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Be wary of your reputation.

Let me tell you a story. It is a story that has nothing to do with graphic or web design, but it is relevant to running a business, and I'll tie that into running a design business if you stick around to the end.

We built our house in 2005. Or, more accurately, we had someone build our home in 2005.

If you've ever built your own home or know of someone who has, you know that it's a long and gruelling process. When you buy a pre-built house, you get what's there. Sure, you can renovate it. But until then, what you buy is what you get.

But when you build a home, you're starting with a blank slate. Think of it as opening a new document in Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, or starting with a fresh installation of WordPress. What you do with it is entirely up to you. Building a home is like that.

When you build a home, you get to choose how many rooms it has and the size of each room. You get to select floorings such as tile, wood, or carpet. You get to choose the light fixtures, the plumbing fixtures, the windows, the door, etc. You decide everything that goes into your house.

My wife and I did that when we started the process for ours. One of the aspects we had to choose was the shingles for the roof. It sounds simple, but there are thousands of varieties and colours of shingles to select from.

My wife and I took many drives around different neighbourhoods, looking at roofs then trying to match those we liked with samples our contractor supplied us. In the end, we chose a nice brown multi-hued asphalt shingle that gave our home character. We loved it.

A couple of years ago, we started to notice these little grain-like substances appearing on our back deck. At first, we thought it was dirt. But we soon realized that it was debris falling from our shingles. There wasn't a lot of it, so we shrugged it off as peculiar.

Then last summer, the debris pieces started getting bigger and fell more often. And when we looked at our roof, we noticed the shingles were starting to turn up at the corners. We weren't happy about this but didn't know what we could do about it. So we let it go as a nuisance.

Well, this spring, when the snow melted, we were shocked to see a layer of dark brown debris on our deck, and our shingles curved and cracked much more than last summer. So I finally decided to take action.

I started by calling the contractor who built our house. When I explained the situation, he immediately knew what I meant. He had dealt with several other people facing the same problem. It turns out the singles on our roof had a defect. A big enough one that there was a class-action lawsuit filed and won against the manufacturer.

Our shingles have a 25-year warranty. According to the settlement, we're entitled to compensation for the unused portion of that warranty. The only specification is we have to replace them with a newer shingle by the same manufacturer.

I'm upset that I hadn't looked into the issue when we first discovered it. I could have received a more considerable compensation. But I'm glad there's something we can do.

Not knowing how to proceed, I asked my contractor for advice. He retired several years ago, but he gave me a name of a contractor he recommended who is familiar with the process. He suggested I contact him for a quote on redoing my roof, which I need for the claim process.

He also recommended I talk to his old foreman, who oversaw most of the homes he built, including mine. I called the foreman for advice. It turns out he's also retired, although more recently. He told me he had handled many of these shingle claims on behalf of other clients. And although he no longer does that, he would help me however he could.

He told me the first step was to get a quote from a qualified professional roofer. And the person he recommended was the same one my contractor had given me. The foreman had worked with him several times and was currently engaging him to build his new house.

Having received the same name from two trusted sources, I called this new contractor and left a message for him to call me back.

While waiting to hear back from him, I looked him up online. I read the Google and other reviews had nothing but good things to say about him, which boosted my confidence. I was eager to get the process started.

But several days passed, and the new contractor didn't return my call. So I called and left another message, and then a few days later another.

Finally, a week later, he called and apologized. He said the pandemic had taken a toll on his business. He lost several employees leaving him to juggle more than he usually did. This is understandable. The news is full of companies suffering due to staff shortages these days.

I explained my situation and what I required, and he agreed to stop by the next day to look at my roof. But he never showed up. Two days later, I called him, and once again, he apologized, saying he would be here the next day.

To his credit, he showed up. He spent almost an hour on my roof measuring and taking photos of all the problem areas for me to submit with the claim. Once done, he said he would send me the images and have a quote ready by the end of the week.

My wife and I are also thinking about adding a screened-off area to our back deck next summer, so while he was there, I asked him for a quote on that as well. He said I would have both quotes by Friday. But the end of the week came, and I didn't hear from him.

