The nine keys to managing client expectations

- February 18, 2010 2 MIN READ

Mismanaged client expectations can be unpleasant, costly and damaging to your reputation. So what is the best way of managing client expectations to stop them biting you on the backside?

1. Outline what you WILL cover And do it in plain English. Don’t be afraid to use bullet points. They’re easy to read, easy to scan and easy to tick off.

2. Outline what you WON’T cover

Get rid of those frustrating assumptions; this will really help clarify exactly what you WILL include. Again, bullet points work well.

3. DON’T promise what you can’t deliver

It can be awfully tempting to take on a project you’ve never done before. But be honest with yourself. If you can’t guarantee you’ll deliver what you promise, don’t do it. Then take initiative and DO recommend someone who can help. Your client will be blown away by your honesty and willingness to help. If you don’t stretch yourself, you won’t grow. Just don’t do it at the client’s expense.

4. Give examples of what you DO deliver

Don’t leave anything open to interpretation, particularly your product. Show your client an example of the high quality business cards you print. Or the observations and recommendations to expect in a website review – along with the word count. If you can’t show another client’s example because of confidentiality, a case study is a good alternative.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business relationships section.

5. Use the client’s preferred communication method

I remember how I felt when I was asked how I, as the client, wanted to communicate. I felt important, valued and validated. So ask for your client’s preferences. Show that you care. But of course, only offer options you’re comfortable with yourself! Offering a method that you’re hopeless at will only unravel your hard work.

6. Follow up in writing

Tedious? Yep. Essential? Absolutely. Following up with a concise email on what you’ve just discussed on the phone or at a meeting doesn’t just document the conversation, it also gives you a chance to reiterate and show your understanding. Bullets, again, are just fine.

7. DON’T hide the unpleasant stuff

Quite simply, hiding the details with big fancy words on how you handle late fees, runaway delivery dates and scope creep is the perfect way to mismanage expectations. Be upfront. Be succinct. And please, use plain English.

8. Stick to your scope

Exceed expectations. But don’t oblige to the expectation you’ll do extra tasks for free. This is hard. But don’t set a dangerous precedent. If you don’t show you value your time and expertise, I’ve got bad news. No one else will. If this comes up regularly in your business, make sure you’ve got some tools up your sleeve for dealing with scope creep, so that you can quickly, confidently and politely handle any issue that arises.

9. DON’T start until the terms have been agreed upon – and signed

To me, this is THE golden rule. I don’t care how tight the deadline is, under no circumstances should you start a project until both you and the client sign off on the scope. If there’s a misunderstanding (or worse) along the way, the scope document is your insurance policy.

So how do you go about managing client expectations? What say you?


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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"