I am seeking advice on how to deal with text messages from clients after office hours or on weekends. They might be trying to schedule an appointment, sending pictures of furnishings/fixtures they found online or out shopping and asking for input, etc. I am finding the majority of my clients don’t call my office, but always call or text my cell.
If I don’t respond, I sometimes get another text asking if I got their message. I know this is how millennials communicate. But I need my downtime!
Dear Designer Jean:
The easiest answer is to set specific boundaries and let clients know when you will be available and when you will not—whether you communicate via cell, email, snail mail or homing pigeon. You can take it one step further by implementing an extra expense if a client asks for “out-of-boundary” communication. It might sound draconian, but if you are feeling invaded, odds are that you will start resenting your client and jeopardizing your ability to do great work for them. It’s better to protect the sanctity of your personal space than to put your business at risk.
The bigger issue, however, is that there seems to be a problem with your process. Clients tend to overstep boundaries—such as by texting after-hours—when they feel lost in their process. Every creative business, including interior design, only has eight stages and four transitions, which are particularly important in your case: potential client to actual client; idea to design; design to production; and production to reveal.
The integrity of each stage matters, and the transition from each stage to the next matters more. If clients do not know where they are on your journey together, they will try to decide the path themselves. When you feel lost, you try to find your own way. In the context of your design business, however, that is a disaster. You must set the tone for your own business.
When I hear of issues like yours, I always advise to set boundaries first but also to engage with the following practice: Every communication with your client, whether initiated by you or a member of your team, should include an overview of (1) where you have been, (2) where you currently are, and (3) where you are going. Here is an example:
It was wonderful to meet with you yesterday. Your approval of my living room floor plan makes me thrilled about what is to come. I am working on my final design for you and cannot wait until next week to present it to you in full. As much as I have loved all of your ideas and input so far, now is the time for me to show you what I envision. After all, this is what I most love to do and what you hired me for.
Make it a practice to never let your clients feel lost, by setting boundaries—and you can bank on them texting you less. When clients trust that your way will get them the results they seek (i.e., a fabulous design), more often than not, they will give you the permission you need to get them that result. Good luck!
SEAN LOW is the the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his monthly EAL COLUMN, he answers designers’ most pressing business questions. Have a dilemma? Shoot us an EMAIL—and don’t worry, we will keep your details anonymous.