Have you ever awakened on a Sunday morning, rolled over, and checked your phone, only to see an email from your current freelance client reading: “Why isn’t this done yet? I sent those changes over in the last email”?
I know I have.
Everyone’s experience differs, but managing client expectations is a must-have skill for every freelancer — and not just for preventing the above scene. Properly managing your client’s expectations can help build and save relationships, and save yourself — and your clients — a few headaches.
And in the end, it’s all about communication. So here we are, communicating 10 ways you can better manage your clients’ expectations.
1. Define appropriate channels of communication and stick to them
Whether you use Slack, Skype, or email, find the channel that works for you and your client, then stick to it.
Your client is not your significant other (usually), so they don’t need your personal phone number — unless you’ve shared it with the stipulation that it’s only for emergencies.
Establishing a channel of communication also simplifies things by ensuring that all your communications happen in one place. Tracking down that one piece of feedback you need to address ASAP is no fun when you’ve got to check Slack, Skype, and email.
Ideally, you’ll use a particular channel of communication with all your clients, so you can communicate that on your website, business cards … well, everywhere.
2. Set your hours of operation — and don’t work off-hours
Whether you work a “standard” 9 to 5 Monday through Friday or something more eclectic, set your hours and stick to them.
Communicate your working hours up-front and include them in your contract so you always have a shared document to point to. Makes it a lot easier to communicate a tough point when you can cite something you’ve both agreed to.
And remember that sticking to specific hours isn’t just for your clients. It’s for you too. As a freelancer, it’s very easy to get into habits like responding immediately, or dropping everything to tend to a client request late in the evening (even when it’s not an emergency). But you deserve to live a full and varied life. If you don’t make time for friends, family, and fun, freelancing will just eat you alive.
4. Gather all the requirements before you quote for a project
One of the easiest steps to miss in the freelance design process is requirements gathering. But you want to be sure to ask your client as many questions as possible before you provide them with a quote. The more you know, the more accurate of a quote you can provide your client. Check out We Make Websites’ excellent article on what questions to ask in the requirements-gathering process.
A great way to do this is to build out a new contact form, thinking about all the questions you ask your client mid-process, that you could just ask up-front.
Alternatively, ask your client what their budget is and let them know what you can do within that. Very few clients are willing to disclose this information, but when they do, you can itemize your services for your client to choose from.
5. Set deadlines, and share them
This is as simple as letting your client know when you’ll finish a given task. That keeps them at ease, and keeps you on track.
Also, try giving yourself deadlines to finish a project a day or two before it’s due, so you have time to review your work before they do. Obviously, you don’t share these with your client. They’re just for you.
It’s really easy to just power through, copy a few links, and share them with your client — but you need to resist this urge.
Take a few minutes to go through your client's requested changes and make sure everything is complete before sending the recap. Reviewing your work only takes a few minutes and can help you catch outstanding items before your clients do.
7. Give yourself some padding
Life happens, so be sure to overestimate your timelines a little. Padding gives you the ability to move projects around, especially if an emergency pops up.
A great way to do this is by setting personal deadlines, or taking a moment to look at your full schedule before you set a delivery date.
8. It’s okay to say, “Let me get back to you”
If you’re on a phone call, it’s okay to say, “Let me check my calendar and I’ll follow up on timing.” It’s much easier to deliver something early than to overcommit, stretch yourself thin, and possibly underdeliver — or fail to deliver at all.
Rather than force yourself into a time crunch, give yourself time to deliver your best work.
9. Make daily to-do lists and keep them up to date
A to-do list is an excellent memory aid. It’s much easier to remember to look at your to-do list than try than to recall everything that’s on your plate.
10. Ask questions and over communicate
It’s better to ask a client a question before you work on a task than doing the work, only to find out that you have to redo it. You may feel redundant or silly when you send your client an update as to where you are on a project, but 99% of the time, they’ll appreciate the heads-up. Clients like to know that you’re keeping them at the forefront of your mind.
How do you manage client expectations?
As with all other relationships in life, communication is key when it comes to managing your clients’ expectations, and keeping yourself on track. But time management also plays a huge role, and what you communicate to your client won’t always match your personal timelines (as noted in item 5).
Of course, the above isn’t the end-all, be-all of managing your relationships with clients. So we’d love to hear about your personal experiences, tips, and tricks in the comment section below!