Miss Management: Thoughts about effective communication & problem-solving during renovations

We started our business in 2015.  I had just come out of a job where I had firsthand, in-depth training from an industry veteran of 30 years.  I learned how to quote on full projects, break down the costing, source products, deal with clients, seek permits and deal with mistakes.  The one thing I did not do was manage the money and payments for his projects.   This I had to do, however, when my partner and I started our business.  Being responsible in this manner was a whole other ballgame. 

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Assuming the financial responsibility and the thought that if something went wrong, we would have to cover it and potentially not make any money - or even scarier, lose money, was quite stressful.  Obviously, we had contingency amounts built into the quote, but still, this was quite frightening.  With this in mind, we went into some of our first projects and then found out that managing trades with time frames, permits and customer's expectations can be quite daunting.  Our first projects were extremely stressful which caused strained interactions between me and my partner.  Hey, I knew owning your own business wasn't going to be easy, but I didn't expect it to be this difficult either. 

One renovation in particular was very stressful.  It turned out beautifully, but during the process our client was unhappy.   The client’s stress was due to a need to know when to expect a completed project and a lack of explanation from us at the beginning as to when that will be.   Due to the problems that arose, my confidence was affected and, as a result, we concentrated on smaller projects for a while.

Recently, I have teamed up with a talented decorator who receives a lot of referrals.  In these cases, the clients hired their own contractor, so while we ordered products and did some overseeing, we weren't hiring people to do the work which lessened our responsibility but contributed to other complications.  One such issue was that the clients were communicating directly with the contractor, and if changes were made, we were the last to hear about it.  Sometimes it is difficult for designers to maintain a good rapport with contractors.  Perhaps we don't appreciate each other enough for what we both do.  Although it is obvious to most people that good contractors do a lot of work, the work that designers do is not as evident because most of the work decorators/designers do is behind the scenes.

As we gained experience through various projects, my partner and I successfully solved some problems along the way.  We made our clients happy and thus we also felt satisfied.  We discussed ways to reduce stress ahead of time while managing a renovation.  One thing we talked about was a way to manage a client's expectations regarding timelines, as there are many players in a project and unexpected things happen.  They need to be aware of realistic timelines before they sign the contract.  We have encountered clients who have tried to manage their renovations when they have us to do that.  We as professionals need to encourage clients to put their trust in us so that they are not the ones feeling stressed about their project.  They just need to sit back and let us deal with it as they are paying us for that.  I guess all this could come down to good communication.  As designers we need to really listen and make sure we are meeting the client's needs while keeping them informed without contributing to their stress about the renovation.  That is a fine balance.Tanya

I have concluded that it's important to have a say in how a project is done so I like to hire the trades myself.   If designers don't want to go that way, then encouraging clients to hire a contractor they know and work closely with is a solution.  We need to respect each other as renovations are definitely a team effort! 

I feel I am ready to get out there again and take on larger projects.  These experiences, while difficult, have made my partner and I a little stronger, more resourceful and have readied us to overcome obstacles.  I know we can't be prepared for everything that comes up during a renovation, but we are good problem solvers and up for the challenge.  I'm sure during our upcoming projects we will encounter difficult situations again, but I feel better prepared and have learned not to take things personally.


 By Tanya Kenny, Rake Design Ltd.