If you’re a business-owning mom, and you want a little time for yourself and your family, you must learn how to manage client expectations. I’m going to show you how to do just that.
Remember the last time a client texted you at 2:00am and wanted an update on their project?
I don’t. For two reasons. First, I set client expectations upfront, so they know I’m not going to answer a 2:00am text. (I don’t do anything work-related by text.) And second, I set my phone to be silent after 9:00pm, except for calls and texts from my favorite contacts list.
When I work with a new prospective client, I qualify them to work with me, and I do my best to let them know how we’re going to work together if they hire me. And I tell everyone that if you run the type of business that needs 24 hour emergency support, I’m not for you.
Managing client expectations saves time
The clearer you can be about the entire process of working with you, the less time your project will take. Both you and the customer will save hours. You owe it to your customers and clients to take this seriously, even though it may not seem so important at first.
Your clients have likely never hired someone to do the work you’ll be doing. Or if they have, it’s not a daily occurrence. Some are worried about the money they’re spending and whether their investment will be worth it.
Everyone gets a little anxious about what’s coming next when it isn’t clear. Even when a client expects success, they wonder what’s happening and have questions about the path to get there.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where the ordering process isn’t clear? Running through your head is a commentary. Do I sit down? Do I order at the counter? Which counter window? I don’t see any people so I don’t know where to sit.
To find the answer, you either have to wait until someone tells you what to do, or you have to get someone’s attention, pull them away from their work, and ask them. That either leaves you with a weird feeling about the place, or takes extra time away from the worker.
If that happens every day to new customers, that restaurant is wasting a lot of time that could be saved by a small sign and other directional cues. They’re also leaving a set of customers with an iffy feeling about the place, who may not come back.
So to make your life easier, save you time, and make your customers feel at ease, set expectations wherever in your process that you can. Customers and clients like to know what’s coming next and what they need to do. You will have to field fewer questions and deal with fewer mistakes.
If you’re a service provider of some kind, you’ll be aware of the nightmare of scope creep (the project getting bigger and bigger and never ending). If you haven’t set expectations and boundaries (and enforced them!) then clients will ask for more and more. And that’s your fault, not theirs. If you haven’t been clear about your process and your policies, they can’t know that they’re asking for more than you want to give.
If you’ve ever had to talk to a client about scope creep or ask for payment for something the client thought was included, you know it’s uncomfortable for you. But think about the client. Not only are they disappointed or mad that their request isn’t included, but they are embarrassed at some level for being corrected. It’s a losing situation for everyone.
Where to set client expectations
One of the most productive things you can do is to set expectations in many places so that throughout their journey, customers can learn about you and the way you work. By the time you’re explaining the actual steps of your service or product, the client shouldn’t have any surprises.
Back to that restaurant example. If you walk into a space with bright lights and bold yellow and red colors, plastic chairs and formica tables, and see napkin dispensers and sugar packets on the tables, you form an idea of what sort of food is served and at what prices.
Then, if you were handed a menu in a leather folder, you might be surprised. And if you saw steaks and fancy seafood at market prices, you would be wondering what was going on. Not only would you be confused, you wouldn’t believe that food was worth the high prices you saw on the menu.
On the other hand, if, when you walked in, you saw dimmed lights, leather banquettes, table cloths, and fancy table settings, you might think that the prices on the menu were quite reasonable. That restaurant set proper expectations from the moment a customer walked in.
For online businesses, your website is an obvious place to set expectations. Not only in the color and design, but in the content you produce and display. Your blog posts can explicitly talk about your process, and they can convey what working with you would be like. I’ve never met Ash Ambirge or Danielle LaPorte. But I know 100% that working with one would be a very different experience from working with the other.
On your contact page, indicate the different ways you want to be contacted. If you have business hours or special instructions, list them here.
On your about page, you can describe your process of working. Or, you could even have a separate page for process.
Your sales pages should set expectations about your products and services. Explain (at a high level) what’s included, and what may not be included at each price point.
Privacy policies, terms and conditions, and disclosure pages can all spell out how you do business and how you will treat clients and their data.
When someone subscribes to your email list, you need to send a welcome email to let them know what to expect. Especially if you’ve offered a lead magnet as a thanks for signing up.
And new clients and customers need a welcome packet from you with instructions, timelines, and guidance from you so they’re comfortable from day one.
What expectations to set
The expectations you’ll need to manage will vary, so what I’ve done here is list out a number of things that customers wonder and ask about. Plus, I’ve added boundaries that have helped me avoid things like midnight calls!
- About You/Your Company
- Short story/bio
- Introduce your team
- Your mission statement
- Photo or video of you
- How you want to communicate
- Contact information
- Whether different communications need to use different channels (for example, project inquiries v. support ticket requests)
- Hours you are available for communication
- When to expect return calls/emails
- Clear pricing
- Acceptable payment methods
- Payment due dates
- Clear update of what has been spent (if applicable, for example, if the client is paying hourly, a weekly report of hours worked, or better yet, an invoice)
- Refund policy
- Cancellation policy
- Project timeline
- Deliverables to expect
- What’s expected from clients and when
- Revision number
- Revision process
- Change procedures
- Terms and Conditions
- Resources, materials, supplies needed
- Frequently Asked Questions
Keys to setting client expectations
I’ve made a long list above to get you thinking, but there are probably a bazillion other items you could include in your company materials. The key isn’t necessarily checking all the boxes, though you should.
The real key is regular communication with your clients and customers and making sure they get a clear, consistent message. Listen to your customers and help them remain confident in you by keeping them up to date on everything.