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#16: Preparing for In-Home Consultations & Structuring Your Custom Work

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. I hope your day is going well, I’m doing fabulous and actually, when this episode airs, I will be en route to the states for an extended long weekend with a bunch of friends to spend some time in Maine so I am very much looking forward to that, and for a change of scenery and some forced time off with some great people.

One thing that we discussed in post #8 was deciding whether or not offering custom work in your furniture painting and refinishing business is the right move for you, and I went over some pros and cons from my perspective. To compliment that and take it one step further for those who are interested in doing it or maybe already do currently do it, today’s episode will be talking about how to prepare for in-home consultations with your custom clients and some tips on how to structure your custom work to make your life (hopefully!) a little bit easier and organized.

Because I am all about helping you stay focused, on track and organized in your furniture refinishing business, and because of that, I also really want you to GET THERE. Get to the point of officially starting that business that you’ve been putting off because you think there’s too much research that you still have to do or things you need to learn before you do it. And let’s get real.. That’s just your way of procrastinating. And that’s fine, because I’ve got you covered with the free guide and checklist I’ve put together to help you start your own official furniture painting and refinishing business. Download yours now, and I promise you’ll be set to start getting things officially set up, making money, and being your own boss. Trust me when I say: It’s the BEST.

Alright, so not everyone offers in-home consultations, I don’t typically do them but I have in the past, and if you’re someone that has your first one coming up but are feeling a bit lost and don’t really know what to do or what to bring or how to prepare, this episode is for you! I am all about setting up systems and streamlining things as much as possible in my business to save me time, energy, and brainpower whenever possible so I can free up time in my day to either get more other things accomplished… or just sit back and relax and get to live my life and enjoy having the freedom to do so.

So one thing that I have implemented for all custom projects is that I have a sort of questionnaire/intake form that I have put together in Google Forms that I ask all people interested in a custom project to complete. This is a HUGE timesaver because historically I would be chatting back and forth with people who were interested in having a project done and I’d be asking them all the details one message at a time and going back and forth and inevitably something might get missed or I might finally have enough information to give them an informed estimate on the project… and then never hear back from them. Which is fine if they decided they no longer wanted to do it or it was out of their budget or whatever the case may be, but that was a lot of time and effort that I just put in. So I took some time upfront, compiled my thoughts and all of the questions that I needed answered in order to provide an informed estimate, and now when people inquire I can just share the link to the form with them. Highly recommend.

This also likely weeds out some people who were sorta kinda interested in having a project done but then when they see the form and know it will take up 5 minutes of their time to do it and they determine that that’s too long to bother with it. Those aren’t my ideal clients anyways, because I want people who are interested in quality refinished pieces and appreciate the time and detail that is needed to determine what we will be doing with the piece, and be willing to pay for it. So if they weren’t really sold on it in the first place, that weeds them out because they might not complete the form. Which again, is fine and wasn’t the intention of introducing the form, but is a convenient byproduct.

So then, in the case that you feel the need to see the piece in person in order to provide an estimate for the project or if maybe the client just has no idea what direct to go and is giving you full reign of the design plan and you need to see the space it’s in to figure out what direction to go, set up your in-home consultation with the client. Always remember to keep your safety in mind and either bring someone with you and have them wait in the car, or at the very least, make sure you have a system in place so someone knows the address you’re going to, roughly what time you should be finished by, and you check in with them when you’re done so they know you’re good to go. You never know, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry! I also always recommend keeping your Find My iPhone on or sharing your location with someone so that they can see where you are if needed.

Alright, so you’re about to head over to the consult and you have no idea what to do. Don’t worry, it’s going to go great. But first, let’s pack a bag. I have a little bag that is the perfect size, it’s one of those smaller lululemon bags so I’m not lugging a whole big shopping bag in with me, but I can have everything that I’ll need. Here’s what I typically ensure that I have in the bag: A notebook and two pens (in case one dies), a measuring tape so I can write down the dimensions of the piece and any other relevant details like the size of the space it’s in. or, if you offer delivery, this will let you know if the piece would fit in your vehicle too. I also bring paint stick swatches and any paint brand decks that I have from brands for paint colour selection. You also want to take note of and mark down any repairs that may need to be done, because you’ll want to factor that into your estimate.

