Lessons Learned…

This week I f*cked up.

Sorry for the crass language but sometimes you just gotta lay it out there.  And FYI there will probably be more in this posting…you have been warned.  But I found myself with three deadlines which I met.  Pleased with myself, I sent the designs off to clients and waited for their responses and feedback.  Mind you, I wasn’t hoping for accolades – well maybe I was hoping for at least “You nailed it!” or “I would have never thought of this…” but they were necessary.  As I do design more, I realize that it is an iterative process and it is rarely all butterflies and puppy dog kisses right out of the gate.

However, this week I have never had clients simply say they didn’t like my work. Elements of my work?  Sure!  But the entire concept or design?  Never.  Well I got three times this week.  Flat out, “not what we were looking for….”.  I was devastated.  Like, Ben and Jerry’s in bed with the covers pulled over my head devastated.  It made me doubt that I could do this for a living.  Those rejections made me question if I had any skills at all.  Those “no” responses hurt my feelings.

After I moped, inhaled a bag of Frito Lays and had a pity party, I put on my big boy drawers and called each of the clients.  The first client explained that their needs changed since we talked and they were looking for a different storage solution.  Great but they neglected to inform me of this change and when I explained that to them, they quickly realized that they didn’t pass along that key data to me.  While it was time wasted, it was a lesson learned……

Never Assume What The Client Tells You Is Set In Stone.  Priorities and needs change through the design process so always double back to confirm.

The second client didn’t like the concept that I was present for their guest room.  Having worked with this couple previously, I knew they liked to be presented with multiple options for a scheme.  Having learned the hard way that you can’t present 6 different schemes per project and manage time, I opted to only show them the “centerpiece” for the room, in this case, a day bed that would be anchoring the space.  Unfortunately, the day beds out of context looked…well boring…and strangely cheap so it wasn’t a surprise (in hindsight) that they didn’t like any of them.  I learned that….

You Can’t Assume The Client Will See Your Vision.  Choice is nice but in this case, I needed to narrow the options and present them with 2 fully flushed out concepts so they could make a decision.  What I thought was a “time saver” turned out to be more work.

The last client, well that remains to be seen.  He clearly has a vision for his space but hasn’t articulated it in a way that I am fully understanding.  He wants original and custom pieces but can’t point me in a direction.  When I tried to take the lead and give structure to the process, I missed the mark and frustrated the client.  He thinks the design will develop organically while I think that is a recipe for the makings for a big pile of …..  My biggest insight here is that…..

I Control The Design Process.  The client hired me to guide them so I need to lay ground rules on how this will occur.  Pen isn’t put to paper until we flush out their ideas.  While I can help shape their vision, I need their solid input in the process, otherwise the design will not reflect them.

These are hard lessons to learn but they are growing pains of a new designer.  They are battle scars of growing a business.  And they are personal truths I will be applying moving forward.

I am back to the drawing board – literally for these clients…..

So fellow small business owners, what is the one lesson you learned from running your business that has stuck with you?  I promise some more fun posts but sometimes a boy just has keep it real…..

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9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned…

  1. When doing catering especially for weddings, I had to learn the hard way that it’s not what makes it easy for me, but what the client wants – WITHIN REASON.

    I had one client that I let run all over me, and another where I went to the extreme and tried to dictate her wedding to her. It didn’t work in either situations.

  2. In addition to verbally talking through design ideas and the design concept with clients, I also have them complete a questionnaire that forces them to put their ideas on paper, which comes about from dedicated time and thought on their part. Their words, verbal and written help to paint the picture they want to see in the design.

  3. Damn, Courtney! I was going to skip cocktail hour tonight, but I think you just put it back on my radar. DAMN!!!! Helluva week, my friend. Helluva week. I’m so sorry. I guess we do live and learn, but a trifecta of disappointment is NOT the way we want to do it!!! But, OK…like death, disappointments come in threes, so you’re good for a long while! 🙂 You have rocked the pity party hard, and I know that you will be back in the saddle rockin’ the Comeback Kid Story in record time now that you have actually LEARNED from these events. You’re quite fortunate in that you did actually LEARN. Not everyone does. What’s that ol’ Uncle Albert said about insanity? “The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results.” You’re already halfway to victory in knowing that change is needed! Hang in there buddy! 🙂

  4. So frustrating! I’ve seen snippets of your work here and there, and you ARE a great designer/ decorator. Just your balance and flow, and the serenity that your rooms have…love it.

    It is hard to please someone who isn’t sure what they want. If they did, and they knew how, they would. But interpreting wants and likes is so hard! I feel that way when working with people, too. Any industry, any client. Sometimes I just want to crawl in their brains and see what they mean. Oh! When you said you wanted bright red font, you meant brick red. Or, when you said simple, you really meant not-simple. Gotcha.

    Best of luck. You’ll have a good week and that makes up for it. A few compliments will do wonders.

  5. Oh chin up friend! The design business is SO subjective! I love each and every one of your designs, and you must tknow that you have fabulous taste. Believe in yourself and know this is the beginning of a journey, you will emerge stronger and wiser for the experience! Plus have a great chapter for your *future* book. A few cocktails always help in these moments too… wish I could mix them for you.

  6. First of all, can I just say that you have a little spot in my design heart! Second, when it rains it pours and it usually comes in threes. Third, shit happens sometimes and you just have to learn to deal with it in the best possible way and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
    Sometimes we need some Fritos, cocktails, a good vent to a friend (or your readers) and yes….a small pity party can do wonders. You are a good designer and it’s Friday so have a great weekend!!!! XOXO

  7. Well I can certainly appreciate your honesty and you should proud of telling your story and showing the world that it’s not all roses and lollipops all the time – in fact, what you are doing is HARD. Not only working and managing your clients, but working with vendors and keeping to a budget and timeframe – not to mention your renderings and hours of actually drafting your designs. It’s hard and I don’t think that message gets relayed often enough in blogworld. So kudos to you my friend, and keep working hard. And thanks to for the honesty.

  8. Thanks for sharing what you have learned. As a person who aspires to be in your position someday, it’s good to know that everything is not always peachy king!!! Keep you head up and keep on keeping on!!!

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