Are you used to the “New Normal” yet?
It’s our current economic environment, where jobs are harder to find, selling them is more difficult and getting them actually built is a big challenge, too.
But there’s a raft of other professional consultants who can help with all this – from the obvious ones like an architect or an engineer to the less evident – the people who do in-floor heating or perform energy audits, for example.
If you can figure out how to collaborate more, or improve the way you work with others on your projects, you may find you’ll be able to add an extremely valuable network of referrers to your universe. This network can be just as important for your professional development as can your past clients – another major, ongoing source of work for you.
Consultants all hav their own world and ways of doing things created around them, and it’s good for you to recognize at some general characteristics of each profession.
When thinking of allied professionals, the architect naturally comes to mind as “top of the heap.” But this is changing, especially in the residential remodeling arena.
Often an architect is only part of the picture – and you, as a design professional, may be bringing at least as much to the table. While an architect may have been trained to think and develop three-dimensional ideas, it may be you who has more strength in practical or proven materials.
In collaborating with a good architect, you may find you can both bring your different skills to the project. Maybe she can draw really well, or has a tight relationship with a particular city building department? Perhaps an architect can help you with integrating the exterior of a remodel to the interior of the existing building; you can concentrate on the kitchen and bathrooms – and you’re not threatening each other.
If you do end up working on a project with an architect, it’s probably a good idea to meet one-on-one, and define each other’s roles up front. From the clients’ perspective, the last thing they want to see is discord with the people organizing their work. Remember, too, that a successful collaboration with an architect on a project can often lead to more work down the road – with customers outside your own sphere of influence.
Likewise, the value of an engineer shouldn’t be underestimated – especially if your design calls for removing walls, adding space or bringing large amounts of additional light into a project. From a builder’s perspective, the engineer’s work is key – but don’t forget that from where you sit, as a design professional, the cost ramifications of his work can be tremendous.
So get with the engineer before your design layout progresses too far – again, just you and the engineer, away from the client. Give him some leeway with your design, and ask for input – this way you can hopefully head off any nasty surprises ahead of time.
Other professionals may seem less important, but their expertise can still really assist you in your work. Take, for instance a good lighting designer – she may be able to lend some valuable technical help to the design. What specific kind of lamp, bulb, power, and position work best for a design? This could be an area where, while you may be knowledgeable, a lighting designer may be able to add something extra to the project because of the specialized expertise.
Remember that so many of our projects are enjoyed in the evening, after a long day at work. You want your client to love your design, and thoughtful lighting can not only make the space more enjoyable to use, but also help to show it off at its best.
A good landscape designer can be brought into your work, too – after all, how many of us have real familiarity with outdoor planting? Perhaps more importantly, do we really know how to lay out a garden – or plan for how trees, shrubs and flowers will look over time? Again, collaborating with a good landscape professional is not for every project, but many cities are beginning to require a plan of the outdoor environment on the bigger remodels. And this can be especially valuable if you are designing outdoor kitchens or living spaces.
Other folks from the “decoration” area of our industry are coming into projects these days too – we’re seeing many jobs here on the West Coast with colorist professionals, for example. They’re helping coordinate the whole color selections, not just paint, but stone, flooring, cabinet woods – and making sure it all works together.
We’ve seen owners bring in Feng Shui consultants who help with how to orient building spaces or place furnishings – they, too, can improve with the work – and that can ease the client’s peace of mind.
How about thinking of the plumber as a consultant? He may know more than anyone on the job about which shower valves are reliable, or what type of four-inch drain pipe is the quietest. Likewise, don’t forget the electrician, who can show the slickest way of wiring a specialized lighting fixture.
A painter who has a good sense of color is invaluable – especially if he or she can assist with sampling. All of this makes your projects look and work out better. And it’s surprising how many painters get asked by owners if they can recommend a good designer.
These guys are often underestimated in the rush to get the project built once all the design is “done.” But use their expertise – it will make your projects turn out better. So pay attention if they’re telling you’re doing something marginal. If the cabinetmaker raises a framing or sheetroc flag about building an entertainment center flush with the surrounding walls and ceiling, listen!
Some trades lend themselves well to design input – HVAC, solar and radiant heating come to mind. So use their advice – again, they will probably return the favor in the future by recommending you to others if you take their advice and work with them.
And yes, the builder can be a consultant, too – sometimes as important as any of the others. Keep that collaboration with your contractor or installer a close one. If he’s any good, he’ll keep problems at bay, and help you through client difficulties. He’ll send you more work too, if you work with him on clear and frequent communication. You can cover for each other and produce a great job for your client – and more work will come!