With the global pandemic, video calling with clients has become the new business normal. For interior designers and design professionals, this is no different. Virtual communication empowers you to do business safely, given the current, reconfigured work environment. And, whilst it still has its limitations – and sometimes lacks personalisation in comparison to in-person client meetings – it can be used as a powerful business tool.
It’s possible that you are highly tech-savvy or perhaps a flawless public speaker, but you may still be unsure as to how to deliver a polished pitch via video conferencing. Fear not, at FCI London, we’ve been working with international clients and design professionals for over 35 years so we’ve successfully buttoned-down virtual design consultations, home office design service through video chat and virtual interior design services. Our design team are experts at taking care of your clients’ needs—from start to finish, finalising even the most complex details through video calls. So, we’ve asked your design peers about their experiences with video calls and compiled a few tips for you to master video calling and impress your clients in the process.
1. Keep an Open Mind
Like with anything new, getting over the initial discomfort is the first step to conquer. But, consider this for a moment: Instead of being completely disconnected with your clients or target market, you are still able to stay connected and keep your business moving forward, thanks to intuitive video calling functionality.
Video calling helps build stronger relationships as you’re more connected to your clients than ever before – there’s an ‘always on’ subtext that affords you a seamless way to stay in touch. Of course, along with video calls, there are various project and workflow management tools that enable you to collaborate with your clients in real-time too, affording you an integrated approach in effective client communication.
In addition, video calls enable you to maximise your output each day – effectively utilising your time to ensure that you get more done. This is possible because you are significantly reducing your travel costs as well as your carbon footprint.
2. Explore your Options
A number of video calling tools are available these days including Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime and Viber. Each of these has its own capabilities, pros and cons. We recommend researching them all and perhaps trying them out with friends or family to see which one works best for you. You might find that some video calling tools are probably better suited to personal, informal video chats and others better suited to a more professional video chat. That’s why we recommend you test-drive these video calling tools to ensure you enlist the best one for your work purposes.
Aside from choosing the best-suited video calling tools, you’ll also need to establish if you’ll be using your laptop, phone or tablet for the video call. Generally speaking, devices are devices as they usually have the same functionality, however, you might want to test how you appear on screen – as the last thing you want if you’re using your mobile phone, is to appear as though you’re trying to take a great selfie. Test your laptop at varying heights to get the best, most professional angle and ensure it is placed on a stable surface – let’s face it, nobody likes shaky videos.
3. Be Professional
While under normal circumstances you would have met your client for the first time over a cup of coffee or in your office, the way we work has changed. However, this doesn’t mean that all professionalism goes out of the window. For client video calls, dress the way you would for an in-person meeting, clear your office space and make sure you have a neat background view. As highlighted earlier, there are many video conferencing software available for free including Google Hangouts and even the trusty ‘ol Skype.
If, however, you are using Zoom, there are some nifty virtual video call backgrounds that you can use should you not be able to tidy up your home office in time for a client video call. This is especially true for those of us working from home with kids. So, if the home office isn’t exactly clutter-free, get set up with virtual backgrounds that will demonstrate to your clients that you’ve got everything under control and organised, even if you don’t. These virtual backgrounds are fairly easy to set-up and will certainly elevate your level of professionalism, not too mention could act as an excellent conversation starter for a new client.
Some important notes when using virtual backgrounds:
- While using backgrounds are an excellent way to project a professional image, just ensure you steer clear of a background that’s too distracting and takes the focus off of you. Flashing lights or your favourite Marvel or DC Comics superheroes may look funky, but they’re definitely not considered professional. We recommend using a home or office decor background and preferably one with good lighting, minimalist decor with some interesting elements such as books or plants. In addition, opt for backgrounds that are minimalistic and inspire a sense of calm – it’ll do a world of good in terms of positive engagement with your clients.
- If you choose not to use a virtual background, the next best thing would be to have a blank wall behind you or a good view of your home office. No one wants to see a half-eaten bag of crisps on your desk, your bedazzled bathrobe or overall just a messy room in the background, especially when they’re engaging you for professional advice on designing their dream space.
- For optimal lighting, try setting up your home office in a clutter-free space offering heaps of natural daylight. This being said, ensure that the light falls on your face instead of emitting from behind you so as to avoid blinding your clients and risk awkward head bobbing movements to see the party on the other side of the video call.
- Working from home can be a great time-saver if you configure your space for maximum productivity. Make things easier and get more things done with these 5 Hacks to Make you More Productive in your Home Office.
- Finally, anything that you wouldn’t do in an in-person meeting should also be avoided in a virtual one, this includes snacking, chewing gum, taking a break, answering another call or continually checking your mobile phone.
- And while you need to be completely professional in terms of your attire and in-video background, don’t expect the same from your client. More often than not, your client is going to be distracted. They may be calling from a busy kitchen with kids or pets running and shouting in the background. Remember, no matter what the distraction, always be empathetic towards their situation and zero in on the objective – to deliver a polished pitch, provide a detailed project update or to chat about your clients’ next project. Always, keep your eye on the prize.
