From the Sports Design Consultant:
Landing Clients by Turning the Tables


The awkward silence.

One of my favorite ways to begin a meeting with a new client. Sometimes I like to sit still and stay extra quiet as if to say, “Yes…this is still going on and I don’t intend to do anything about it.” That’s the beauty of a good question. One minute you’re going through the motions of a typical, almost robotic, exchange. Then SMACK! You’re sitting back smiling at one of New York’s most successful developers, as he searches for the “right” answer to your question.

I’m beginning to enjoy myself.

I repeat the question, “Seriously. When’s the last time you bragged about this building? What’d you say and who did you say it to?”

Rendering for a boutique gym in NYC

Regardless of the answer -- which we’ll respectfully keep private -- I know that whatever happens next will be relevant. How does this person I’ve known for less than ten minutes feel about sharing this private information with me? Does he feel violated or annoyed? Is he embarrassed to say the real answer? I gave up on trying to decipher precisely what a person’s silence means. In this case, his smile is enough.

Now we’re both amused. Good start.

Still, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

On my end, I want a potential client to know who I am and how I prefer to operate. For example, efficiency and thoughtfulness are two characteristics I hold in regard. When it comes to my work, I also place a high value on being inspired and engaged. It doesn’t take an ego-driven real estate mogul, or a comfortably nervous designer to understand that it’s always about value.

My Intake Questionnaire (I.Q.) has become a consistent source of validation. I’ve had a few clients call just to say how much they enjoyed the process.

Since we founded Blake Shephard, over a decade ago, my partner (Frank Blake) and I have lived by three words: Style, Substance, and Strategy.

Our expertise is Fitness and Wellness Design for commercial and residential projects. Our clients are the type to shut down Madison Avenue while they crane in the custom two-story addition they’re about to drop on their (now) 10,000 square foot townhouse. In order to calculate the budget for the average project, first one must know how much the neighbor just spent. Take this number then add “way more” and you’ll find yourself in the ballpark.

Although they train like it, they’re not professional athletes. In the traditional sense, they’re not celebrities either. The idea of board approval has never entered their minds. They don’t want it now. They want it yesterday. If they don’t know what they want -- which “never” happens -- then you damn sure better have it figured out for them already. ‘Looks like you can use a $30,000 set of imported dumbbells.’ They laugh until they see them. Next stop...customs.

Kirkland Shephard, Co-Founder of Blake Shephard

Design I.Q. | purpose

My Intake Questionnaire (I.Q.) process has become a consistent source of validation. I’ve had a few clients call just to say how much they enjoyed the process. One client even thanked me for not wasting his time. Initially, it was an organic way to find out information about the project. When conversations would veer into an enjoyable tangent, I’d take note of it.

I started asking myself ‘what do people really care about?’ We’re all pretty similar when it comes to certain things, especially in business. We care about protecting our investments (both financial and other.) We care about our reputation, and how people view us. And some of us -- the best of us -- care about doing meaningful work. Friends and colleagues began consulting me in matters like this more regularly. Now I find my consulting work both refreshing and valuable, especially with other professions. It’s easy to think outside of a particular box if you were never in it to begin with.

Outdoor Deck Gym, Long Island, NY

Posturing (constructively)

People learn a lot about you through the questions you ask. If you don’t want lame answers then don’t ask lame questions. It’s also a great way to navigate a potential power struggle. It’s kind of like scoring the first point in a match where all parties benefit.


It’s like that point in dating when the texting back and forth turns into an actual date. Might as well get right to it with some meaningful conversation. Plus it’s hard to put your foot in your mouth when it’s closed b/c you’re busy listening.


If you’re sitting at the table with a decision maker to some degree they want you involved. This is a good thing, unless you discover its not for you. Knowing ‘why me’ can be extremely valuable, along with any other information that will help guide you.

Push Up Handles by Hock Design

Example Questions:

- Name something your competitor is better at doing.

- How's that make you feel right now?

- List these in order of importance:

1. Keeping on schedule. No delays.

2. Coming in on or below the established budget.

3. An absolutely flawless finished product.

Dumbbells by Hock Design

As for the developer -- who is also a part-time resident -- he eventually told me about a conversation he’d just had with another friend in the business. While standing outside the building he told his buddy that he was sure his address was home to the fittest people in the city. I think I produced something of a skeptical laugh.

He stands so abruptly it takes me by surprise. “Our next board meeting is tomorrow. We’re gonna approve the project and you’ll see for yourself next week.”

Written by Brick & Wonder Member Kirkland Shephard of Blake Shephard