WARNING:  all-business post!!
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I’m not normally a big one for New Year’s resolutions…  I find I make little resolutions all year long & either do or don’t do them but I’ve never really felt that a certain date had any more importance to start something than any other…  But a friend & colleague of mine sent me an email saying she felt inspired by some amazing business advice for the new year she’d seen online.  I’ve been feeling pretty uninspired about going back to work after vacation (holding my tiny one so much was a-mazing!!) so I followed her link and started checking out some others and making notes.

I ended up finding the blog for Malloy Management Group and if you haven’t been there already and you’re a designer, you need to take some time to explore it.  I haven’t been to any of the Business of Design conferences or anything like that, so I’m guessing this is just a tiny taste of what you might get there, but Julia’s words have me thinking and have helped spur a major ‘to do’ list for our company.  I’ve got a ton on the new “goals” list but today I’m thinking about making the design process -from start to finish- run more smoothly.

{photo by Myra Hoffman for Piccola Magazine:  my old system for client projects}

As you might remember, my husband -Dave- came on to work for our company at the end of the Summer which was right around when we unexpectedly moved.  He’s hit the ground running  (am so lucky he picks things up quickly!!) but now that he’s really got a handle on the process and our goals, we’re ready to start improving.

We’re always striving to better our business.  To make the process more special for clients & to streamline the process for them.  To be better ourselves.  In every project, there are new challenges so each person & job teaches you more, and if you want to be better, you need to constantly evaluate & assess and be hard on yourself and know that you can always be better.

Now that we’ve had this little break over the holidays, I’ve mentally smacked myself around some, and we’ve got some new goals, I’m feeling pretty ready to rock.

When I think about my very first job ever, I cringe at the design process I’d implemented for my client.  This is when I was first thinking about doing staging and part-time decorating (I was 23) and I literally would talk with my client about what he needed generally and then go out and buy stuff to bring over to his house to see if he liked it.  (I was very lucky that he was so laid back and liked everything but if he’d been any normal client, I would have spent most of my time making returns.) I’d put all of the items in the house and then tell him how many hours I’d spent shopping (not much planning here, just shopping 😉 and he’d pay me for my time and for the goods with no mark-up.  At the time, I had no idea what my career path would one day be…  I just thought it was something fun to do for a little extra on the side.

{My first client’s daughter’s bedroom…  when I did a blog post on the old project a while back, the Washington Post picked it for the blog of the week because we did the room makeover for a total of $500!}

I ended up really liking it and enrolled in a distance-learning program (Sheffield School of Interior Design) and learned more about the presentation process and the basics of design…  but it’s taken years for me to get day to day operations and the entire design process from first meeting to installation running smoothly.  Even with it as it is now, I’m still learning and I’m always thinking about ways to improve it. (To those clients who’ve been with me from the beginning- and you know who you are-  I am more thankful than you can ever imagine for you for bearing with me on my learning curve!! 😉

{A very early project where I selected only the furnishings but not the lighting/art…   I didn’t make a profit on any of the goods and didn’t oversee the installation of the furnishings. This pic was taken before window treatments but you can see what a difference completing a project from start to finish makes…  This was a very early project of mine where I didn’t have a strong enough handle on the implementation process (or even how to make a profit and stay in business! 😉 😉 and I wasn’t ready for the clients’ strong personalities .  I know if I worked with them today, they’d receive a very different experience.}

I’ve found that projects that run the smoothest are the projects in which our company remains in control…  (And I’m not talking about creative control here, I’m talking about control of the process itself.)  We do so many projects a year and most of our projects run like clockwork, so I’ve been trying to re-evaluate those that haven’t.  I’ve found that the smoothest projects are the ones in which we remain in complete control of the timing, the contractors and the goods, and of course, the projects in which the clients are willing to make decisions.    Things run best when you are doing things according to design process you’ve carefully created.

So here are the variables I’ve been thinking about taking better control of from now on:
1)Project Timing
2) Contractor Work
3) Goods
4) Decision-making

Issues & problems can (and usually do!!) arrive in any one of these areas which can throw you off of your game.  I thought’d I’d share the thoughts I’ve been having about how to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.

