The ArchVIZ BIZ – Growing a Studio : Client Management

Speaking of pain, I think the most common pain point for anyone in a creative industry must be client management. Trying to get to a “right” answer can be incredibly difficult, especially when your client is also a creative and has their own opinion. So far I covered Art, TechnologyStudio Culture and Finance. Today I wrap it all up with client management!

While we are still working on our overall process, the team here at Norm Li has made great strides in getting our clients somewhat under control over the last couple years.

Here are…

6 key learnings of Client Management.

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01. Start with a clearly defined scope.

Tell your client up front everything that is included in your fee. Tell them everything that is extra. Tell them exactly what those things cost. Tell them how long it will take. Tell them when you will start and when you will deliver. And get them to sign a document that outlines all this.

02. Tell your client how you will work together.

We have crafted a document that we send to new clients outlining, step by step, how the process will unfold.

03. Designate a person to manage the communications.

Having a single point of contact makes things way easier.

04. Do your markups digitally.

We use ProofHQ. There’s also Review Studio which we like the looks of too. Just make sure that all revisions take place in a transparent, archival form.

05. Be consistent.

If you’ve agreed to 3 rounds of revisions, stick to it or don’t. Your choice, but at least be consistent about whether or not you stick to it.

06. Close the job properly

When you close out a job, be sure to review the process with your client and look for ways to improve.

We send a short survey with our invoices as well as a personal follow-up from me for first-time clients. There’s no better way to find out what could be better than talking with the people you’ve just finished working with.

If this all sounds a bit too structured and corporate, it doesn’t need to. You will deliver your process in a way that reflects your culture. But the increased clarity of the process for both you and your client will make for a way better working relationship and an increased level of quality.

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This is probably the toughest of all competencies to master.

You will be tempted to stray from your process to accommodate big-name, marquee clients. Other clients will dangle the carrot of more work or more money. It’s up to you how you handle it. But my suggestion will be to stick to your guns.

Once your organization gets to be about ten or more people, I really suggest bringing on a dedicated Project Manager. We now have two and I really wish I had done so sooner.

ArchVIZ BIZ Series Conclusion

Running an Arch Viz studio is like caring for a garden.

First, you need to plant the seeds of art and technology. You need to know which species grow best in your climate, the right soil mix, and the proper nutrients to add to your garden.Once your garden starts sprouting, you need to tend to it.

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You need to manage your culture and pull the weeds out before they overrun your garden. For your art and technology to thrive, you will need to water it with the right financial tools. And for your garden to really flourish, a clear and sunny sky with clear and transparent client management never hurts.

I really hope you all get something out of this. Just in writing this series, I’ve discovered points in our process that could use revisiting or refinement.

It’s always easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. And as I said in the intro, it’s not like this is some kind of scientifically proven method. It’s the result of my 15 years running a studio that started as one guy in his mom’s basement to being the largest independent visualization studio in Canada.

I won’t profess to know it all; all I can tell you about are the experiences that I’ve been through. I’m hoping that by sharing, I can help someone else going through a similar situation get to their answer faster. My experience with TEC/Vistage has also shown me that the majority of business owners are really fumbling around in the dark most of the time; guessing at the answer gives you a 50-50 chance of being right. With more shared knowledge in our community, we can be right more often, hopefully leading to a stronger community and a better place at the table in the architectural design process.

I’m interested to hear all your thoughts and experiences. We all have unique perspectives and I’m sure there are some things that someone out there is doing that could be a game changer for the rest of us; no one is asking for proprietary trade secrets here – just insights into how to make the process of managing a studio a bit easier.

So make sure you share your experiences in the comments. I’d love to hear all your views, especially from those of you who have a totally different experience.

Thanks!

Norm Li.

Part 1 - Starting a Studio : Art
Part 2 - Starting a Studio : Technology
Part 3 - Growing a Studio : Culture
Part 4 - Growing a Studio : Finance
Part 5 - Growing a Studio : Client Management

ArchVIZ BIZ

18 thoughts on “The ArchVIZ BIZ – Growing a Studio : Client Management

  1. Ramon Muoz on Reply

    As someone dangling with the idea of creating “my thing” this series had been very useful. Thx for the information and the perspective and sharing of experience.

  2. Norm on Reply

    @alexviz.com, @ramon glad to hear it was useful … If there are any other topics you’d like to hear about – let me know and I can see if Ronen will let me write another series.

  3. Mark on Reply

    Norman, Thank you very much for this.
    What do you do when your single point of contact (architect) for discussion and development turns into a free for all, as the architects clients starts including more people and it all turns into design my committee?