My phone (charged) is always with me for safety reasons, as well as having access to my social media with photos of other pieces I have done in those colours if I want to show the client an example of a colour in action, so I can look up any measurement conversion charts if needed, or Google anything unique about a piece I have never encountered before, as well as take my own photos of the piece from all the angles so I can look back on them later when I’m planning things out. Take more photos than you think you’ll need, from different angles.

I also bring some minty gum and throw a piece in before going into the persons house in case I have bad breath, because you’re typically standing in close range to the client as you’re checking out the piece. I also bring a mask in case the client is more comfortable with me wearing that when I’m in there in case they’re nervous about COVID or whatever else, and always bring a water bottle because I’ll be talking a lot and don’t want my throat to get hoarse or if I start coughing or something and need a drink of water, I don’t have to rely on the client to grab some or anything like that. I also make sure I have a hair tie if I’m wearing my hair down that day, bring some extra business cards that I can provide them if they’d like, and then I throw my car keys in there because I don’t typically bring my purse in.

When you’re there with the client and discussing the direction you’re going to go with the piece, make sure to write everything you agree on while you’re there, or do most of it while there and the rest when you get back out to the car. Don’t assume you will remember because if you aren’t starting the project for awhile you might forget, or if you have a memory like mine, you’ll probably forget 50% of it by the time you get home and you don’t want to have to ask the client again because they will probably remember even less than you since this is likely not a language they speak often and they’re making a lot of decisions. So be the professional and take the time to write down the decisions you guys land on, as well as things like the dimensions and any dates you might have set in stone for it to be dropped off to you or the due date for its completion. I also like to draw out a rough little sketch of the piece and then specify what colours we’re doing on what parts of the piece if it’s something like a two toned piece or we are painting some parts and leaving others wood, stuff like that.

As a rule of thumb, assume nothing when working on someone’s piece. I highly recommend double checking everything or getting specific clarification on all aspects of the project, because the expectations might be different for you and the client. For example, if you are painting someone’s vintage piece and you don’t know whether or not to paint the back of it. You might normally paint the backs of your pieces and think, of course I’m going to do it for this one too. But just ask beforehand. You never know if they really wanted to keep the maker’s stamp on the back exposed, or maybe there’s some marking on there or something that’s super sentimental to them or their family or holds some type of history. Like they say, when you assume you make an ass out of you and me so again, err on the side of caution and get those details answered upfront.

I also often use a wood salve on the wood to moisturize it so I will always ask clients ahead of time if that’s okay to use, it has a light orange scent which most people are usually fine with and by the time it gets to them the scent likely would have dissipated anyways but some people have sensitivities to scents so I always like to ask. It also doesn’t hurt to write down all of the questions you have and need answered at the consult beforehand and then just go through the list when you’re there with the client and write everything down.

So now that you’re back from your in-home consultation and it went fabulously because you were so well-prepared with your little kit of necessities and you landed on some action steps for moving forward with your client, something I often do is a little rough mock up of the piece. On Canva I’ll create a little vision board with the original photo of the piece, a swatch of the paint or stain colour that we’re going to be using, a photo of the hardware and anything else we will do and put it together to send to the client to make sure it is what they had in mind. This makes it easy if you have multiple styles or types of hardware you’re trying to decide between too, because you can duplicate the pages and then just switch out the photo of the hardware in each of them so there’s a separate mock up or mood board for each so the client can get a visual idea of what it would all look like together. Then based on the hardware the client chooses, I’ll research the price of it and then factor that in price-wise, and then will send them an estimate for the project.

I use QuickBooks* to track my income, expenses, mileage and send out invoices with project estimates just so I can keep everything in one centralized place and I love it. I’ll leave a link in the show notes of this episode if you want to try it out, I use QuickBooks Self Employed* specifically and it has met the mark for me for the last year and a half ish, and it’s pretty affordable, I think I pay like $12 a month which is great in my opinion for peace of mind.