1)TIMING:

{Photo by Tim L. Walker here}

The most difficult projects for me are the ones in which a client has a holiday or party deadline that has already been scheduled (too close) to our first meeting about the project.  Nothing makes me happier (or more relieved! 😉 than getting the project done for a client’s event, but shaving off a couple of weeks from the normal timeline of the project for an event can really make things crazy on our end.   You’re asking the entire team of people you normally work with- from the workrooms to the manufacturers to the contractors to do things faster than normal and it places more pressure on everyone.  The stress is heightened.  It’s easier to make mistakes when you’re rushed and there are usually some items- typically custom- that just cannot be rushed and you run the risk of them not arriving in time when you have a pushed-up installation date.

And here’s where the “crazy” comes in:  When things are rushed, I lay awake at night thinking of all of the balls up in the air and worrying that one will drop.  My fear of disappointing clients who are rushing a project lliterallly makes me feel sick because I feel like it’s out of my control but will be my fault anyway.  This is when my work negatively affects my personal life.

Why stress you ask?  What happens of only a few things aren’t there in time?

Timing is everything in the implementation a project and if just one item doesn’t arrive as planned on time, it will need a separate delivery on its own, which takes more time that hasn’t been planned for(taking valuable time away from something else important which costs your company money in hourly fees and opportunity costs) and it also costs more money to be delivered because its being delivered on its own instead of with the rest of the goods.  (That one item being late can cost an additional $150-$250 in delivery  plus your employee’s hourly fee and opportunity costs just because it arrived late.  If you add in a few separate deliveries, it can cost in the thousands!!)  And who pays that?  I don’t want my clients to have to spend more and not get as good of a value but it doesn’t make sense for us to pay it either.  It’s money that no one likes to spend.

In our company, we move as quickly as possible to ensure that our clients will have their home finished as soon as possible, but finished properly & so that the process is done correctly and smoothly. Our typical lead time from when we receive a client’s deposit to when his or her furnishings are installed is around 12 weeks, but is more or less depending upon who makes their goods and what construction is going on in the home.  (For example, a custom hand block-printed fabric takes a lot longer than a ready made curtain.)  We have put so many plans into action and while we always try to beat our mark and get homes ready ahead of schedule, we know that we have an average 12 week lead time for an installed project.

I know it can be difficult to have patience when waiting for something to arrive, and even though I’m one of the most impatient people I know, I’ve developed hardcore patience for a well-designed home…  Over the years I’ve really learned that the waiting is just part of the process and that doing things carefully and properly yields the best results.  Yes, there are a ton of things you can get ASAP and you could create a “room in a day” but the results wouldn’t be the best ones.  (These are some of the thoughts that kept me going in my under-construction-boy-and-baby-filled house for months.)

..However…  I love pleasing my clients and I love it when they’re excited to have family or friends enjoy their home too and so I always want to say yes to my clients when they have short deadlines.  It’s so satisfying to make them so happy…

…But- for better service and processes and for the sanity of everyone who works on a project-  it is my goal this year to remain in as much control as possible of the timing of design projects.  I’ve been trying harder to temper my clients’ expectations who have events or parties and to be as realistic as possible.  (And to any clients who might be reading this whose holiday or party we rushed for -you’re in good company- I’m glad we could do it for you & make you happy!! your happiness is really what keeps me loving this business and so no regrets!!  Just new goals for me. 😉

2)CONTRACTOR WORK

This is one I struggle with and haven’t quite figured out yet.  On some projects we refer our clients to our contractors for work, but on other projects, our clients are already working with a contractor.

Often they decide to manage a certain aspect of the project themselves  to save money (we give clients the option of handling certain contractors on their own or of working with the contractors for them and charging a project management fee for work we oversee so that we’re compensated for our time.  When the clients are working with our contractors, because we know how to work with them and do it all the time, not as much time is required of us and we often forgo this fee, but when we’re working with someone we’ve never worked with before, things take much longer and we spend a lot more time managing.)  In the case where clients want to manage work and use their own contractors, we hand the plans to the client and contractor, and the client is in contact with the contractor himself or herself, which is really great most of the time, but sometimes things can go wrong.

If something goes wrong in this
part of the project that we haven’t been involved in, I still feel resposible for it and spend time working to fix it for no compensation.  I’m learning that even if I and the clients think something doesn’t need any involvement from me once the plans are handed over, I might be more needed than we think.  Questions we could never anticipate often arise and sometimes issues pop up that can change plans.  I’m not sure what my plans are for smoothing over this part of my business is yet but I know it’s a place where we need some work.  Currently we give clients control all the time in this aspect of the project.  Is this a good or a bad thing?

