Archive for February, 2016

10 Ways That You’re Making Your Jobs and Clients More Difficult

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I’m lucky to work with fantastic clients – but we’ve all had those clients that weren’t so great, right? If you’re in business (any business for that matter) you’ve had to work with those challenging people that we all love to talk about, but don’t like having to deal with. Even the nicest people can become stressful and more demanding during the design process. After all, they’re spending a lot of money, and it’s for something very personal and important to them – their homes.

But I want to throw something out there for you to think about: Maybe you’re enabling their behavior. Now before you roll your eyes or tell me I’m wrong, give me a minute to show you 10 ways that you just might be giving your clients permission to be difficult. And these tips don’t just apply to design clients. No matter what business you’re in, these ideas can help you make your relationship with your clients better than ever! Even the nicest people have their limits.

1. You aren’t setting boundaries. If your client starts calling, texting, or emailing you at all hours of the day and night, what do you do? I’m not talking about an emergency situation, but just general questions. If you answer those calls and texts, you’re saying that working at this hour is right for you. We want to provide the very best customer service experience to our clients, but not at the expense of our personal lives. Remember that you’re a professional, and what professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher) responds at 11pm on a Saturday unless it is truly a life-threatening emergency? You should have something in your “welcome packet” that spells out exactly when you will be available to the client and then address this verbally with the client in the very first meeting after they have signed the contract. That way you’re setting the expectations from day one. And the first few times they contact you after hours, you have a few options. You can respond with a “Thanks, I’ll get back to you with an answer tomorrow/Monday.” That will help set the tone and will train the client that you don’t work 24/7. But you also run the risk of offending them and making them feel stupid for texting you. I think it also works well to not answer the text after hours and then respond with an email or text first thing the following morning, then you can answer their question or set a meeting time for finding a solution to their problem. If the client continues to text, call, and email after hours, you can sit down with the client and explain that you love working with her, but that you need time with your family, too. But again, I think if you set boundaries personally and you aren’t checking your texts and emails after hours, then it will take care of itself. Either way, set those boundaries and stick to them. If you give in, you’re giving people permission to contribute to your lack of balance.

2. You’re acting like a friend. Let me explain that – it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly, but you aren’t friends with your clients. At least not at first. Yes, there are a few clients that become my close personal friends, but they aren’t all that way.  And the ones that are my dearest personal friends are great at respecting our personal/professional boundaries. I think it’s important to remember that these amazing people are your customers first and foremost and you are their service provider. You don’t need to get so close with them that they are oversharing about their personal lives, and you shouldn’t be doing that, either. You can get into embarrassing situations that way. And you can also start blurring lines with boundaries, or bending your rules. For example, you might start thinking that you want to “help them” or give them a “deal” by not charging for all of your hours. Or on the flip side, you might start relaxing your standards or customer service because they are your “friends” and that isn’t appropriate either. They paid you for a professional service and that’s exactly what they should get, including deadlines that are met and you keeping your word. This is business and you are in it to make money and they are engaging you to get their money’s worth. Remember that. And if your client happens to actually be a friend of yours, try to separate the two relationships in your mind as you work with them.

3. Your contract isn’t clear. Everything that could be an issue should be spelled out ahead of time. How many revisions will you allow to the design? Exactly when will you get paid? Do they owe you a commission or fee if they shop for their own products? Anything that could be an issue in the future should be addressed in the contract. And you should go over it line by line with them before you both sign. I know this is a pain, but it will save you from the major challenges and disagreements in the future.

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4. You aren’t disciplined. So you have the contract, and everything is all spelled out. But did you let something slide because you didn’t want to confront your client with an issue? Or did you let your own processes drop because you got behind? Did you miss a deadline, or three? You have to be so disciplined in this business and you have to stick to your guns (and your deadlines). It isn’t fun or easy, but it’s part of being a business owner or at least a successful business owner.

