Why Projects Fail
Most of the time, the only reason we are unhappy or disappointed is the result of unmet expectations. Take a minute to think about that. Think back on the past few days on the things that caused these feeling to arise. Go ahead, I promise it has to do with running an interior design business. Here are some of mine:
- I was disappointed realizing that the bench I want to be built in my backyard is going to be harder than I thought.
- My husband was disappointed when the restaurant was out of the roasted chicken.
- Unhappy when UPS took an extra day to deliver my package.
- Frustrated when a contractor took weeks to get me a quote.
Having expectations leads to disappointments. Because when your expectations aren't met you're likely to be disappointed. Let's look at the above situations again:
- I was disappointed realizing that the bench I want to be built in my backyard is going to be harder than I thought. Because I expected that it would be easier.
- My husband was disappointed when the restaurant was out of the roasted chicken- because he expected it to be available since it was on the menu and the waiter did not tell him otherwise.
- Unhappy when UPS took an extra day to deliver my package because they told me it would be delivered on a specific day.
- Frustrated when a contractor took weeks to get me a quote because I expected him to get back to me quicker.
All of these above scenarios - and if you joined in on this little exercise with me, I expect (winky face) that you found something similar - that most of your disappointments or let downs were because your expectation of what you thought should/would happen were different from what actually happened.
Now, think back to all the times that one of your clients was disappointed or unhappy.
- Something came in late. Or wrong. Or damaged.
- Their invoice was more than they expected.
- There is a 12-16 week lead time.
- They didn't know you charged for X or Y.
- A vendor left muddy footprints all over their house.
- The sofa is a single cushion instead of the three cushions in the picture.
- The rug sheds
- You didn't give them enough options in the design presentation.
- You gave them an option outside of their budget. Or you didn't give them a "stretch" option.
- Fill in the blank here!
All these situations led to disappointment or unhappiness because the client expected an outcome different from the one they got. This can cause a project to go downhill or worse, fail.
Sometimes you can't do anything about a client's expectations, they may not share with you or they may not even realize they have the expectations until they are not met. But you better believe that there are a lot of things you can do to properly set up your business so you set up your clients' expectations!
What to Do to Avoid Project Failure
The number one thing that you can do is set up the correct expectations for a client and follow-through. This can be as simple as speaking to the client at the beginning of the project, here is an example:
I've been doing this for a long time and in all that time I've never seen a project that has not had a hitch. I'm telling you this so you're not surprised when it happens. When it does, we will address it quickly and find the best solution.
Something else that can be extremely helpful to you is asking the client if they've worked with a designer before and how it went. Usually, this is when they'll share what went right or wrong and will expose some of their expectations of working with a designer.
Designer: Have you worked with a designer before? How did it go?
Client: It was okay, but the Designer kept showing me things outside of my budget. But she did always have beautiful renderings of the space, which helped me see the overall vision. I also liked that she gave me lots of options. But I didn't call her for this project because I didn't understand the way she billed and her invoices always confused me.
How revealing is that question? Just from that, we know that the example client above likes a lot of options as long as they are in budget, needs renderings, and wants clear transparent billing systems. Now, wouldn't that be great information to have in your business?
Avoiding project failure is about setting up your client's expectations and adhering to them. Let's look at some of the clients' disappointments from above again. With setting up any expectations, it's more effective to do before it becomes an issue and not later. Also, expectations are about communication and unless your client is very hands-off, over communication is best to avoid project failure.
- Something came in late. Or wrong. Or damaged. // I'd resolve this by letting my client know at the beginning of the project that nothing goes smoothly 100% and that these things are bound to happen. And that I would take care of them when they happen. They may still be disappointed, but not as much as if they didn't expect this to happen at some point during the project.
- Their invoice was more than they expected. // Make sure that you are sticking to the hours that you told them you'd be spending on the project. If you quoted 20-50 hours and you are pushing 75 without a discussion about the scope or client's decision-making abilities, trouble could be on the horizon.
- There is a 12-16 week lead time. // Educate your clients about custom pieces and the fact that they can sometimes take up to 16 weeks. I also put the lead time on the proposal and share with them in the design presentation the things that will take awhile to arrive. You can also give them an option with a shorter lead time if you foresee it being an issue - put the decision in their hands.
- They didn't know you charged for X or Y. // Create a fee schedule to share with potential clients.
- A vendor left muddy footprints all over their house. // This one is on you, clients have a reasonable expectation that their home will be cared for and respected by the people working on it. Set up a system with your vendor so that they know what is expected of them.
- The sofa is a single cushion instead of the three cushions in the picture. // Let your clients know that the picture on your proposal is just a placeholder and that the actual description of the product is what to expect. Or very clearly write ACTUAL SOFA DIFFERENT FROM PICTURED on the proposal.
You can see that there are ways to avoid most failed expectations before they happen. If they happen in your business once, know that you likely need to address it for future clients.
If it happens repeatedly in the same area - multiple clients complain about vendors or have issues with your pricing - you may need to examine your system or process in that area.