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Jennifer Messina’s Top Tips On Building Trustworthy Client-Designer Relationships for the Best Possible Outcome

This U.S. design strategist reveals how she carves success by prioritizing relationships, gently pushing boundaries, and streamlining her business processes. 

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For many designers, their passion for interiors is often revealed from an early age when they start experimenting with their bedroom furnishings. However, for Jennifer Messina, her bedroom space at eight years old was more than a room that she enjoyed decorating, it was a sanctuary where she sought refuge. “I was an anxious kid, so I made myself feel better by reorganizing my bedroom and creating a defined, useful space,” she says. It is this compassionate understanding of the relationship with our homes that gives Messina her unique ability to create dream spaces planned around her client’s everyday rituals, events and downtime. “We shouldn’t try to fit life into what is around us, we should change what is around us to fit into our life — intentional design,” she says.

Here she shares how every project begins with forging good relationships and connections, and is then built upon through trust, bravery and time-saving digital tools.

Demonstrate a deep passion and practical knowledge 

Despite not having formal design qualifications, Messina’s interior expertise and build knowledge is second to none thanks to her extensive experience remodeling and flipping houses since 1998. “My ex-husband and I remodeled seven houses and built seven. Then, after we divorced, I continued on, but this time as a separate entity, as a design firm,” she says. 

Now in its seventh year, Messina’s firm Dreamlife Design brings to fruition everything she feels passionate about: helping clients live into their potential, fulfilling their purpose and creating their dream home. “Starting out on my own was not only my way of being able to support myself, it was also the one thing that made the most sense in my life. How to feel good in a space has always been so important to me.”

Prioritize relationships and communication

When it comes to building trust with her clients, Messina’s biggest piece of advice is to ensure you respond quickly to new enquiries by making appointments, asking meaningful questions (a whole other article!), creating prompt proposals and following up with contracts in a timely manner. “That’s how clients learn how you operate; swiftly, professionally and efficiently. They know you’re not going to just disappear,” she says.

A high percentage of Messina’s clients find her through referrals and her eye-catching Houzz profile, which showcases her top projects, displays many positive reviews, and allows potential leads to contact her easily. “Being able to follow-up with clients from the moment they make contact builds immediate trust and helps them feel safe,” she says. “This, in turn, helps mitigate issues when they come up during the project, as we’ve built up a strong bond and connection from the start,” she says. 

Another great tip from Messina is to provide prospective clients with a clear and honest timeline of availability, demonstrating transparency from the outset. “Getting to grips with  calendaring and what is realistic when it comes to the availability of contractors and vendors is vital,” she says. “Putting a start date in a client’s diary when a contractor can’t begin for another six months can be very frustrating, and make clients feel like they’ve been misled.”

Develop Positive Collaboration 

Messina’s raison d'etre is to deliver beautiful spaces that make her clients happy, however, she is the first to admit she likes to push her clients, just a little, to a place where they wouldn’t have reached on their own. “My passion is to help take a client’s ideas and vision and stretch them. If you’re just implementing their ideas, then they are not hiring a designer. I can push, but I’m not forceful,” she says. Fortunately, Messina has Houzz Pro 3D Floor Planner to back up her creative processes and give clients a detailed, scaled plan of the space. “They love it, and so do I,” she laughs. “Being able to do the mockups using the 3D Floor Planner is helpful for us to “walk through” the spaces (in Dollhouse Mode) and view details like the ceiling height, window placements, and the access points for furnishings. Plus, it’s extremely user friendly for a non-computer person like myself,” she says. 

Messina is also a huge fan of the platform’s innovative Mood Boards, enabling her to easily visualize her ideas and present them to her clients (along with sample materials), all from one quick and efficient place. “Prior to using Mood Boards, I would screenshot furniture or colors. I even used to cut out little sofas and samples, and play with them to get the scale correct,” she says. “However, using Mood Boards has saved our team so much time, prevented us from making mistakes when ordering items, and helped us see more opportunities in our designs. But most importantly, it’s helped cement our clients trust in our skills and design knowledge.”

Finding That Sweet Spot

Tackling supply chain issues and inflation continues to be a headache for many interior designers, but for Messina, having saved valuable time by implementing digital tools to streamline her business processes, she is able to spend more time on additional sourcing. “When items aren’t in stock, we just keep trying to find them until we find the one person that might have something, as well as identifying the honest companies. This is where good communication with our clients is important, setting their expectations and then managing them by looking for products everywhere you can,” she says.

So, what else is Messina doing with the extra time she has saved now she has great tech tools in place? “Having a shower,” she laughs. “No, seriously, the extra time we’ve saved  enables us to simply do a better job, pay attention to details, not feel as stressed, and nurture our relationships with our fabulous clients.”

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