The types of clients in architecture are much like the clients any business owner deals with. Some can be pleasant, but many others are demanding and unreasonable.
Once you have been in business for a while, you start to recognize the types – you can manage some, but sometimes your life is better if you choose not to deal with them.
What are the types of clients in architecture you are likely to come across?
#1 Butterfly Brain
This client flits from idea to idea.
They chat to you on the phone, and they want dormer windows (for the light), then a follow-up email wants eyebrow windows (for the old-world charm).
These types of clients in architecture can leave your head spinning and your staff endlessly redesigning and redrawing.
This problem client is lovely and charming and so enthusiastic about the project that they don’t realize they are a nightmare to work with, and if you tell them, it’s like kicking a puppy.
The best way to deal with the butterfly brain is to pin them in place upfront with a design brief and penalty clauses (paid upfront) for any changes to the plan.
The next time something flits through their thoughts, you can tell them, yes, we can change that, but it will cost you. They may still change their minds, but at least you are getting paid.
#2 Poor Me – Can You Do It for Cost?
Have you met this type of client yet?
They love your designs, but alas, they haven’t got the budget to stretch to that unless perhaps you could give them the work at cost?
A faint hopeful smile passes across their anxious face. How do you deal with that?
You’ve gotten to know these friendly people, and would it hurt, just this once?
The decision is yours but take a deep breath and remember that you are in business. You can’t walk into a store and admire a new fridge and say, I can’t really afford that. Can you give it to me at cost?
Well, you can, but you and the storekeeper both know that if they reduce the price, they are still making a profit – because that is what businesses do.
You’ve got a choice – stand firm and feel like a heel or cut your price and reduce your profits. Bear in mind your profits feed your family and your staff. Plus, the client will talk, and every other client will be asking for a discount.
An alternative strategy is to offer them a cheaper option that suits their budget.
#3 How Low Can You Go?
These types of clients in architecture are obsessed with the contract value. Their mission is to get the lowest price possible for the work they need, and they like to play one firm off against another in a bidding war.
If you are not careful, you end up paying them for the privilege of doing their job.
You may love the project, but are you willing to work below cost?
The only way to deal with this type of architecture client is to know where your rock bottom price is and be prepared to walk away. They probably have another firm on the hook for this job and are just using you to push the price down.
#4 Give Me More for Less
Like the poor me client, but less charming as architecture client types go. Their immediate response is to demand extra with the firm conviction that whatever they want is included in the original price.
Once you have met and dealt with one of these clients, you sharpen up your contracts and insert clauses that make it clear upfront what attracts an extra charge as one fee is not that elastic.
#5 Unrealistic Expectations
Every business has the type of client that expects you to bend time and space to meet their deadlines. They tell you what they want, and they expect you to accomplish it with a snap of your fingers.
Whatever they want, they want it done last week.
These types of architecture clients are exhausting to deal with because they leave you with the permanent feeling of failing to meet expectations. Their demands can lead to the most common project management mistakes.
The only approach is to agree on a timeline at the start of the project and keep communicating with them that you will meet your realistic deadlines.
#6 Needy Child
You know the ones; they demand your time and attention, although you have other clients to manage. They insist on being the center of your world and are continually acting out a drama for your attention.
Any slight delay magnifies to a drama of epic proportions. These types of architectural clients occupy a lot of bandwidth and can have a severe impact on your ability to manage your projects.
One way of managing your needy client is to agree to a regular catch-up time and be resolutely unavailable at all other times.
It is hard work, but what is the alternative?
#7 No Rest for the Wicked
Some people live to work, it is their obsession, and they are firing off emails in the middle of the night and the early hours of Sunday morning.
Unfortunately, these types of architectural clients think your staff works the same crazy hours as they do and expect an instant response.
You can insist on only dealing with them during working hours, but these clients can make life difficult for your staff with their out-of-hour demands.
#8 So Laid Back They Are Horizontal
In theory, the client that lets you get on with it and does not want to give any input is the ideal hands-off client.
In practice, they are slippery and difficult to pin down.
These types of architectural clients can be the worse to manage, and you need to protect your firm by making sure they have agreed in writing to the project details. Then you can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with the job free from interference.
#9 Robber Baron
Some people dedicate their lives to gouging out as much money as possible for themselves and fight tooth and nail to keep every penny of it.
Their business approach is to get it all and pay next to nothing for it. They are single-minded in pursuing their goal and don’t care about the damage they create for everyone who works with them.
