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Summary:

If you run a service-based business, you probably have some horror stories to tell about bad clients and projects that have gone wrong. There are some things you can do to better manage client expectations, which can help keep these problems to a minimum:

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If you run a service-based business, you probably have some horror stories to tell about bad clients and projects that have gone wrong. While both situations are bound to arise at some point throughout the life of your business, there are some things you can do to better manage client expectations and which can help keep these problems to a minimum.

1. Make sure your website is a true representation of you, your working style and your work.

When prospective clients visit your website, it’s important that they get a clear picture of what you can do for them. Anything less than that is a disservice to both prospective clients and you. Your website is there not only to market your business, but also to screen prospective clients to find those that are well-suited for you. The more information you put on your website and the more accurate and thorough it is, the more likely you are to find clients who will be very satisfied with your work. Why? They knew exactly what you could do before signing up with you.

2. Be upfront and direct.

If a prospective client does something that is not acceptable to you or requests something that you cannot provide, say so (and the sooner, the better). Be clear, open and honest about when and where you’re not willing to bend your policies and with the services you provide so that there’s no room for miscommunication or misunderstanding.

3. Clearly communicate what you can and cannot do.

With every new client, even if you feel like you’re repeating yourself, it’s important to clearly define what services you do and do not provide. Even making sure to outline what is and what is not included in your fee is important for maintaining solid relations between you and your clients, so take the time to communicate those details as early on as possible.

4. Set out the terms of your arrangement clearly.

Don’t just say what you can and cannot do or what’s included in your fee and what is not; put it all in black and white. Whether in an email, a contract (recommended), and/or on your website, it’s important to spell out in writing, not just verbally, exactly what you will and won’t do and what’s covered in the cost.

Also, if the client wants to do something that falls outside of the terms of your arrangement, be sure to communicate that fact quickly and directly so that you stay within the scope of your agreement. This is one place where you absolutely want to be a stickler for detail, because one slip could cost you considerably. If your client wants to modify your agreement and the request is something you’re willing to accommodate, say something like, “I’m happy to create a change order, but the revision will cause [x change] to the cost [and/or time frame].”

5. Explain how you work and what can be expected of you.

Create an “Ideal Service Provider Credo” and post it somewhere on your website so that clients and prospects know exactly what you’re promising to do and deliver. Include things like:

  • “I will communicate with you by email a minimum of once per week to keep you informed of where we are with your project,”
  • “I will notify you immediately if circumstances arise that will affect the cost or time required to complete your project,” and
  • “I will respond to all emails and voice mails within [x time frame].”

By outlining what clients can expect from you, not only will you better manage their expectations, but you’ll also provide a little added assurance that you take your role as their service provider very seriously and that customer service and clear communication is important to you.

How do you manage client expectations to keep projects running smoothly and clients happy and coming back to you?

Photo by Flickr user Jeff Denberg, licensed under CC 2.0

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  1. These points are all great reminders. It is just as important to say what you don’t do as its is to sell clients on what you are great at.

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    1. Thanks, Kyle. I agree, and if you don’t communicate that point clearly, a client could easily become frustrated by what he/she expected that you could do and even start wondering why he/she is paying you so much. It’s just very easy to have these kinds of misunderstandings happen, if the service provider doesn’t clarify certain points that clients might not even consider. Thanks for commenting!

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