5. You didn’t own your mistakes. We ALL make mistakes, it’s just the nature of the business. But it’s how you deal with those mistakes that makes or breaks your company. Communication is absolutely a must here – you need to admit to the mistake immediately, and offer an action plan to make it right. This is hard, but it is critical. And if you have to buy that sofa that came in the wrong size, so be it. Because the way you deal with mistakes is going to decide if your client is reasonable, AND how they are going to talk about you in the future…to other prospective clients! It’s that important, so always make it right.

6. You’re not communicating effectively. How do you communicate with your clients? It’s so important to constantly keep your client updated on the progress of their project and what you’re doing to keep everything rolling. You should have a scheduled weekly update via email, and then regular phone calls, too. Clients just want to know that you’re doing everything you can to make their project a success. If you don’t tell them how things are going, they’re going to think you aren’t working enough or that you have dropped the ball in some way, or that you have taken all their money and you are using it to vacation and drink fruity cocktails on a beach somewhere! Not communicating with your clients is going to add a lot of stress to your relationship and there is enough stress in this process already, but some of it is totally avoidable if you communicate consistently and clearly.

7. You’re texting with your client. Speaking of communication, be careful about texting with your clients. You want a record of any decisions that are made, any explanations, and any issues – and it’s hard to have that with a text. If your client is addicted to texting (or you are), great. But be sure you regularly (as in after every session of texting and at least at the end of every week) send a wrap-up email that reviews any decisions or conversations made by text. That way, you can put that email in your client folder and save it for any future issues that may come up. If you don’t have that record, it’s just a she-said/she-said problem that will make you both insane. I also take pictures of texts if there is ever a time that clients approve things or send important information by text so I have a copy of it for future reference. I email those images of the texts to myself and put them in the client file as well. And this isn’t just to protect myself. It’s to protect the client, too. There have been times that I agreed to something by text and then remembered it differently. Having images of our text exchanges actually held me accountable.

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8. You didn’t really listen. We’ve gone over this before, but sometimes we listen to our clients (sort of), and sometimes we really hear them. Did the client tell you what her budget was, but you thought “she’s definitely got more money than that”? You didn’t listen. Did he tell you that he has four dogs and then you presented a stunning silk sofa? You didn’t listen. The key to having a satisfied customer is in listening and delivering on what you heard.

9. You got angry. Yes, clients can make us all mad, but we have to be the person in control in any confrontation with our clients. They are already stressed and uptight about spending money and allowing someone else to have control in their homes. So they probably aren’t going to react the way they normally would in any stressful situation that comes up. You have to be the calm, cool, and collected person, even when you want to scream. So do whatever you have to do to stay calm – count to 10, step outside for a second, think about fluffy kittens. If you get angry, it will only escalate the situation and that isn’t going to help the craziness at all.

10. You took it personally. So the client didn’t like your selections, or she said that your subcontractor didn’t finish the cabinets correctly. That’s business, not a personal attack on you. Yes, you sweated for hours over the selections and you love every single one, and maybe the subcontractor is your favorite cousin. But the client isn’t saying you’re an idiot by pointing out a problem or saying they want something different. It’s just the nature of this business, not a judgment on you as a person. The less you take things personally, the more you’ll be able to guide your client to the right thing.

So what do you think? Are there ways that you can help avoid the crazy in your projects or help your clients be less challenging? What do you do to control the stress and issues that come with running our businesses? Let me know in the comments section below!

xo,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Secret Sauce: Finding Your Passion

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Passion. It’s what sets me on fire. It’s what drives me. It is what has made me work like a dog for 17 years–or really my entire life. But don’t get me wrong. I have loved working that hard because I am passionate about Interior Design and product design, and I am even more passionate about being an entrepreneur. Building businesses, creating revenue streams, reaching my business goals–these things keep me up at night and get me up in the morning. Work. It’s what I do. I am passionate about my work.