I waited until Wednesday the following week before calling. Once again, he apologized for the delay and said, once again, I would have the quotes by Friday.

Do you see a pattern here?

Friday came and went. On Monday, I called him, asking where my quotes were. He told me he couldn't send them because he didn't have my email address, which I had already provided him. I gave it to him again, and the following day I received the photos and the quote for my roof. The second quote for the screened-in porch was nowhere to be seen.

With the roof quote and photos of the damaged areas in hand, I filled out all the information required to submit my claim, including the material list the contractor supplied me.

Upon submission, I learned it could take up to 120 days before I get a response. In the meantime, no work was to be performed on my roof, in case they needed to send someone to inspect it.

I called the contractor, and I told him we couldn't move forward for possibly up to 120 days. But I would still like to book him for the job when the time comes. He told me it was not a problem. He could pencil me onto his schedule for the fall. All I had to do was let him know when we could proceed.

I also reminded him that he owed me another quote, to which he replied I would see it soon.

Now you may be thinking. This guy doesn't seem too reliable. Why not get someone else? Well, during the process, I did get two other quotes from other roofers. One I found online, and the other I remembered seeing when a neighbour had his roof done. Both were more expensive, and their online reviews were not as good as the contractor I was already dealing with. My neighbour even told me he wouldn't hire the same guy again. Plus, given the time frame of a 120-day wait, neither of them would guarantee they could repair my roof before winter.

Now true to form, it took exactly 120 days before I heard back that my claim was approved and I could move forward with the roof repair. I immediately called the contractor and left him a message saying we were good to go. And then I waited. Three days later, I called and left another message and waited some more.

Now I'm starting to get worried. Winter is fast approaching Eastern Ontario, and no roofing will be done once the snow starts falling. And my roof has deteriorated significantly over the summer to the point where I don't think we could last the winter without possible water damage.

Finally, a few days later, I heard from the contractor. He told me not to worry, he still has me on his schedule, and my roof will get done before winter. The next step is to choose what new shingles we want. He said he would drop off samples that afternoon. He never showed up. That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I called him. He apologized and said he would drop them off on Thursday morning before heading to his current project. He never showed up.

Today is Friday. I still don't have the shingle samples. And I no idea if or when he'll do my roof, even though he says not to worry, it'll be done before winter.

At this point, there's nobody else I can call. I have no choice but to rely on this person that I've lost all faith in. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my roof gets repaired before snowfall.

So why did I share this with you? A story about my roof that has nothing to do with graphic or web design. It's because I wanted to share with you how NOT to run a business.

I had two people I trust recommend this guy. And his online reviews were great. So I had no reason to suspect the frustrations I would experience dealing with him.

But at this point, he could do the most fantastic job on my roof, and even if he offered me a discount because of the troubles, I would still never recommend him to anyone. His reputation is tarnished beyond repair.

That's the message I want you to take away from this story. It doesn't matter what sort of work you do for your clients. What matters is how you treat them. You may be a great designer, an amazing designer, in fact. But never forget that you're not the only designer around.

When a client calls or emails you, make sure you reply promptly. Even if it's only to say “thank you for the message.” so they know you received it. That simple acknowledgement can go a long way in building trust.

If a client asks you to do something or send them something, make sure you follow through. If you're afraid you might forget, set a reminder on your phone or add it to your calendar. You can even stick a Post-It note to your monitor.

You want to build lasting relationships with your clients so they come back to you over and over again in the future. You'll never be able to do that if your reputation is tarnished. Because once you lose their trust. It's almost impossible to gain it back.

You won't believe this. As I was wrapping this up, the contractor showed up at my door with the shingle samples. He didn't even apologize for being late this time. He did, however, assure me that he would do my roof in three weeks. It's on his schedule, and I shouldn't worry. But you know I'll worry anyway, at least until the work is complete.

As for the quote for the screened porch for the deck? I still haven't seen it. But at this point, I don't care anymore. Once he's finished my roof, I never plan on hiring this guy again.

I hope none of your clients ever feel that way about you.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

 

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