Saying no and managing client expectations

April 26, 2011


If you are careful about client selection, know how to set clear expectations and trust your instincts about when to walk away from a deal, you’ll be smiling 100% of the time, so says FreshBooks user Erik von Stackelberg

When it comes to client selection, you should feel confident about turning down clients and projects that are not a fit for you. Even if you’re desperate for a sale but unsure about the client, you still want to say no. Here’s why:

  • You’ll be happier – You started out on your own because you do what you love, right? By selecting clients that fit with your priorities and respect your vision, you can continue doing the work that you find most fulfilling.
  • You’ll like your boss – Some freelancers were drawn to working for themselves because they did not want to have a boss. Unfortunately, clients can often become just like a boss. When you ‘interview’ potential clients to work with, you’ll want to decide upfront if they are going to respect your boundaries and the expectations you have for them to offer constructive feedback.
  • You’ll generate more sales – When you have great client relationships, you produce better quality work. As a result you have a better chance of having your clients give you the thumbs up to their contacts and benefit from them championing you to their networks.

Even if you’re working with the best clients you can find, it’s still on you to maintain the relationship. This is where setting and managing expectations are almost more important as it’s the best way to maintain your client’s happiness (and your own). Improve your approach by following the three golden rules:

  • Always under-promise and over-deliver – The flip-side is probably more important: do not over-promise and under-deliver. If you set the expectations too high, a common mistake when you are desperate for sales, the chances are you’ll fall flat. What will your clients think? Will they recommend you? Will they pay you? Even though you’re an uber capable designer/developer/rockstar, you know where your talent is today. Trust your instincts when to hold back. If you’ve impressed your client by meeting deadlines and fulfilling objectives you’ll probably get to work with that client again.
  • Always keep your word – A simple, yet overlooked rule. If you say you’re going to call, then call. If you do not, your client will worry they can’t trust you. As much as possible, avoid giving your clients a reason to question your ability because of small things that went awry.
  • Always build a relationship – Don’t be afraid to get to know your client and have a little fun. People like to work with people they like. You’ll work a lot better, do better work and enjoy working with each other. You’ll get more straight forward feedback as the trust and relationship grows stronger.

“You’re next best client is your last best client”

Picking the right client and managing expectation means you’ll both be happy. And if that happens, you’ll easily be able to work with them again, securing you sales and knowing you’ll produce a great end result for them. And if you get a number of these types of clients, you may never have to find (or fire) another client again!


about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.