4 Ways to Keep Your Client and Contractor on the Same Page
Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful project. It’s the secret sauce that helps you get a project done on time, on budget, and gives you a finished project that makes your clients happy! While there are a lot of factors that determine a successful project, if you don’t have your communication processes buttoned up, then there’s ZERO chance of success. Yes...I have been there before!
But what should that process be? I have 5 great tips that will keep those communication channels open with your contractors and clients:
1. Communication Is a Two-Way Street
No matter how good we are, there is not one of us who can complete a project alone. Just as interior design is a collaboration of many experts, so is communication. It’s not one-sided at all, and while we’re certainly not all communication experts, as the interior designer you MUST take the lead. You need to organize all of the communications both to and from the contractor, your subcontractors, and your clients. Everyone has to be on the same page, and it's your job to be sure that happens. But you also need to keep up with (and pay attention to!) what's being communicated to YOU. If you're paying attention, you can even read between the lines and head issues off before they happen.
This is where your listening skills really come in. Because that's the #1 most important part of communication. Have you ever played the telephone game - where you sit in a circle and whisper something to the person next to you? Usually, by the time it gets back to you it is completely different. Someone wasn't listening.
2. Plan Your Communication
As basic as this might sound, the most effective step for communication is ... you must communicate! It will never be effective if it’s never done. As we juggle multiple projects, priorities and personalities, keeping in touch with everyone can often fall by the wayside. We always have good intentions, but we’re only human after all.
But nothing wreaks more havoc on a job site than NOT following through! So how do I make sure that I don’t miss an important update to my design project team or a weekly email update for my clients? I calendar my communication responsibilities on my phone and on Asana.
When I schedule tasks and checkpoints, my projects move and flow in a great rhythm. When there is a curveball, I manage my time as effectively as possible because I have my tasks and communication responsibilities all documented so I can see what I need to do and how I need to adjust. Nothing gets missed. OK, almost nothing.
And most importantly, everyone involved in the project is up to date on decisions and schedules. Including all subs, builders, and clients. If you schedule regular communication, it all becomes so much easier!
3. Consistency Is Key
When I communicate with my design project team, I don’t leave anything to chance. (Read: I don't let the contractor make the design decisions!) They come to rely on when and how they will hear from me. I try to be consistent in my communication method (communicating with them in the way that’s best for them) and timing.
So my clients always get weekly email updates. Even if we're at the point where I don't have a lot to say because we're waiting for furniture to arrive! I'll tell them how exciting it's all going to look, or I'll be sure to mention a birthday or holiday. They just need to know that I'm here and I'm in control- so they don't have to worry!
The contractors I work with like (and need!) several calls each week, emails, images and monthly or bi-monthly walkthroughs. And of course I have a specification binder that has ALL the details for the project in it - one copy is with me, one copy is with the contractor/builder. But here's the key - if I make ANY changes, every copy of the spec binder has to be updated at the same time, or we won't all be on the same page. To keep consistency there, I send an assistant over to the project to physically update that binder any time mine has an update. It's the only way to be sure we are ALL on the same page.
4. Keep a Record
Speaking of things like spec binders, that's a form of record keeping, which is SOO critical to communication! No matter what, you MUST document the action and outcomes of your decisions and conversations. Every single one.
Again, we’re human. We’re busy. And we certainly tax our brains with too much information. And it’s nearly impossible to keep everything straight without writing things down. A critical part of communication is to document what was discussed, who is responsible for what and what the next steps are.
Have you ever checked back in on a project, and your trade partner looked at you and said, “I thought you were calling to check on that?” Or have you had a phone conversation with a client only to later have them say, "I didn't agree to that!" You have to take notes, and send a follow-up email after every phone call and in-person meeting! It keeps things clear and you have documentation. And do NOT let the client make important decisions over a text! If they do, you HAVE to send them an email that says "Here's what we agreed to," or you'll find yourself in a pickle a few months from now. Having a record is so important.
Bonus! Here's How I Can Help
To avoid frustrating and project-delaying issues like that, I use the ROI Team Meeting Notes which you can download here for FREE! Once I fill it out, I email it to everyone so we can all see what we agreed to and who will be doing what.
Take the lead and make sure that your communication is on track. Consistent communication + happy trade partners and clients = successful project!