Good luck dealing with this type of architectural client – make sure your contracts are watertight and attend every meeting as if you are going to war.
Alternatively, decline to bid for their business.
Have you ever met a client who wants to be an architect but did not fancy the hard slog through university and work?
They have drawn up their own plans, created a scale model, and know the last tiny mosaic square they want from the project. Why did they bother employing you?
Oh yeah, they are not licensed architects and need someone to sign-off on their dream house.
Your client does not understand why you don’t see their artistic genius and are bothered about little things like load-bearing walls. These types of architectural clients are too involved with the project and don’t give you room to breathe.
How do you deal with them?
Carefully. You need to explain patiently why their marvelous ideas don’t translate into a buildable project without crushing their dreams.
#11 Hungry Ghost
In Taoism, a hungry ghost describes a person who can never be satisfied.
It does not matter what you do; you can never do enough; it is never right. They yearn for something, but they can’t tell you what it is.
As a result, they do nothing but criticize the project without offering any helpful way to resolve their issue. They don’t like the color scheme (even though they signed off on it), the door is in the wrong place, the room proportions are somehow off.
The best outcome with these types of architectural clients is that you can prove you fulfilled the contract, but sometimes you must walk away because there is no satisfying a hungry ghost.
#12 Guilt Tripper
Imagine you won a commission to build a children’s home or a head office for a not for profit organization.
You are thrilled to be helping your community, and you have given them a massive discount. You start the project, and then the guilt tripper starts.
Their excuse for wanting an extra extension or some complementary landscaping is always “it’s for a good cause,” and you know it.
Your best bet is honesty.
No, you can’t give anymore because you have given as much as you can on this project. It may sound mean but keep reminding the client of how much you have given already – these people are professional fundraisers and feel obligated to keep trying.
There is nothing wrong with helping a charity, but being guilt-tripped into more than you can afford will leave you with a sour taste rather than the glow of freely giving.
#13 Management by Committee
You may face a committee of people, each with a stake in the project in the corporate world. The problem with a committee for a boss is that no one takes a decision, and they argue and contradict each other.
Deal with these types of architecture client as if you are approaching diplomatic negotiations between countries.
It would be best if you got them to name one person to sign off on your contract. That way, your client contact has the hassle of dealing with the committee, and you can concentrate on the project.
When dealing with a committee, make sure your paper trail is robust.
#14 Carrot Dangler
This architecture client is continuously talking about the next big project. The implication is that if you give them what they want (however unreasonable) on this project, you get the juicy carrot.
It’s tempting, but it is best to concentrate on this project and manage it to your satisfactory (and profitable) completion.
If the juicy carrot materializes, then you can bid for it, but expecting jam tomorrow does not help feed you and your staff today.
#15 Now for Something Completely Different
You finish the design or the entire project, and the client loves it. But now, they want it to be completely different because they have had a change of purpose or idea.
These types of architecture clients are why you have a detailed contract specifying what you need to do and an increased fee for after the fact direction changes.
#16 Unpleasant Surprises
Some clients seem to be entirely happy going with the flow until the day they ring up and spring a surprise deadline or design change on you.
It is hard to prepare for these types of architectural clients because, like a still pond, you have no idea there is something nasty lurking underneath. Everything is fine until suddenly it’s not.
Of course, one of the unpleasant surprises might be that they will not pay the bill.
#17 Money Talks Loudly
It is not unreasonable for the guy or gal funding the project to expect their opinions to hold the most weight in an argument.
Some clients take that a stage beyond and become aggressively unpleasant with their expectation that what they say goes – even when it is detrimental to the project completion.
The key to dealing with any client is polite but firm communication and a comprehensive contract.
#18 Celebrity Gloss
Do you dream of building that iconic building that becomes a landmark spot for visitors and a million selfies?
These types of clients in architecture promise you fame and fortune, and of course, you need to cut costs and give them that bit more for the privilege of working on this prestigious project.
Before you get carried away with the idea that this is the building that makes your career, remember you need to pay the bills, and the client needs to fund the project.
The Dream Client
There are plenty of complicated characters in the world, but surely there are ideal clients out there?
The types of clients in architecture who have a clear vision of what they want to achieve but are happy to let the architect play their professional role. Clients who set and provide a reasonable (if not luxurious) budget and understand and have realistic progress expectations.
This client settles their bills promptly and is generous in their praise and recommendations.
Ah yes, the rare and elusive ideal client who visits you sometimes in your dreams.