  4. Norm on Reply

    @mark – we do 1 of 2 things … Either we force them to use our online markup system so they can all see how ridiculous they are being (works sometimes but not always) or we ask them to designate a single person who’s job it is to collect all the comments and ensure they don’t conflict with one another (this works by putting a person on he client side in your shoes and allowing them to see first hand all the BS comments going back and forth) … And finally, we stick hard and fast to our 3 revision policy so that if they continue to change the design, there are serious financial implications … That usually shuts everyone right up!

    1. Mark on Reply

      Thank you Norm.
      I think this must directly relate to your three revisions rule, and what you define as a revision with your client and how much time you anticipate a revision to take. Could you offer us your insight as to what you consider a revision for a client? Is it in the “art” side of things such as lighting or mood, or does it include structural design revisions by the client?
      I appreciate your input.
      Thank you.

      Mark

  5. Brian on Reply

    Thanks for offering your insights. I went to art school learning fine art and game modeling but I have always loved architecture, in fact my senior thesis was about architects who have inspired me. I am a freelancer that has been trying to figure it out on my own and having articles like this really helps me know what I can work on and reassures many things I have struggled with. The first couple years after school I was working on 1-2 projects a year, but within the past year I have dedicated all my energy into making it work and have been staying pretty busy all year. I do have one question if you have time to answer I would really appreciate it. I struggle with online advertising because it seems difficult to advertise to the right people. Whenever I set up business profiles and ads I need to select a category. I want to select one that targets the right people. Our niche industry is not a common category. So I guess I have always wondered what is the best way to advertise without wasting money.

  6. Norm on Reply

    guys .. sorry for the late replys, I’ve been on vacation with my family

    @mark, i define a revision as a set of comments, no matter how few or many. The client is advised up front to consider the image carefully and submit a full list of their changes. It can include anything form lighting and materials to geometry. It also helps to track your time and know your internal costs. This will allow you to flexible with a client who has gone over their 3 revision limit but has not otherwise been very demanding. At the end of the day, all that REALLY matter is that we make a decent margin and don’t kill ourselves in the process.

    @Brian – Internet advertising is really the bottom of the barrel. Don’t wait for clients to come to you. Target who you want to work with and go after them. Far more effective.

  7. Gordon on Reply

    Thanks for sharing this insightful knowledge. It is really helpful.

    Being a freelancer for a bit more than two years, the hardest thing for me is to find new clients. Getting people to know and trust you is very hard at the beginning when you don’t have much reputation other than your own website. With so many competitors out there, how do you make yourself stands out.

    Secondly, how do you see the future of VR and using game engine like Unreal or Unity? I think rendering animation frame by frame will be history in near future.

    1. Norm on Reply

      @gordon, nothing beats meeting people in person … I’ve just taken a 5 hour flight to the other side of Canada just to meet my clients and say hi … no work meetings or anything like that … just to say hi and share a meal … if you want to get people to know and trust you, you have to make the effort … you’d be surprised how often people will agree to meet with you just for a coffee or a drink after work to chat … sure – you’ll get a lot of non responses and declines, but you only need one or two yeses to get the ball rolling … just pick your top target clients, find the appropriate person to contact (linkedin is great for this) and reach out!

  8. Rashid on Reply

    All your topics are really great,easy to understand and learn.
    Thanks for all these sharing.I am still working as a freelancer,just planning to start a small business and at this time getting this series really helps a lot.

  9. Dave Buckley on Reply

    Norm, great series – I’d love to hear your thoughts on pricing jobs – especially when it comes to administrative tasks. Also your experience with different pricing models i.e. daily studio rate, per image etc.

    1. Norm on Reply

      is pretty basic – we figure out our cost – hourly salary+overhead – and then generate a flat based on what we think an image will cost + margin … we build in a 3 revision policy and go hourly after that … it works pretty well … we will also discount if we are wildly off the mark … our overhead number includes all admin functions as they are technically non revenue generating …

      1. Dave Buckley on Reply

        Ok great. When you discount when you’re wildly off the mark. Is this post completion? I.e you’ve estimated 10 days and it only ends up taking 5 – you’ll discount some back to them?

          1. Dave Buckley on

            I assume this has to be a significant distance off the mark too. For me a lot of it is swings a roundabouts – there are times when you come in under budget, and there are times when you go the extra mile to deliver something that pushes you over budget. So the smaller differences eventually balance themselves out.

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