How to manage client expectations

Tips /

Here's a tips feature for all you freelancers and business owners out there and it's a topic that we all know only too well - clients and managing expectations before, during and after every project.

Because let's face it, there are those dream clients who appreciate your skills and expertise; value your time; provide a clear brief; are grateful for all the hard work you put in and are happy to pay the right price. But then, sadly, there are those clients who don't know what they want; undervalue your work; try to control everything; underestimate the time involved; interrupt at every opportunity and then sometimes refuse to pay.

After a discussion on our Facebook page about clients and the crazy things they say and do, I decided to put together this feature on how to manage client expectations to hopefully help you avoid any problems.

Spot the baddies

A good way to manage client expectations is to recognise and avoid those potential nightmare clients in the first place. Spot the warning signs. If they say anything like 'I want something like Google but as cheap as possible!' or 'It'll only take you a day won't it?' or 'I'm not sure what I want, can you decide!', then that's a pretty good indication that you should run away, hide in a cave for several years and don't come out until you're pretty sure the coast is clear.

Be honest and offer options

Work is time and money, so if someone for example comes to you and wants an all-singing, all-dancing e-commerce website for next-to-nothing just be honest with them and explain why they can't afford it. Talk through the work involved and suggest alternative yet cheaper solutions. Most people will appreciate your honesty. However, tread carefully on this one because those clients who want something they can't afford yet go with a more affordable option, could potentially demand that they get the same bigger website. People can be sneaky, so make sure you make it absolutely clear that any additional work will be an additional cost.

Pricing things up - fixed or hourly?

When considering the cost of a project, you have to consider whether a fixed price or hourly rate would be more suitable. Fixed priced jobs are for those projects which are relatively straightforward. However, if you come across a project that has too many unknowns and is too vague, it's wise to suggest an hourly rate.

Costing up? Play them at their own game

Everyone likes a bargain, which is why most new clients will try and haggle you down on price. So when costing up projects with a potential client, especially if they look like trouble, go that little bit higher. It means that when they inevitably ask for a cheaper quote, you won't lose out. But if they go for the higher price? Don't worry about it - consider it a bonus and something that will cover 'contingency' costs.

Consider charging for quoting

Quoting for projects can take up a lot of your time... time that could be better spent elsewhere. If someone is messing you around at this initial stage, consider charging for the time it takes to cost up a project. Don't think that's ethical? I say - don't undervalue yourself! If someone can't make up their mind at the very early planning stages and it's taking up lots of your precious time, then you should suggest that you charge for the time involved.

Get everything in writing

Before you go ahead on any project, put together a very thorough proposal, listing all the things the project will and won't involve. Make it absolutely clear what your client will be getting for their money. If you're building a website but doing nothing else, ensure you put in a clause somewhere that states 'All content to be supplied by the client, the project is for web development work only'. Or if you're a graphic designer (and boy! do you guys have it the worst sometimes) and you're designing a logo, state 'this cost includes X amount of logo concepts only, if the client does not like anything we suggest, it will be additional cost to create more concepts'.

Even if you feel you're including something too obvious, put it down in writing, email the proposal to the client and get them to email back saying that they're happy to go ahead. It means if you come across any problems in future, you can refer the client back to the proposal and the email they sent showing their consent to go ahead.

Draw up a contract

It's hugely advisable to use contracts with each and every project. Contracts should include an overview of deliverables, i.e. what you're actually going to provide as a service, as well as a time schedule, cancellation clauses and a breakdown of costs. Contracts don't have to be long-winded, they can be concise and still have the same effect. Not sure if your contract is up to scratch? Hire a solicitor to sort a general template contract for you. It might be expensive but it could just save further expense and hassle in future.

Stay in touch

Keep your clients happy by staying in regular contact with them. Don't just email all the time, pick up the phone! It's a much more effective way to communicate. Reassure them that they are the most important person you're working for and that their project is ticking along nicely. Show them progress reports and set up meetings where necessary. If you stay in contact, your client will be happy and will believe that you're doing a good job.

Know when to walk away

Let's face it - some people are just a nightmare to deal with. You don't have to work with anyone you don't want to, so if someone's being difficult or wasting your time going back-and-forth and you've not even started the project yet, just walk away.

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