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, Technology, Studio 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.
6 key learnings of Client Management.
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.
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.
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.
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