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And yes, it can be hard. But I am one of the lucky ones. My passion is my purpose. I have never had to make a living doing something that doesn’t inspire me, that isn’t fun, that I don’t like. I work in my passion every day. And yes there are days that my job is hard and moments that are less fun than others. There are days that I wish I could rest, but I don’t. I push harder. I work a little longer. I make my dreams happen. Why? Because I can’t NOT do it.

So what is Passion? Well it is defined in a few ways…

  1. An intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction
  2. The state or capacity of being acted upon by external agents or forces
  3. A strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept

And when it comes to my passion(s) these all make sense. I definitely feel “an intense, driving feeling” and sometimes like I am being “acted upon by external forces”.  And my passion is certainly a “devotion to an activity or concept”. I can’t turn it off. Working at what I love is not elective or optional for me. And because of that, I have a really hard time stopping or relaxing. For better or worse, my passion is often all consuming.

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My daughter is 10 and a half and she is crazy about baking. She says she wants to own a bakery when she grows up. I don’t know if she will really want that when the time comes to choose a career, but at the very least I believe it will be her passion for the rest of her life. She bakes several times a week and often everyday. She feels a “devotion” to baking.

She loves cooking too. She cooks her own meals and often cooks my husband’s even though I cook all the time and would be happy to prepare meals for the family. They have the same tastes in food and she loves to take good care of her daddy. She never thinks of baking or cooking as a chore.

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And although I have an extremely busy life myself full of my own passions, I am having a fun time being her trusty baking assistant. I think it is important to help her pursue her interests and dreams. I think it’s critical for me to invest in her passions at an early age. Plus her creations are so pretty and delicious and she’s getting orders from our friends and my clients, how could I not support that?

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And she’s going after her dreams in a big way. The week before last she made a chocolate chip bundt cake for the family of a close friend of ours who passed away, she made 3 dozen cupcakes for another friend of mine to deliver to the doctors and nurses that helped my friend through cancer treatments, she made 4 dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies for her classmates because they were studying the Ghirardelli company and the history of chocolate. That same week she also made the birthday cake for one of my very favorite clients, another bundt cake for a friend, and 2 dozen cookies for my nephew who is away at college. Whew! And if that weren’t enough, she and I made Chocolate French Macarons and 15 mini loaves of Banana Bread in our spare time. This week she was back at it again making 3 dozen cupcakes for my friend and spa-owner’s business event. And though I make sure she is safe, she does all of this baking and cooking on her own with very little help from me.

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Do you know what I call her love of baking that happens every single day including week nights and all weekend long? Crazy?..Well maybe. Exhausting?…Sometimes. But what I really call it is passion. My little chef and mini entrepreneur is passionate about baking. She never grows tired of it. She’s always up for making a new recipe whether it’s early in the morning or late at night. I think it may really be her purpose. It will be fun to watch her life unfold and see if she thinks so too long term. At the very least, it’s her purpose right now. She’s making people happy with her confections. And it keeps her happy, and energetic, and out of trouble, and from being bored. It gives her confidence. It feeds her soul. And if she’s not in the kitchen concocting something, she’s watching a cooking or baking show like Master Chef Jr. or the Kids Baking Championship on TV or Netflix and planning her next meal or recipe.

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This child literally “eats” and breathes baking and cooking (pun intended) and every gift she gets or dollar she spends has something to do with her passion. She received REAL junior cookware and junior Wusthof knives from Williams Sonoma for Christmas and boxes and bows and ribbons and tags and a personalized stamp with “from the kitchen of” and her name so she can dress up all her creations and let people know they were hand-made by her. And this month when other kids were wanting candy and stuffed animals and sweets for Valentine’s day, she asked for a red hand-held Kitchenaid mixer for Valentines day. This girl is hooked!

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It’s so fun to see how people react to my daughter’s cooking skills and abilities. It’s not unlike how people react to my Interiors. It’s great to see how much they love her food. And I believe the response is because people can tell when you are passionate about something. People love to support others in their pursuit of their passions. It is fun. It’s exciting. It’s inspiring.

