So before we get started, if you haven’t already seen it on my social media, I’m excited to share that I was a featured guest on LuAnn Niagara’s “A Well-Designed Business” podcast last week! LuAnn and I had a great time discussing all things communication and how to talk to your clients like a leader not a boss. The words you say, and how you say them, have an incredible impact on how clients feel and how eager they are to move forward with you on a project. And while some of the nuances may seem small, they’re hugely important. Take a listen here to find out all of the communication recommendations that LuAnn and I dole out! And if you’ve just joined us after hearing the podcast, then a very warm WELCOME to you!
Alright, onto avoiding the “mullet” business! Now I decided to come up with a title that was a little bit light-hearted as well, things are pretty tough right now for everyone. Parents are deciding whether or not to send their children to school or to take on virtual learning full time. Clients are getting irritated about dealing with the challenges of their design project operating in a pandemic. And designers are having a hard time finding that next project, or struggling to adapt the projects they do have to the current reality. It’s just a tough time. So, alas, a lighter subject. And, hooray for you, I’ll try to keep it shorter as well! Haha, although I can’t promise anything as you know brevity is not my strong suit..
Business in the Front, Party in the Back
Ok, the mullet. The infamous hairdo that’s known for being “business in the front, party in the back.” The hairdo that made Joe Dirt who he is, and well, really what that movie was. The hairdo that well, is literally legendary. Now, how in the world does a mullet relate to interior design and the client experience? Well, let me tell you.
So often in business we work really, REALLY hard to make everything on the surface, beautiful. We pay a lot for the right branding, the right marketing, the right sales copy, the right website. Everything that is client and public facing, we put a lot of work, thought, and money into. And why?
Well, for a few reasons. First, your natural inclination as a designer is to make everything beautiful. Second, potential design clients respond to beautiful photos, appealing words, a slick looking website, Welcome packet, etc. And third, well, you also know that clients expect it. As a designer, people look to you for all things beauty, and if what you do and show to someone before they’re even a client isn’t fantastic, well then what hope do they have after they’ve become a client? So everything on the outside, everything that’s front facing gets a once over, or a twice over, or even a third time over from family, friends, and experts. But in the back?
Well, that part you don’t want anyone to see. In the back, it’s a bit of chaos. It’s a bit of craziness. It’s a bit of a party, but not in the way that everyone is having a good time. Instead it’s in the way that, there’s dirty plates strewn everywhere and flies are circling, napkins are crumpled up with bits of food left in them, and there’s decor smashed, deflated, and trampled on. That kind of party.
What does that mean in terms of interior design and running a business? Well, that means that behind – the – scenes, things are messy. Things are chaotic. Things are not in control. Everyday you’re just trying to keep on track and keep up with status quo. It means that what seems like a well run, slick looking business in the front, is actually a crazy bananas party in the back.
The Mullet – How It Came to Be & How to Rid Yourself of It
Here’s how it happens. Often when we’re putting something together like a new service we think, “Ok, I’m going to put this up on my website. I’m going to find some graphics. Maybe hire out someone to write the sales copy. I’m going to create a link to take them to my contact form. Then I’ll add some of my portfolio pictures. I’ll do a video about it and post it on my site. Then I’ll market the heck out of it on social media. I’ll also have a few people look at it. Man, this is going to be awesome.” And then you think, that you’re done. You think that the work is done. However, what really happened is that yes, your “business in the front” is done, but in the back, where what needs to actually happen once someone acts on this new service you’ve created, well, that’s not done at all. It’s actually a mess. So while it’s a good looking business in the front, in the back, well, it’s a darn chaotic party with no end.
So what do you need to do to avoid the legendary mullet? What do you need to do to avoid having a business that just doesn’t match up front to back? Well, once you finish up the front, you need to move your focus to the back end of things. You need to focus on the supportive systems and processes that prop up the new service that you’ve created (or you need to refine the ones you have for current services). You need to start thinking of the client journey and the automation that needs to play out in order for the client experience to be maintained. You need to start thinking how you can make your business consistent from front to back.
