Managing client expectations

Posted on 16th Feb 2014 07:03 pm by admin

Managing client expectations before, during, and after a project is completed, is a difficult task for just about any freelancer. Overcoming technical boundaries, unexpected requirements, and indecisiveness are just a few of the issues that can strain the client relationship. If you are successful, you may not even have time to dissect the problems that plague you, since you move quickly from one client to the next. The following tips should help to alleviate some of this stress, and help to strengthen your reputation as a rock-solid professional. Ketchup popsicles “He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.” This quote from one of my favorite movies, Tommy Boy, is an illustration of the power behind a hard sell. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates a tactic that leaves some clients dissatisfied. Without explicitly stating so, your experience is an indicator of your level of honesty and professionalism. If a solution is suggested that is not in line with the client’s business model, silently hanging on for the ride can have unforeseen consequences. Offer suggestions and alternative approaches during a sale, and demonstrate your willingness to provide expert advice where others are simply interested in the pitch. Do not become distracted by the lure of getting a gig through the door, and it will benefit you when you finally land the project. Time, money, and scope Although most deadlines are divulged at the onset of a new project, some clients expect freelancers to bend mercilessly to their will, regardless of shifts in the timeline. If you have never studied project management, then become familiar with effectively communicating the concepts behind time, money, and scope. Essentially, these three should work in perfect harmony, and your client should be made aware when one is askew. For instance, a client can increase scope, but it will mean increasing cost, or a client can decrease cost, but it will mean decreasing scope. The better you are at politely and professionally communicating this reality, the easier it will be to manage a distracted or unappreciative client. Deliverables When a client understands your process, then you have a better opportunity to keep the project moving along smoothly. Attach deliverable checkpoints to your timeline, and be sure that a client understands the dependencies involved. If you have several deliverables, then it can be beneficial to provide a sign-off at each checkpoint. This is not necessarily a contract, but it is a safety net to demonstrate to decision makers you have done due diligence in case of trouble with the workload. Provide samples of each deliverable, and insist on describing the significance of them all. Decision makers A shakeup in management is an ominous sign to any freelancer, since having access to key decision makers is crucial to managing client expectations. After spending a significant duration of time priming personnel, you are left with no one knowing exactly what value you provide to the organization. Always have on hand a list of individuals who are authorized to make decisions affecting your project, or in the least, sign your paychecks. Also, be sure these decision makers understand what methods of communication are acceptable, how often they should be in contact, and what time of day or night is acceptable for meetings. Be consistent with your contacts, and raise a red flag if you are shuffled around constantly. Contracts Get it in writing. No words ring more true than these for freelancers. Some clients have selective amnesia, and a part of managing expectations includes faxing over a copy of what you have in writing. If you have a long-standing relationship, then email may do just fine. However, in a court of law, a signature on the dotted line is as good as gold. Freelancers are often lazy in this regard, especially if it means an immediate payday. Clients will take advantage of this weakness, and if need be, exploit it when backed into a corner. Do not fall into this trap! Again I say, get it in writing. Responsibility Owning up to your mistakes and shortcomings might have consequences, but it can also insure that your client has a good understanding of your capabilities. Almost all freelancers at one point or another get in over their head — myself included. If this is occurring frequently, then you might want to assess your time management or occupational skills, but in a rare crunch do not resort to an unethical practice. Be honest, and explain the blunder while simultaneously repairing your reputation. If a client expects something of you, and you fail to deliver, you need to manage this disappointment with tact. Maintenance Next to an absent contract, absent discussions surrounding maintenance (or retainer) work can be deadly. Although you might not be obligated to support or sell what has already been delivered, some clients expect a certain level of postmortem consultation. If conversations grow lengthy, or you find yourself justifying decisions made on previous projects, then you will regret not building solid boundaries around retainer work. Even if you slip into the project a segment of time for maintenance, then they should come to expect that this activity is not free. You can work with the client to determine a retainer rate, or discounted billing practices, but it is a conversation you should have nonetheless.

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