Alysia Southern of Barrage Designs talks Communication, Budgets

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What is your strategy for approaching projects that need to be completed in a small time frame?

A. Choose the right people and the right projects!

I always see even potential clients as clients for life and in the preliminary stages, I think it’s important the interview goes both ways. It’s important that I really listen to my clients so that I may have a have clear expectation of what they need. And of course, the creative compatibility and trust have to be there.

B. The most imperative tool in any business? Clear and concise communication!

Speedy projects require I make fast decisions, so it’s important my clients know they can trust me both creativity and financially to bring their vision to fruition. One of the processes I use to achieve this is kind of a “Runway to Real Way.” I always order two subscriptions to my favorite design magazines, have clients take home a few and mark the looks they like best. I can then mock up a few storyboards, they choose one, and I run with it. I also establish an initial budget per project and stick to that budget- I assume the responsibility of carving out my fee from that number. This really helps me be time efficient as I’m not having to get purchases approved or docking hours, so to speak.

C. Embrace your inner hoarder! Keep at least a small inventory on hand…

My secret to keeping a low cost inventory? If I buy something that’s not for a specific job or client, it has to be within the single digits of its worth (i.e. if a mirror I know is worth $100 is priced under $10, I’ll buy it). Buying in advance allows me to get better deals and take more last-minute jobs than I would without a small inventory on hand. I try to have at least four diverse sets of “room starters”…linens, paint, mirrors, curtains, pillows, etc. Then with accurate measurements of the space I can mock up the room first in my workspace instead of trying to figure it out on site. This ensures a speedy and more efficient install. I put my “stamp” on even the simplest of projects with my custom pieces. I use any spare time I have to work on them, rather than doing them per order. This way I have things on hand that will cheaply and quickly make a room really unique.

When you complete a design project, what are some of the things you do afterward to make sure the client is 100% happy with the final product?

I’ve been really lucky insofar as my clients have always recommended me to friends- certainly an honor that lets me know they’re happy with the space. I once had a client leave me a tip half the size of her budget which I thought was amazing! Though it was tough to wrap my head around at first, I avoid ever trying to really “sell” someone on my services. This doesn’t mean I don’t network, advertise, and put the word out. I just try to be always available rather than solicitous.

What are your strategies for maintaining your relationship with that client for the future (and potentially future projects)?

I definitely keep in touch with my clients, whether it’s cards on holidays and birthdays, social media updates, or personal visits with little vintage trinkets or fresh flowers. It’s extremely important to me that my clients know how much I value them.

The art of customer service can seem a dying one nowadays. I find that truly listening to my clients’ needs has allowed me to develop relationships of substance, trust, and creative compatibility- the foundation of a lifelong relationship.

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