So that means walking through your website and thinking like a client. It means looking at your pages and asking yourself, “When the client submits the contact form, what will they see? Will they be redirected to a page that tells them that the form has been submitted and that we’ll get back to them within a certain time frame? And how can I control that page and what it says, where do I go within the back end of my site? And how will I know that someone has submitted a contact form? Will I get an email? Which email address is it sent to? And if I need to change where that contact form is sent, how can I change that?”
Or what about a service that clients can purchase on their own, such as a DIY design course, a “ready for you” room with all the items needed to create a certain look, or a virtual consultation? Is everything linked that’s supposed to be, or is there an empty “click here” somewhere? And what about the product or service being delivered, is it delivered immediately after purchase? And is the client made aware of how they’ll access the product or service? And what about when you switch your consultation scheduling software to a different provider, was that updated on the virtual consultation booking page as well? Has all of it been thought through, tested, checked, documented, and periodically rechecked? Well maybe, but maybe not.
The Accidental Mullet
The thing is, maybe you’re purposely running your business “mullet” style, but maybe you’re not. You may think, “Ok, once someone purchases this, or calls me, or inquires, then I’ll figure out the back end. Then I’ll figure out how to make it work as I really don’t need to worry about it right now.” But maybe you don’t.
Maybe you just didn’t think of it at all. Sometimes we don’t realize that we need to think through everything on the back end. Sometimes we don’t think to check the links of our downloads, and to do it continually. Sometimes we don’t realize that we didn’t give clients a way to contact us when we send them the screening call information. Sometimes we don’t think of the fact that the video conferencing platform we use is only accessible by Google Chrome and that the client will need to download both Chrome, and the video conferencing platform, before they can logon to our call.
Why? Because well, we just didn’t. We knew that we needed to work hard to put the information out there and talk about all of the great things our clients will experience once we work with them, but what happens after that, what happens when promises need to become reality? Well, sometimes you forget what promises you even made. Sometimes you forget what’s on the front end. And then you don’t even realize that it’s so drastically different than what’s on the back end.
Surface Dreams Versus Back End Reality
The fact of the matter is, an exceptional client experience comes from a well-organized, well thought out, well executed, and consistent path from point A (what’s seen by the public) to point B (what’s experienced as a client). It’s consistency from the beauty of the front end where promises are made and pictures are beautiful, all the way to the back end where systems are in place, where procedures are checked and rechecked for accuracy and use, and where the path from point A to point B is seamless. It’s a business in the front, and business in the back type of situation.
Sure you can have a party when it means having a good time working with clients. But having a party when it means having chaos on the back end, where people don’t see, but experience the mess? Where they endure the breakdown in the system that they couldn’t have known about unless they became a client? No way, no how, no can do. That just, well, cannot happen.
So resist the urge to wait for the first client to try out that new service or that new way of working together. Resist the urge to talk about the beauty you create on your social media but then think, “Ehh, the work behind the beauty, the consistent systems behind the design, I’ll get that nailed down at some point.” “At some point” isn’t enough. Unfortunately “at some point” is, much, much too late. Unfortunately you need to do the work on the back end, right after you finish your work on the front end.
And when you do, when you can deliver an experience that’s consistent with the dreams laid out on your site, in your initial documents, on your social media then, clients truly trust you. They can trust that you’re a man or woman of your word as you actually delivered the dream that was shared and stated before they began working with you.
They were able to experience all that you’ve done to make sure the front end matches the back end. They were able to find out that you weren’t one of those businesses that shows glamorous photos and publications up front, but behind the scenes, everyone is fighting, no one knows where the last check went, and the client hasn’t been contacted in weeks. No, no, that’s not you. You’re not a mullet business. You, you’re a business with way, way more style than that. And well, let’s thank goodness, and your hard work, for that.