Just add water: architecture startups!

Managing clients and expectations
January 29, 2014, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Startup

One of the hardest things I’m encountering is not really the work itself – detailing, coordination with contractors and engineers, etc.  It’s been managing the client.  In fact, to be brutally honest, I spend about 1/2 of my time dealing with the client and his obsessive needs.  For the last five months, I receive on average 5-10 emails a day from this client, typically 1-2 pages long, formatted in bullet points like:

ITEM 1.1.2 Towel bar for guest bathroom has 1/4″ ring on the mounting bracket. We’d like this removed . . .

I appreciate the thoroughness, decisiveness and attention to detail, but let’s face it – it’s exhausting. I draft emails about 2-3x to make sure my tone isn’t exasperated or in the mode of “spit-fire” response and sit on them for at least an hour before sending.  From a billing perspective, these sort of clients are a disaster.  You will most likely spend more time managing their expectations, their queries, their exhaustive emails than actually doing the work.   Asking for additional services on the basis of the client’s “excessive administrative needs” doesn’t always go over well.  So how do you manage these clients without pulling out all your hair?

Things that I’ve been doing to deal with these sorts of clients– which might sound super basic/logical, but writing it out right now makes me breath a little deeper:

  • Don’t email right away — it will set a precedence that you’re accessible 24/7….this will easily be abused by clients like this, if you don’t
  • If they’re the indecisive type who send flurries of emails, wait until you get a few of them in a row and respond in a single email. COROLLARY: be super organized.  Send your responses in a calm, organized manner.
  • If you’re selecting fixtures that are decorative/super subjective to the picky type, write in your contract that you’re sending an appliance/fixture package with X number of revisions/options.  Limiting your scope  helps when they are the type to exhaustively obsess over the little stainless steel screw fasteners Hex head vs. square fitting.
  • Better yet, simply provide a list of showrooms that you recommend and let them go shopping!  (this can bite you in the a$$ when they come back with super ugly stuff or stuff that doesn’t scale at all to the space they have)
  • Get it in writing.  Verbal acceptance of random adds/clarifications can be dangerous – esp with super detail oriented crazies.
  • Take a break.  I know that sounds counterintuitive.  But literally shut down your email and get your architectural drawings done without the constant interruptions of the manic email flurries. Set aside an hour or two (or however many you need to get it done) at the end of the day and respond to them.

and above all: stay sane.


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