ask for sustainable, highly energy-efficiency buildings. It’s getting harder to find a financing for conventional buildings. That’s why I wrote earlier that architecture is partly part of the marketing budget. It’s essential because of economic reasons, not because of the unique architectural solution.

    There is not much flexibility given in such projects after the contracts are signed. Sure, there is a position “Unforeseen” in the budget, but touching this means that someone hasn’t done her/his job very well. The good point is, that we are operating with ROI’s of about 12 to 15% annually and not with 21%+ like at the US. One reason for that are the higher environment, building and construction regulations, leading to higher construction costs in general, the other is that we are in love with long-term investments based on long term letting/leasing contracts (15 years+), so that investors don’t have to press the last penny out of their tenants. During the job on side at least once per week a project manager show up to have a look at what’s going on. Usually there are junior project managers on side all the time to deal with the daily problems.

    I’m not very familiar with the given challenges to construct single homes, but I know from some friends who are that they more and more have to deal with the same challenges, especially because high quality Prefabs are becoming even more popular. Those Prefabs are highly energy-efficiency, but still with an individual planning, less expensive, build in time and with less risks during the job on side (which lenders pretty much like). They are also becoming more popular because of the environment regulations and tax incentives related to them. Factory build buildings are always having the same guaranteed quality, while individual buildings depending on single contractors. Overall it kills the romantic and artistic part of architecture, because all these nice free hand sketches and drawings are becoming more and more obsolete in this way and architecture is becoming just a needed ingredient to build a building.

    European architects had to learn early to understand the budget and also their role within a project. Budgeting and project management is meanwhile a big part of the architecture studies.

    *phew* That’s one nouvelle ;))

    Greetings
    Knut

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob

      Knut,
      Other than being a little depressing, I agree with most of what you say with your comment with a few exceptions. Architects who specialize in the residential market are seeing their opportunities dwindle as we loss market share to horizontal developers and “custom” home builders offering spec houses on development, I am seeing my value rise. It takes a certain amount of ego for someone to hire an architect to design them a house (“out of the thousands of houses already built, there isn’t a product available that suits my needs”) and I don’t see that changing anytime soon (at least not in the US). We might be becoming a boutique service provider but my office made it through the last two years without laying anyone off or cutting any salaries.

      There is also the added problem solving value that architects bring into the mix (I am going to assume that the architects I am talking about are competent and capable as a primer). Besides the value of “marketing” a building there are studies that talk about how workers actually work better in better buildings; the productivity goes up, sick days go down – things that are obviously better for the bottom line. But what I am trying to hint at, without articulating it very well, is pride. The personality of the individuals coming into consideration within the environment of the workplace (regardless of the building type). It might be easy to lump this in with the “marketing” label but I think that discounts the real value a beautifully design and functional building can have – all you have to do is look at the leading progressive companies throughout the world and look at how much consideration is given to the building the employees work in – none of them are tilt wall, industrial park buildings. These are the buildings that are gracing magazine covers (and I refuse to believe it is just for the media attention).

  • http://twitter.com/SmartHome24 Knut Wingsch

    Hi Bob, thank you for sharing this article and asking for my opinion. I’m coming from commercial real estate, mostly worked for investment companies, like banks, insurance companies and other bigger investors. Looking from that perspective the architecture part is, let’s be honest, partly part of the marketing budget. You have a given budget, a given landing corridor (ROI/ROE and so on) and some options to fulfil both. Architecture is in such projects something which not only gives the property its unique look, but also says a lot about the investor itself. No bigger investor (at least at Europe) can ignore latest architecture, energy-efficiency and environment protection trends on the one hand or leave out top comfort for the occupants on the other hand. Meanwhile lenders and end-investors explicit ask for sustainable, highly energy-efficiency buildings. It’s getting harder to find a financing for conventional buildings. That’s why I wrote earlier that architecture is partly part of the marketing budget. It’s essential because of economic reasons, not because of the unique architectural solution.

