Do you cringe when you get a client email? Do your projects feel crazy, like a messy, nasty whirlwind of stress?
We’ve been there too.
And the truth is – even when you smoothen things out a lot, problems never completely go away. They’re a part of business, of life.
That doesn’t mean the stress will always be there. In fact, I can tell you from experience, when you consistently follow the steps below… stress shrinks, and happiness grows.
It’s just about having a rock-solid system you follow to eliminate problems when they arise, and ensure they never again come back to ruin your day.
Here’s the 5-step process we’ve taken literally every month since Reliable PSD was born. We’ve used it for every problem, mistake, and stress-inducing situation we’ve faced.
As a result, things keep getting better, more joyful, and more full of peace.
Step 1: Identify
Pick a stressful situation you have, right now.
What is the problem exactly?
Describe it as plainly and objectively as you can.
Pretend you’re a reporter summarizing the events that took place between you and your client.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to help demonstrate what I mean:
Example 1: The client got upset because after we sent completed files, they found a few small bugs, and weren’t sure if we’d fix them.
Example 2: The client was not pleased with the finished design we sent over that we’d invested weeks in creating, and they felt angry that we didn’t include them more often throughout our creative process.
Notice how we get right to the heart of what happened without taking sides, adding blame, or painting the picture with emotions.
If a robot saw what happened, what would it say?
That’s Step 1.
Step 2: Separate
Stressful client interactions often have multiple problems wrapped into one delicious mess.
Separate and identify each individual problem that made up the entire mess.
Let’s head back to Example 2 from above.
- The client wasn’t pleased with the finished design
- The client felt abandoned during the creative process
- The team spent weeks crafting a design that they weren’t sure the client would approve
The interesting thing is, when you separate problems and write them so objectively like that, often the solution comes to you. In fact, just from reading that list of problems, you might have conjured up potential solutions to each one.
When the problems are jumbled together, they add even more stress, because they feel bigger than you.
But when you pick them apart, and see how simple the components are that make them up, you suddenly find yourself with newfound hope.
Step 3: Create a M.V.S. (Minimum Viable Solution)
Some problems require catastrophic changes to how you do things. But more often than not, there’s a solution you can implement ASAP that will hold you over until then.
That’s where the MVS (minimum viable solutions) come into play.
For other problems (simpler ones), your MVS will actually be your end-solution too.
Example 1: When multiple clients started writing in, frantic that they’d found a few small bugs after we’d delivered a “completed” project, and unsure of whether or not we’d fix them – we knew we had to make a change.
We added a simple line to our email that includes the client’s files that says, paraphrased:
Since most projects we do typically only have a couple small changes at most – that MVS works for our end-solution too. We just needed to re-assure our clients that we had them covered, even after we delivered their files.
However – here’s where this MVS wouldn’t suffice: If every project had a tremendously long list of things we’d missed.
If that were the case – then this would only be a “band-aid” on a much larger problem. And while it might take the edge off our clients’ stress – it wouldn’t do much more.
Let’s talk more about that in Step 4.
Step 4: Peeling Back the Onion
So if that were the case, where a much deeper problem was occurring, I’d implement the above email as a MVS right away.
But clearly there would be a much deeper problem at hand, so that wouldn’t get us very far.
Here’s what I’d do in that case:
Just like we did in our above examples, I’d peel back the layers of the problem, identify each individual problem that makes up the larger one, and create a MVS for it too.
When you break a big hairy problem into small easy ones, your small MVS you create for each one typically suffice.
While a nice line in an email doesn’t solve the hypothetical quality issue from our example – little fixes like that email applied to every step of our process will result in better quality.
For example: We used to run into the problem quite often that people expected things that were outside of their project’s scope.
They didn’t do this maliciously though. What happened was that their design needed functionality that we couldn’t intuit just from looking at it, and the functionality wasn’t in their notes.
So clearly, not knowing it existed, we didn’t put it in the proposal.
The client didn’t realize it wasn’t in the proposal, and only noticed it was missing when reviewing the finished files.
We only addressed it with a MVS for quite a while until we had a chance to really dig in and solve this issue once and for all.
Our first iteration of solving this was to add a line to our email with our proposal that states, paraphrased:
(Our actual email says it a lot nicer than I’ve written here – but that’s the gist of it.)
Why doesn’t that solve the problem for good?
Because there was a deeper problem – how functionality that the clients wanted was missing from the proposal in the first place.
Were we missing the functionality? Should we have caught it in the beginning? Was the documentation with the design not clear enough? Was it not intuitive enough from their UI?
As you can see, this opens up questions that need looking into.
But also, as you can see, a simple MVS will already tighten up our workflow here:
Requesting detailed notes at the time of the proposal request.
While functionality might be obvious to one person just by looking at the design – it won’t be to another. Detailed notes eliminate the problem no matter what – whether it’s a flaw in the UI, or a flaw in our observation.
- Requesting detailed notes or a phone call when we get a proposal request (when there’s anything at all in question)
- Adding a disclaimer about the scope of the proposal when we send it
Step 5: “Vaya con Dios!”
Sometimes — scratch that, all the time — in business you have to just take a risk and do things.
You have to send that scary email…
You have to implement change…
Whenever a situation comes up that we’re nervous about, my partner Lou and I look at each other and say, “Vaya con Dios!” (“Go with God!”) and then pull the lever.
This is our way of saying, “We’ve done our best. It’s in life’s hands now.”
The final step of this process is to simply implement your change, and see how it goes.
- Most of the time, you’ll quickly eliminate 75-80% of the stress from the first MVS you implement
- Odd situations will arise as a result of your solutions that you could never predict
- The more you iterate and address those situations, the less stress you have
There’s one other strange thing we’ve discovered too:
Every once in a while, when we think we’ve got it al figured out and things are going so smoothly…
Life sends us a project that flips everything on its head, and we’re back to square one.
But the good news is this: Even when that happens, the above process works, and you come out on the other side happier, stronger, and more excited about your business, your clients, and life.