When you’re designing any project, there’s a million little frustrating, annoying, overwhelming things that can go wrong – and often they do. The wrong product was delivered, the chair was upholstered with the fabric railroaded when it wasn’t supposed to be, the perfect lamps are backordered for three months, etc. But, in all those issues, none of them compare to what your biggest challenge really is, your clients.
Now before you say, “Not me! I love my clients and they love me!” (which I’m sure they do) Hear me out. Even if your clients are your absolute favorite part of designing, they can still be a challenge. Why? Because well, clients, people, aren’t logical. They’re emotional. They have their own set of unseen and unspoken expectations. They have their own way of thinking how things should go, how things should look, and overall how things should be.
And you have an endless desire to make them happy, no matter the cost. Which is honorable, but also exhausting. How many times have you thought to yourself,
- “I so want to create a room that they love but they can’t tell me what they like! How am I possibly going to create something they love when they don’t even know what they want?”
- “I sure hope they like this. I’ve spent hours and hours on it… I don’t even want to think about the possibility of them wanting me to make changes. I’ll be heartbroken…”
- “Oh no! I forgot to, (fill in the blank)! What are they going to do when I tell them I made a mistake and we now have to push back the install by three weeks?!”
- “I really hope they don’t ask me to (fill in the blank). If they do, I don’t know if I can say no.”
- “Are they going to think I’m charging too much? Maybe. I shouldn’t be charging this much. But if I don’t charge this much, I’m never going to make any money.”
If this sounds like you, it’s completely understandable, and like I said, honorable. You want to do what’s best for your clients and the space, and you work incredibly hard to do so. But unfortunately what also happens in that game, is that you lose your role as leader.
If you’re constantly in a state of wonder and worry when it comes to your clients, you’re actually less likely to make them happy. You’re less likely to make them feel comfortable, calm, and excited about their time with you. And as heart breaking as I know that may sound, it is unfortunately true.
Clients Want to See You as the Leader
Now why is that true? Why despite your best efforts to make them happy, they’re actually, a little, unhappy, or at least uncomfortable? How can that possibly be happening after all of the blood, sweat, and tears you put into everything that you do? Well, because clients are going to see your uncertainty. They’re going to see, and feel, all of the emotional ups and downs and turn arounds that you’re going through in a project, and consequently, it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable too.
It’s going to make them worry about how the project is going to play out. It’s going to make them wonder how a mistake might be handled if one arises, or how you’ll talk with the trades if their work isn’t sufficient, or if you really can handle this level of work and investment.
Because well, when you’re in this perpetual state of whirlwind emotions and worry, your clients don’t see you as the lead on the project. They see the leadership spot as empty and they don’t know what to do. But the thing is, they don’t want that. They don’t want that leadership spot empty. They want you to be filling it. That’s why they hired you. But in order for them to see you as the leader (and for you to see yourself as one – which is really the most important), you have to first act like a leader. Belief, on your part and your client’s, will only come, once you start to do the things that leaders do. Action first, belief second.
Live the Life of a Leader
Now, how do you actually act like a leader? How do you do the things that leaders do? Well, you have to move from random acts of working, to creating purposeful, systematic, planned out steps and processes. Then bringing them to life. Over and over and over again.
So that means writing down step by step, your design process – a simplified version for your client, and a detailed version for you and your staff. That means writing down your own firm’s standards such as reply time to clients, returns, client satisfaction, your typical solutions to typical problems, general policies and procedures, etc. That means developing an extremely consistent schedule for your work week, making time to focus on your finances, your marketing, your client experience, and your firm’s areas for improvements. It means a lot of things, and yes, a lot of work.
But you know what else it means? It means actually following your own standards that you’ve laid out, not just writing them down. Every. Single. Time. It means holding yourself to the same level of standards that the leaders in the design industry hold themselves to, because that’s largely how they got there. They held themselves to a clearly defined, very high standard, and then consistently upheld that standard in good times and in bad, in big things and in small.
Progress Doesn’t Mean Perfection
Thankfully though, you can rest assured, that this doesn’t mean you’re aiming for perfection. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. Lord knows I’ve made mistakes, there’s a blip in my system somewhere that a client has to inform me of, or I’ve set a reminder, maybe even two, but somehow they were glossed over and something was forgotten. Mistakes are inevitable as well, we’re unfortunately just human.
But the key with these mistakes, is to minimize. Minimize these upsets and incidents as much as possible, and then when they happen, handle them immediately, without blame, and with complete responsibility – to the fullest extent.
That’s what a true leader does. A true leader doesn’t blame, doesn’t lash out, doesn’t run from responsibility. A true leader, well, leads, confidently (at least on the outside) everyone to a solution. They lead everyone to the best case scenario. Maybe that scenario isn’t exactly what anyone wanted or was hoping for initially, but it is the best option. And so you lead them there, comforting your client along the way.
You are their Trusted Guide, Their Trusted Advisor
The thing is, clients want you to lead. They want to work with you, as their trusted advisor. They want to work with you, as their trusted guide. They desperately want you to have confidence in yourself and what you’re doing. As well, when they’re entrusting you with the integrity and beauty of their home, and with thousands of their dollars, a confident leader is what they want, and need.
So go ahead and step into that role, even if you’re still a little shaky in those big leadership shoes that you’re trying to fill. You’ll grow into them. You need to. Your clients need you to.
Create your plan, work it, every time, make tweaks when you find something that works better, and the confidence will come. It will grow. And grow. And grow. Until one day you’ll see that not only have you filled those big leadership shoes that you first didn’t quite fit into, but that you’ve actually outgrown them. And tomorrow, you’ll need to get the next size up.
Write in the comments below, do you see yourself as a leader of your clients and your project? If so, how did you get there?
And if you’re ready to learn even more about providing the kind of exceptional client experience that shows clients just how much of a leader you are, check out the listing of guides and resources available to you here!