    There is not much flexibility given in such projects after the contracts are signed. Sure, there is a position “Unforeseen” in the budget, but touching this means that someone hasn’t done her/his job very well. The good point is, that we are operating with ROI’s of about 12 to 15% annually and not with 21%+ like at the US. One reason for that are the higher environment, building and construction regulations, leading to higher construction costs in general, the other is that we are in love with long-term investments based on long term letting/leasing contracts (15 years+), so that investors don’t have to press the last penny out of their tenants. During the job on side at least once per week a project manager show up to have a look at what’s going on. Usually there are junior project managers on side all the time to deal with the daily problems.

    I’m not very familiar with the given challenges to construct single homes, but I know from some friends who are that they more and more have to deal with the same challenges, especially because high quality Prefabs are becoming even more popular. Those Prefabs are highly energy-efficiency, but still with an individual planning, less expensive, build in time and with less risks during the job on side (which lenders pretty much like). They are also becoming more popular because of the environment regulations and tax incentives related to them. Factory build buildings are always having the same guaranteed quality, while individual buildings depending on single contractors. Overall it kills the romantic and artistic part of architecture, because all these nice free hand sketches and drawings are becoming more and more obsolete in this way and architecture is becoming just a needed ingredient to build a building.

    European architects had to learn early to understand the budget and also their role within a project. Budgeting and project management is meanwhile a big part of the architecture studies.

    *phew* That’s one nouvelle ;))

    Greetings
    Knut

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob

      Knut,
      Other than being a little depressing, I agree with most of what you say with your comment with a few exceptions. Architects who specialize in the residential market are seeing their opportunities dwindle as we loss market share to horizontal developers and “custom” home builders offering spec houses on development, I am seeing my value rise. It takes a certain amount of ego for someone to hire an architect to design them a house (“out of the thousands of houses already built, there isn’t a product available that suits my needs”) and I don’t see that changing anytime soon (at least not in the US). We might be becoming a boutique service provider but my office made it through the last two years without laying anyone off or cutting any salaries.

      There is also the added problem solving value that architects bring into the mix (I am going to assume that the architects I am talking about are competent and capable as a primer). Besides the value of “marketing” a building there are studies that talk about how workers actually work better in better buildings; the productivity goes up, sick days go down – things that are obviously better for the bottom line. But what I am trying to hint at, without articulating it very well, is pride. The personality of the individuals coming into consideration within the environment of the workplace (regardless of the building type). It might be easy to lump this in with the “marketing” label but I think that discounts the real value a beautifully design and functional building can have – all you have to do is look at the leading progressive companies throughout the world and look at how much consideration is given to the building the employees work in – none of them are tilt wall, industrial park buildings. These are the buildings that are gracing magazine covers (and I refuse to believe it is just for the media attention).

  • http://www.whiterockkitchens.com Mike

    Like you I started a blog to learn about all this new communication technologies and techniques. Just had a frustrating experience in blog comment posting. I did something wrong and my witty and inciteful comment blew up.

    2nd attempt:

    I find point #2 interesting.

    I bet most of my frustration with losing out on projects with architectural drawings has to do with the client you describe as trying to get the most into their budget. There are many reasons why my cabinets will be more than the budget allows, but I bet most of the reason is the clients trying to get more into their project as opposed to getting better into their project.

    I’ll evaluate this going forward with the lens your point #2 provides. I am willing to bet you have it correct. I’ll report back in the future with an update.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob

      Mike, first things first, what’s your blog address? I was trying to figure out how to describe #2 when I came up with that analogy and I am going to put it in my pocket next chance I get to have a budget conversation with one of my clients. I look forward to hearing your update.

  • http://www.whiterockkitchens.com/ Mike

    Like you I started a blog to learn about all this new communication technologies and techniques. Just had a frustrating experience in blog comment posting. I did something wrong and my witty and inciteful comment blew up.

    2nd attempt:

    I find point #2 interesting.

