Everyone’s happy at the start of a project; our new clients are excited, we’re thrilled and life is looking pretty sweet.
Until it doesn’t. Until you hit a bump in the road and the smiles have been replaced by anxious, awkward grimaces.
This happened TWICE to me last week; once I was the client, and the other time I was the service provider. And both occasions had vastly different outcomes.
First occasion: I ordered custom curtains from a local company. I was so excited…. until they arrived and the guest room’s curtains were totally wrong. Not what I thought I ordered.
I raised my concern with the business owner and she blamed me for making a poor choice and that what she had delivered was industry standard. Besides which, she claimed that’s what I had said I wanted.
There was no recourse for me. I am now repaying for a new set of curtains. Not happy.
Second occasion: I’m in the early stages of a branding project with a fabulous client in the USA. We were meeting on Zoom for a review session, where I was presenting my latest round of design work.
The designs were not landing for her and she couldn’t sign off on any of them. She couldn’t exactly tell me what was wrong but she just knew this was not it.
My brain kicked into overdrive as I tried to salvage the meeting and the project. 90 minutes later, we ended with a clear action plan to remedy the situation and a mutual sense of regained joy.
What are the key differences in these scenarios?
1) Clear Communication.
2) Clear Strategies & Processes.
First Scenario: the local curtain company sent no follow-up emails with confirmation of my order and what was discussed. They simply sent me photocopies of their order pads with pencil-scribbled columns of notes and measurements. In hindsight, I should’ve double checked, but I trusted them as professionals and experts.
When I raised my concerns, I was met with hostility. No empathy for my distress, and certainly no willingness to understand how the mistake was made.
Second Scenario: I had a process to retrace our steps and discover at what stage I had veered off track.
And I listened without blame or ego. When you detach yourself from your work, put your emotions to one side, you are in a stronger position to improve and solve the problem.
In a nutshell, to avoid things going wrong:
❌ Never assume clients understand your industry’s norms or the lingo. Spell things out in writing in layman’s terms. Make sure you are all on the same page with what you will create or deliver.
❌ Never assume that they have understood and retained all the info you told them verbally – send them a PDF, bullet point checklist, a design brief or summary email with what was discussed.
❌ If miscommunication happens or problems arise, never get snarky or point fingers at your clients. Yes, the fault may lie with them in some way, but find a way to generously hear their grievance, show empathy towards their feelings and find common ground to resolve the situation in a win-win manner.
✅ Make sure you have your process, deliverables, timelines and any crucial information clearly presented to the client before they pay you. An info PDF, or a confirmation email, or a design brief or a bullet point checklist – all of these will do, and will serve as a reference point for the whole project.
✅ If a dispute happens, come from a place of goodwill, a desire to work through the problem. Yes, you may need to enforce boundaries, remind them of the brief etc but never, ever act like a bitch about it!
✅ Find a win-win solution that makes you and your client feel happier. Sometimes it’s as simple as acknowledging their frustrations. People want to be heard, not shut down. Sometimes you may need to add a sweet bonus to make up for their inconvenience. Other times you may have to cover the $ of your mistakes.
Hope that helps you avoid potentially tricky situations in your creative business!