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For a happy and fulfilling life, I think finding your passion is everything. And yes, you may have more than one. But there is only room in your days for a handful of things to be really passionate about. My daughter is lucky. She is 1o and she has already found one of hers. I am lucky, I have been working in my passion for almost 2 decades.

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Where are you on the path of finding your passion? Do you listen to your heart and do you follow it to make your passion your life’s work? And if you don’t, why not? Maybe you know what your passion is (or what it used to be) and you’ve lost it. Well that happens to us all. Author and peak performance expert Brendon Burchard (author of the fabulous book The Charge), says there are 4 things to help you re-ignite your passion…

  1. Rest–a good night’s sleep on a regular basis keeps you energized and engaged in your passions. When you get too tired, you often fall off the wagon of living your passion or in your sweet spot. Can’t get enough sleep at night? Try taking a nap or meditating for similar benefits.
  2. Visualization–Get away from other people, your job and your phone on a weekly basis so you can dream again. Go to that place physically and figuratively where you can visualize what you really want. In the busyness of work and life, we lose sight of what we want most. Try to visualize your dreams every night and every morning to keep it top of mind and keep your passion for those things stoked and focused.
  3. Triggers–Set up triggers so you are reminded of your passion regularly. Try reminders on your phone or your mirror, or listen to certain videos, affirmations, or music that inspires you. Only you know what will trigger you to go to your passion place so make these triggers unavoidable.
  4. Celebrating Wins–Allow yourself to celebrate even small wins when they occur–which may even be daily. So many of us just go from one accomplishment to another without ever patting ourselves on the back, writing it down, or acknowledging  these wins at all. By celebrating them, it helps you stay connected with the emotions you feel when you do win, and that can reconnect you with your passions more often.

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So go out and find or re-ignite your passion. To do that you have to listen to your heart and take action. Your passions are waiting for you.

And don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t feeling your passion right now or you’re experiencing burnout. It happens to all of us. I have been going through that very thing just recently. But I am excited to say practicing these tips above, especially rest, has helped me move beyond being stuck and back into a place of motivation so that I can reach even bigger dreams and live in my passion this year.

Yes, finding your passion is the secret sauce to a life that is happy and fulfilled. Good luck!

xo,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

IMG_5077Speaking of Celebrating our successes, try celebrating with my family’s favorite cake. Here, my daughter made the recipe in her mini bundt pans so we could each have our own personal celebratory dessert!

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake:

1 Yellow Cake Mix

1 pkg Chocolate Instant Pudding Mix (3.9 ounces)

1/2 Cup Sugar

3/4 Cup Water

3/4 Cup Vegetable Oil

4 Eggs, beaten

1 Cup Sour Cream

1/2 Cup Semi-sweet Mini Chocolate Chips

Preheat Oven to 325 degrees. Grease and Flour 10″ bundt pan. In electric mixer, add cake mix, pudding and sugar. Add oil, water, eggs and sour cream and mix until well blended. Fold in Chocolate Chips. Bake for 50-60 minutes in preheated oven. Cake is done when toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire rack to completely cool. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

 

What Is That Color? Perfectly Purple…or Is It Pink?

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Balance is one of the key design elements in any successful room – there has to balance of scale, balance in proportion, in pattern, and so much more. I like to have a great balance between masculine and feminine, as well as dark and light. So that led me to a fun color choice for the dining room ceiling in my Riverside Penthouse Project.

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The stunning de Gournay wallpaper was an early design decision for this room – and the client and I loved the deep green background for the pattern. Even though this room has a wall of windows on one side, I didn’t want the room to be too dark and heavy with the rich green. Plus, with such beautiful architectural detailing on the ceiling, I didn’t want it to be overlooked. So I used Sherwin-Williams Wallflower, a pale pinkish-purple shade, to help lighten the room and draw the eye up.

