This is a guest post by Ben – an ex-investment banker and venture capitalist. Most recently he ran the new investment team for MMC Ventures in London. He now combines freelancing for start ups and early stage companies with running Acuity Training which is focused on offering high quality management and IT training.
Managing expectations is the key to working with a client successfully. When the client knows exactly what they can and can’t expect from you, and has put it in writing everything becomes far clearer for both sides. It also makes it much easier to assert yourself should there be a disagreement later on.
1. Vet your clients.
Sometimes, it is almost impossible to find ways to manage client expectations. Some clients will have ideas for a project that is completely outside of their budget. Even if you manage to convince them to go for something more appropriate to their budget (smaller / less complicated!) it is likely that they will try to change the broaden the scope of the project at a later date towards what they originally wanted.
Sometimes this is a matter of ignorance, where they just don’t understand how big a job they are asking for. Other times, clients will use every tactic to try and get more than their money’s worth. In either case, it is rarely worth the time and hassle and you are better off just moving on to the next job.
Related: Freelancing with Assertiveness
2. Set realistic deadlines.
Sticking to your deadlines is an important part of delivering any work to a client, and failure to do so could see them withholding some of your fee, or refusing to pay you altogether.
Set deadlines that are comfortable, not ones that you can only achieve if everything goes to plan. Things often take longer than you anticipate, or unexpected things like sickness can get in the way. Also, don’t forget to factor in any other projects that you might have running prior to, or alongside it, as you don’t want to be running late on multiple projects because of a setback on one. Be assertive during the planning stages, and don’t be pushed into a deadline you are not comfortable with.
Should you look like you are going to miss your deadline, it is worth considering whether bringing in help would remedy the situation, before speaking to your client. This will come at a cost, but sometimes it is better to take a financial hit than a reputational one. If this isn’t an option, make sure you notify your client as soon as possible.
3. Set a specific scope.
It is not unusual for a client to change their mind, and request something that is outside of their original scope. When this situation arises, it is important to assert yourself, however much you want to keep the client happy, as it sets a dangerous precedent.
Make sure that the client is aware that it is outside of the original scope, and tell them that there will need to be an additional charge for it. You may choose to ignore the odd small request but as a general rule making charges for even the most minor of changes will prevent the client viewing you as a pushover and making increasingly demanding requests.
The more specific your original scope is, the easier it will be to argue your case that the client is asking for something outside of it.
4. Make your payment terms clear.
It is not possible in all lines of work, but if you can, write into your contract that the client will only receive the final product once you have received payment. This might mean that you only give them a paper copy of a report, a low resolution version of an image, or a website that is protected by a password. This way they can see that your work is complete before having to make payment but do not have full access to the finished article.
If this is not possible, send your invoice at the same time as you deliver the project, so that they can make the payment while it is still fresh in their mind. When sending an invoice, make it clear how and when it needs to be paid, so that this cannot be used as an excuse for late payment.
If the project is being delivered and paid for in stages, make it clear that work will not commence on the next stage until you have received any payments due, and that delays will push back the overall deadline.
5. Put everything in writing.
Once you have decided on the scope, deadline and price of the job, put it all into a written contract. Go into as much detail as possible about what the client can expect from you, along with any requirements you have of them.
It is useful to split large projects into stages. If these stages need approval from the client before work can begin on the next, make sure that they are aware that any delay in this will have a knock-on effect on your deadline for the next stage, and final delivery.
6. Remember to communicate.
Once you have agreed terms in writing and your work has begun, don’t stop speaking to your client. Keep them up to date with progress, so they know how things are going, and where practical, share this progress with them. If something is not as they expect, it gives you both the chance to discuss it and decide on an appropriate course of action before you go too far down the wrong route.