(Btw… the picture is not of our contractors…  Just more of a ‘Happy Friday’ picture to lighten up my ramblign post!! 😉 😉

I know many designers handle all subcontracting and when they present contractor prices to clients, their fee for handling the project is included (some contractors will do a kick-back or designers may add on a percentage.) but I haven’t really found out what will work best for us and our clients yet.  I want my clients to get the best prices possible for work they’re having done but I also want the jobs to look right in the end.  We can’t afford to properly oversee work if we’re not being compensated for it, but I want everything to be perfect.

Any thoughts?  What do you do?

3) GOODS

{The Boys’ Bedroom at my Dad’s lake cottage}

We provide the goods & furnishings for our clients and when we order through companies, we need to make sure they’re companies who make quality products and who stand by their products.  Our clients are buying their items from us and ultimately, we are the customer service for our clients.  We have to trust the companies we’re buying for because we want our clients to love their things & to be taken care of and our own reputation and quality of service is on the line.

There are times when clients may pick an item because it’s less expensive than another item.  I myself do this all the time but I’ve learned (with new items) that you get what you pay for.  We do a pretty good job in our company of preparing clients for quality levels when they make decisions on products.  It’s really important that they know what they’re getting for what they’re paying.  We always present things that are a good value for what they are and from there, clients can decide what level of quality they’re comfortable with for any given item.

There are other times when a client decides to “shop around” us.  In decorator-speak, this is when a client buys something you’ve shown them on their own or takes your plans and starts trying to find items that are similar to the ones you presented, but maybe cost less.  The client starts to run the process.  (Let me be clear here that I have MANY clients who search for things on their own & who introduce me to cool new products all the time, and clients who have found amazing things for themselves and this isn’t what I’m talking about…   I’m talking about when the the client begins to say, “look at this, look at that” and the overall vision for the project starts to dissolve and go A.D.D.)  I don’t blame the client for this, I blame myself.  It means I haven’t communicated the vision for the project well enough and given my client enough confidence in my and my ability to create something for them.   It means I need to do a better job of showing them why what I’ve put together for them is right for them and when we need to make changes, I need to show them why the new selections are exactly what they were asking for.  When they buy things on their own, I can’t help them when things go wrong and I don’t feel as comfortable being critical of the item they way I am when it’s something they’ve purchased through us because I don’t want to hurt their feelings.  In the end, the results might not be as good.

There are some personality types that naturally have  trouble hiring designers and letting go a little bit and trusting.  My goal is do do better with these personality types in making them feel comfortable with me and in helping them let go the way they wanted to when they first called.

4) DECISION-MAKING

{This guy makes all the decisions at our house}

The way a client makes decisions (or doesn’t) completely affects the speed and smoothness of a design project.  There are key points in a design project when clients are required to make decisions in order for the job to move forward.  It’s my job to help my clients make decisions when they need to.  I have clients who know right away when they love or hate something and I have others who need to sit and think and simmer a while.  Both types are great and can yield amazing results, but naturally, the clients who decide things more quickly will have a finished project much sooner than the clients who take forever to decide.  One’s not better than the other, just right or wrong for certain clients.

I can’t change my clients’ personalities, but I can make them more aware of how their personalities and decision-making styles are affecting their project and its timeline.

Every now and then, here are times when clients can reach an impasse and seem to really have trouble moving forward with a plan.  Some are afraid to “pull the trigger” on the project and write a check to get it going (It’s SCARY to spend money, I don’t blame them!!! 😉 and others go in circles and seem to make decisions and then change their minds over and over.

My goal from now on is to make my clients aware if this is going on and to present things are clearly and as specifically as possible.  If it’s baby steps my client needs, then baby steps I’m taking.  But I want to figure out what it is that might be keeping my client from moving forward and to help them overcome it.  I want to make them more aware of what point in the process they’re at and show them what their paralysis is doing to their overall project and timeline.
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So…  from now on, I’m really going to try to focus on remaining in control of the timing, contractors, goods and decision-making in all of  our design projects because I think the results will yield a better experience for my clients.  I want them to feel more taken care of, more loved, and more special to us than ever & I think working like clockwork is one more step on the way there.

{Wahoo to 2013!!}

Sorry for the long in-depth business post (on a Friday no less!!)

Have a great weekend & I’d love to hear some of your business and personal goals!!

(a client’s kitchen…  will share details next week 🙂

 
If you’d like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.