4. Be Prepared
Once you’ve decided which video calling tool you’re going to use for your client meeting, you need to make sure that you have a reliable internet connection. At least 10 to 15 minutes before your meeting starts, do a test call to check how your background looks, and to make sure that your microphone, camera and the internet are in good working order. If any of these are not functioning as it should be, immediately send your client a message advising them of the issue you are currently experiencing – there’s nothing more annoying to a client whose short on time to be waiting on a video call and there’s nothing but a black screen staring back at them. Always inform them of any issues, even if you think you’ll get it sorted in time.
So let’s assume your technology is working optimally, next you’ll want to save all of the relevant documents, reports or mood boards, visuals on a folder on your desktop that you intend to share with your client. Not sure how to share your screen during a video call, we’ve got you covered: On Skype, this is how you can share your screen. On Zoom, this is how you can share your screen.
Pre-arranging the items you want to share will ensure that when the time comes to share these with your client during the meeting, you’re not scrambling to find them. To this end, also ensure that you’ve tidied your desktop – even if it’s in a temporary folder to further demonstrate your savvy organisation. Don’t hold back, treat your video call as an in-person meeting – if you have fabric samples or pictures of your previous projects or branded 3D drawings, show them to your client. You could even courier sample fabric swatches to your client in preparation for your meeting.
For first-time clients, individuals (B2C) or businesses (B2B), do your research and do it well. Oftentimes private, individual clients will pin their favourite styles and tastes to their social media profiles – take a look and see if you can gauge their particular preferences. It’ll go a long way to a potential client if they’re made to feel as if you already know what’s in their head.
For business clients, research their competitors’ interiors and exteriors and try to identify what design aspects they’re potentially looking to replicate. Not only will research bode well for you in the eyes of your potential clients, but you’ll also feel more self-assured going into a meeting. In addition, you’ll also be able to frame your questions in accordance with a potential scope of work, saving time for both yourself and your client.
Finally, just as you’d do in a face-to-face meeting, watch for body language cues and posture when you present items or when you mention styles – most of the time your client’s body language and the subtle nuances will indicate their likes or dislikes. Remember, to always maintain a friendly face – by this we do mean ensure that you look approachable but also avoid smiling like a court jester for the duration of the meeting.
5. Have an Agenda
Whether it’s an in-person or virtual meeting, you need to have an agenda. Agendas set the tone and give the meeting direction. This ensures that when the meeting is over, you and the client are clear about what the next steps are and who’s responsible for these action points. This is particularly useful to share post-meeting to ensure that you and your client are aligned in terms of next steps. Most video calling softwares have screen recording functionality – this enables you to record the meeting and review anything that you might have missed during the meeting. It also serves as proof for record-keeping purposes should a scope change occur.
Make your client feel comfortable by starting your video conference with a little small talk, as you would for in-person meetings. Once you get down to business, you need to have a clearly defined agenda for the call. When you have an agenda, you’re able to take things step-by-step while answering any questions or concerns that the client or you might have.
If there are any issues with the project, you should bring it up with the client so they understand that you’ve done your research and are familiar with the project’s challenges, if applicable. If you have prepared a presentation, now would be the time to present it to your client. Go through the presentation meticulously and pause to give your client sufficient time to absorb the information.
Leverage your communication skills to discuss everything from project timelines to budgets what’s possible and what isn’t while demonstrating to your client how well-organised and well-prepared you are. Budgets are always tricky, so be honest with your client about their expectations. Here are some tips to help your client stay within their budget from the outset.
6. Avoid Multitasking
It’s inevitable, you’re on a client-facing video call and a Facebook message pops up, you decide to send a few words to reply so you do so without the client noticing. Next, a WhatsApp from the family group pops up on screen and you quickly send a thumbs up emoji. If you’re thinking that your client hasn’t noticed your multitasking ways, chances are they probably have. A distracted person is pretty easy to spot. Clients want to feel as though they’re your only client, so when they spend time with you to discuss their project/s they want to feel as though you’re fully invested.
So avoid multitasking and mute or temporarily disable your push notifications to ensure that you’re fully engaged during the video call. Think about this for a minute, if you’re multitasking during a meeting, you won’t be listening to your client or at least not actively listening and this can impact your recap at the end of the meeting. So practice your listening skills and give your client sufficient time to respond. When your turn to speak arrives, make it count and offer insights to your client’s project scenario.
If you need to take notes during the meeting, jot them in a book instead of on your laptop as the clicking keyboard noise and shifty eyes can leave a very poor impression, even if you’re doing it for your client. Make use of the screen recording feature offered by most video calling tools – this will allow you to be engaged during the meeting and sufficiently gather all the information of the video call at a later stage.
7. Provide a Recap
End the meeting with a small summary of the discussion you had and follow this with an overview of what the next steps will be. This gives the client the satisfaction that you have understood everything and that you’re ready to manage their project. It also acts as a starting point to build trust between yourself and the client. Your finely honed video call meeting skills might even result in getting you more leads through referrals.
No matter what your reason for video calling is, it’s undoubtedly a very powerful tool that can help you impress your current and future clients. Simultaneously, it also allows you to make the best use of your time so you can manage more work in an efficient manner.
Find more ways to level up your professionalism with tips on How to Grow your Interior Design Business.