In order to help set expectations before a project gets underway, there are a few key things to keep in mind during all correspondence with your clients.
Your best policy: honesty
While this may feel borderline insulting to include honesty as a good business policy, my reasoning is that you should be an open book with your clients. If you don’t know how to do something that they want, let them know… the right way. For example, you could reply with “that’s not something that I have experience with, but one of the other members of my team does, so we will get her help” or “I’ve never worked with ____ before, but I’ll research it to make sure we can incorporate it into your final project.”
Yes, they are hiring you for your expertise, but all experts had to learn what they know. So let your clients know when you need to do more research, bring in someone else for help or simply pass on a request because you aren’t the best fit.
Another way to approach responding to requests outside of your skillset is to offer up alternatives that showcase your position as an expert. A response like “I haven’t used ______, but did you know about _____? It has many of the same features, but also costs less in the long run, has a higher customer rating + I’ve used it with a handful of projects with no issues” will delight because it is honest + helpful. Double win!
Along with the lines of being honest, keep your clients in the loop. They will be so much happier if you do.
Yes, there is a fine line between constant communication + verbal diarrhea, which you should keep in mind. But if you have a project that lasts over the course of a few months, weekly/biweekly status updates will keep your clients feeling loved + taken care of.
Another way to make sure the communication is helping your client is to ask them right away what they prefer. I often ask if they want to know how things are going or if they’d rather get one email when the project/milestone is done. Some folks are battling an epic fight against email + want to avoid new messages as much as possible.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “under promise, over deliver”. While I think it’s a good one for business, the idea of under promising makes me a wee bit sad. So instead, I like to say cautiously promise or promise within your schedule plus a buffer.
Let’s say a client asks you how quickly you can finish a specific request + you know it will take you 5 hours to do. Instead of promising the final work by the end of the day tomorrow, let them know if will be ready for them within 2 business days. That window will give you time in case something goes wrong with that project, or something else unforeseen. The extra time also gives you a chance to check your work for errors, avoid an all-nighter + allows you the choice to submit the work prior to your agreed upon deadline. Which makes you look like a superhero 9 times out of 10.
Remember, each new client is a chance to refine + perfect your expectation setting system. If you had an issue last month, learn from that experience + see if you can improve upon it this time around.