    I bet most of my frustration with losing out on projects with architectural drawings has to do with the client you describe as trying to get the most into their budget. There are many reasons why my cabinets will be more than the budget allows, but I bet most of the reason is the clients trying to get more into their project as opposed to getting better into their project.

    I’ll evaluate this going forward with the lens your point #2 provides. I am willing to bet you have it correct. I’ll report back in the future with an update.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob

      Mike, first things first, what’s your blog address? I was trying to figure out how to describe #2 when I came up with that analogy and I am going to put it in my pocket next chance I get to have a budget conversation with one of my clients. I look forward to hearing your update.

  • http://www.frusterio.com Adam

    Great post! It is such a pleasure to work with clients that possess these traits. I love when clients take interest in the project. It makes the process much more enjoyable for us as well as them. Thanks!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob

      Adam,

      Thanks for your comment. Occasionally younger architects (interns or those about to graduate) will ask if the best projects are those with unlimited budgets and clients who will let me do whatever I want – they are always surprised when I tell them that those are frequently the worst (not that I have any projects with unlimited budgets). The challenges are what make the most rewarding projects and when the client is involved, that collaboration really does make things better.

  • http://www.frusterio.com/ Adam

    Great post! It is such a pleasure to work with clients that possess these traits. I love when clients take interest in the project. It makes the process much more enjoyable for us as well as them. Thanks!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob

      Adam,

      Thanks for your comment. Occasionally younger architects (interns or those about to graduate) will ask if the best projects are those with unlimited budgets and clients who will let me do whatever I want – they are always surprised when I tell them that those are frequently the worst (not that I have any projects with unlimited budgets). The challenges are what make the most rewarding projects and when the client is involved, that collaboration really does make things better.

  • Lucinda

    great info! Having been on both sides, I would have to agree. You have a great way of mapping it out!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob

      Lucinda – thanks for commenting (haven’t spoken with you in a while).

      Rich – sure thing, all the extras I can’t handle I will surely send them your way! I don’t think you need to have all of these traits but a client who is part of the process and enjoys the collaboration is surely a good sign. I have one client who jokes about how much of a pain she was – constantly making changes (really they were additions). She would call me up and tell me that she and her husband had too many martini’s and now they wanted to add a second floor to the house. It was never an issue for me because they were always thinking of how it could be more, be better. I loved working with them. I am actually thinking about writing a post on this project – look for it in the next short while (Campbell Cabana).

  • Lucinda

    great info! Having been on both sides, I would have to agree. You have a great way of mapping it out!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob

      Lucinda – thanks for commenting (haven’t spoken with you in a while).

      Rich – sure thing, all the extras I can’t handle I will surely send them your way! I don’t think you need to have all of these traits but a client who is part of the process and enjoys the collaboration is surely a good sign. I have one client who jokes about how much of a pain she was – constantly making changes (really they were additions). She would call me up and tell me that she and her husband had too many martini’s and now they wanted to add a second floor to the house. It was never an issue for me because they were always thinking of how it could be more, be better. I loved working with them. I am actually thinking about writing a post on this project – look for it in the next short while (Campbell Cabana).

  • http://www.concretedetail.com/blog Rich Holschuh

    Bob

    Excellent compilation. I couldn’t have stated it better (not even close!). These are the clients we all dream about and are all too rare. I wish I could have some sort of filter on my door… I think it all comes down to having a client willing to let you or I do our job – part collaborator, part instigator, part motivator – to trust the process and the professional. Everything works better when there is justifiable trust. If you get too many of these charmers for you to handle, send them my way!

  • http://www.concretedetail.com/blog Rich Holschuh

    Bob

    Excellent compilation. I couldn’t have stated it better (not even close!). These are the clients we all dream about and are all too rare. I wish I could have some sort of filter on my door… I think it all comes down to having a client willing to let you or I do our job – part collaborator, part instigator, part motivator – to trust the process and the professional. Everything works better when there is justifiable trust. If you get too many of these charmers for you to handle, send them my way!