In terms of other systems, I recommend you choose and use one that will work for you to keep custom projects on track. Have a system for letting you know what step comes next and ensuring that you’re doing what you agreed on with the client is vital, and because I can sometimes get projects set up in my queue and I may not be actually working on them for a couple months depending on my waitlist length, this makes sure I have quick access to all of the details I need. It can also get confusing when I get an influx of custom inquiries and I’m sending out multiple estimates a day, and I certainly don’t ever want to forget about a custom that I have upcoming, so I use Asana for project management to keep me on track and feeling productive as I work through things and get them checked off my list. But as I mentioned in my previous episode, I’ll be switching that over to Notion* soon as it’s the PM software I use for most other things so I want to get that all consolidated in one place.

And then my last recommendation is to keep clients informed throughout the process while you are working on their pieces by sending updates on what stage you’re at and sending progress photos as well, if they want them. Some people may not really care and just want to know when it’s done and see it then, but some people appreciate the updates. It also helps to show that things are progressing so they get an idea of where you are at in your timeline in terms of completion.

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: If you’re too busy to build good systems, then you’ll always be too busy.

Think about that. You might think that you're so busy and that things are so chaotic in your business and you're just working so hard day-to-day to keep things rolling and keep them moving forward and trying to grow.

But if you want to grow, this is the most time you're ever gonna have.

And it might not feel like it. Because you might not yet have those systems set up, you might be popping from one thing to another-- doing admin to doing high-level thinking and planning to going from one piece to another piece--and not really have any rhyme or reason to what you're doing. And I have been there as well (sometimes I still am, it depends on the day!).

But, take a step back. What really helps me is looking at my buckets of what I do with my time when it comes to my business, or anything else in life really. I look at what I'm spending my time on, what's taking up the most time, and if there's any way I can help to streamline that. Again, usually you're going to have to invest some time upfront to create the thing or set up the project management software or the custom intake form. Those things might require some research on how to get it done, you might have an idea like, "this thing would really help me out but I'm not sure if the technology exists or if anyone's done something similar".

So you might need to do some research upfront-- but find a day where you feel like you have some good brain power, allocate some time, put your phone away (throw it away in a drawer in another room so you don't get distracted) and just sit down and take that time to create those systems. The earlier the better. Even if you feel like you're not all that busy but you see some way that you can streamline your time, do it now and you will thank yourself so much later.

Because things will get busier. We have our ebbs and flows in our business throughout the year, and you will just save yourself the time, the effort, the stress, the potential burnout that could come from a busy season of life.

So take the time, build those systems, because otherwise you never will.

It's the sad truth. And I'm sure if you look at your life more generally, you can see where you've maybe skipped making those systems-- it might be meal prepping, or organizing that junk room that you've been avoiding, or not creating a good morning or night routine and just having it be all chaotic, not knowing where anything is, and rushing around.

If you feel like you're living your life on hyper speed and like you're just constantly in a flurry, this could be a really good thing to take a step back, sit down, do some planning, set up some systems and help your future self.

Because you need to stop living like you're on fire!!

We all do it-- we all know we shouldn't have to, but we never take that time to really allocate that energy to creating systems that work for us. Everyone is different, everyone's brain works different and everyone is motivated by different things.

So take some time and do some reflection. You can make it a family project, because a system that works for you might not necessarily be a system that works well for your partner or your kids. So take the time, sit down as a family and figure out what you can do in those areas that you are putting up a bit of a red flag and saying, "we need to do something about this".

Because if you're too busy to build good systems, you'll always be too busy. And I know you want to have that time to sit back, relax, enjoy that time with your family, your friends, yourself. Have some quiet time to reflect, to grow and to nurture yourself and the people around you.

So take the time, do it right and I promise you that you will thank yourself-- 6 months down the road, 3 months down the road, the next day, the next year-- you'll look back and you'll be like "thank GOD I just got off my ass and did it".

Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

*this is an affiliate link. It costs nothing to use but helps support me and my business- so thank you if you choose to!

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