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This gorgeous shade is one that I think of as the palest of orchids, but others see as a soft and sophisticated pink. It was inspired by the color in the blossoms on the wallpaper, and it was the perfect color choice to complement the dark greens, chartreuse, and black lacquer in the room. I repeated a slightly richer shade of orchid in the drapery and custom rug to create a cohesive look. And I love how this perfect shade on the ceiling brings out a bit of color in that fabulous chandelier!

So what do you think about this pop of purple (or do you see pink)? The room is bold, but balanced, and really is one of my favorite color combos!

Colorfully yours,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

New House Diary: The Laundry

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New House Diary

Sometimes in a home renovation – especially with an older home – you have to get a little creative to design a floorplan that really works for you. For example, one of the most important things to me was that I have a bigger kitchen. It’s where I spend a lot of time with family and friends, especially when I’m cooking with my daughter. To get that bigger footprint, a few sacrifices and tweaks had to be made. And the thing for me that was most affected was the laundry room.

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The laundry room in the old floorplan was in the general area of the powder room and wet bar, circled above. And it had to go so I could have the kitchen of my dreams – that was the priority! So where to place the new laundry room? Well, one day it came to me when I went into the garage. There was an original bank of shelving that ran all the way down one wall of the garage, with plenty of space to work and walk around, even with two cars in the garage. Those cabinets also shared a wall with the master bathroom, and was right outside the door to the mudroom, so I realized this could be the new laundry area!

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New cabinetry will make this area look fabulous again, and there’s plenty of room for my washer and dryer, as well as a sink, hanging rods, pull-out bins, and storage – really everything that I need or want in a laundry room!

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I also realized that the footprint of this area left some open space on an adjacent wall that would be perfect for another area that was on my wish list – a wrapping station! I am one of those people who loves to give gifts, especially if they are unexpected, and I also really enjoy wrapping those gifts in gorgeous papers, ribbons, and trims. So this new wrapping station will be used a lot!

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And the counter space and shelves above will be my planting and potting area perfect for my love of container gardening. There’s also plenty of room for a second refrigerator – a must-have for my family with all of our entertaining indoors and outdoors by the pool. Our garage has a quirky but charming feature of having a second smaller garage door on the back side that opens up to the pool area, so our garage is a great command central for all our pool-side entertaining and with the great breeze that blows through it when both doors are open, it’s cool and comfy and a great place shady place for seating and dining for parties and events.

Bor even more function, we can also have a broom closet with storage for cleaning supplies on the far end of the built-in- freeing up even more storage space in my kitchen for baking and cooking items.

So what do you think about my creative use of space? Which room would get the square footage priority in your home? Let me know in the comments section below!

xo,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

A Clear Design Winner

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One material that I love to use in my designs is clear acrylic. Most people refer to it as Lucite, although that’s a brand name that’s become synonymous with all of the acrylic looks, a bit like Band-Aid is now the common term for all adhesive bandages. Acrylic adds a touch of glamour and modernity to traditional design, like in the vanity chair above!

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I also love how it allows pieces to almost disappear, like the console table above that makes the lamps look like they’re floating in air. Fully acrylic designs can let the light shine through in rooms, giving them an airy feeling.

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In the Marguerite chair I designed above for CR Laine, the acrylic legs are a great counterbalance to the dark grey menswear look and the plump cushions.

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And in these bar stools, using acrylic for the frame gives even more punch to the bright yellow cushions. I also like how the gray on the cabinetry is complemented by the barely-there outline of the stools.

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But acrylic doesn’t have to just be on furnishings. I also designed custom acrylic corbels for the cabinetry so this fabulous material can give a little glamour to the island while being functional, too.

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And in this bathroom I designed for an adventurous client, the acrylic legs on this sink stand make a chic statement when combined with brass fittings under the sink. I love this look!

So what do you think of acrylic designs? And have you seen any unusual uses for the material? Let me know in the comments section below!

xo,

Tobi-Signature