5 tips for managing client expectations

This is a guest blog post that appeared on the RightSignature blog. RightSignature is an add-on service to FreshBooks that allows you to send invoices and estimates to clients for signature with just a few clicks.

It’s usually good news when a small business or freelancer lands a new customer. But the situation can quickly turn sour if you’re not careful about managing client expectations. Does the customer understand what they’re buying? Is there any chance that the client might think you’ll deliver one thing, when you planned to deliver something else? The risk exists if you don’t follow these five pieces of advice: use a contract, communicate, build a relationship, keep your word, and over deliver.

Use a Contract
By laying that groundwork at the beginning of the job, it’s much more likely that the customer will be happy with the finished product. In a contract you can lay out exactly the terms of the project – deadlines, who’s responsible for what, and of course the amount of money involved. It’s the first step in ensuring both you and your client understand what to expect. You can use FreshBooks to generate a detailed invoice, and then send it to the customer via RightSignature for legally binding electronic signature.

Use your words! Keep your client informed as to project progress and issues (including potential solutions for the occasional problem). Many freelancers rely on email to connect with customers, using their email programs as veritable repositories of information, including details about when, exactly, the client agreed to push back the project’s deadline, for instance. In fact, email may be better than other forms of communication (texting and voice particularly) for permissions because it lets you go into detail, and people tend to save emails, so you can check back for verifications later.

Build a Relationship
But email certainly isn’t the only form of communication you should use. It can be somewhat cold and impersonal. Pick up the phone and speak to your customers every once in a while. That can help you build a relationship with your clients, and it helps remind them that you’re not just a distant service provider. You’re a person. That can help you smooth over mistakes (when they happen). After all, it isn’t so easy to write off a work relationship when there’s a personal connection as well.

Keep Your Word
Did you commit to participating in your customer’s conference calls? If so, do so. Did you agree to a deadline? If so, meet it. It’s particularly important that you should keep your word on small details, because if you can’t meet the little expectations, your client may conclude you’re incapable of meeting the larger needs involved in the job.

Over Deliver
Aim to go above and beyond the contract. Throw in extras – services, recommendations, support, follow-up – whatever will make your client take notice. If you do manage to over-achieve once in a while, your client could come to see you as someone she can count on as a valuable business partner, not just a vendor. That puts you in a different class of service provider, and it could translate into more business down the road.

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  • http://www.awmroofing.com/ AWM Construction

    I guess when you guys say “over deliver” what you are really saying is overestimate the amount of time that it will take to complete the job. That way when you finish at a normal time it will seem faster to them. :)

  • http://www.walkerseo.com Martin

    You know, if you stick to all of these great guidelines, that’s all you can do. Some people will still cancel, or be disappointed, etc.

    I do SEO for clients and have got them on page 1 for all of their keywords and they are not happy because they are not getting enough leads (conversions).

    I had one client who hated the web design we did for him, I offered to re-do, re-design the entire site at no charge, but he couldn’t quit being mad at the old design, we ended up never doing anything for him.

  • http://www.freshwebservices.com/ecommerce/magento-ecommerce.html Leicester Magento

    While I agree with all these points, I’d say be careful about over delivering – or more correctly, delivering too much for free. I still have sole trader clients who call me up asking for IT support – just because I helped them setup Outlook to receive their email from their new website.

    Seriously, one guy calls me every time Outlook fails to connect – he assumes that our email server has fallen over. Each time I ask him if he can connect to the bbc website – usually he can’t but still seems to think that its my fault that the internet is ‘broken’!

    As for developing a relationship, I’ve had successful projects where I’ve never met (or even spoken) to the client, but these tend to be one-off projects. My repeat clients tend to be those that I’ve developed a personal relationship with. Yes, there can be a maintenance overhead with such clients, but often I’m the first person they turn to when they want a new website or new functionality.


  • http://www.smartwrite.co.nz Angela Sands

    @SEO LA, you are so right. It’s really important to be clear on the Scope of works and not step outside of that. We use a PCR (Project Change Request) which is a formal way of notifying the client that they are stepping outside of the original Scope and if they want to proceed further, it’s going to cost more time and money. If they sign off on that (by using Rightsignature – yes, love the product!), then it forms an ongoing formal agreement for the same project. It stands to reason that some projects ‘stretch’ beyond what was originally thought, and having a proactive way of being able to capture these changes is an important way for not only large business, but for small business operators to not end up feeling like they are ‘working for nothing’ by the end of the project.

  • http://desperatelyseekingwp.com Cathy Tibbles

    You’re right on with managing clients’ expectations. It is something that gets me into trouble often.

    Now I’m trying to live by under-promise & over-deliver.