Lose control of the client.
And how does that happen?
Simple: by failing to manage expectations.
Simple, perhaps. Maybe even universally accepted. But also? Easier said than done.
Here’s why — and what to do about it.
Crazy Clients? Or Just Human Ones?
We Couch Warriors have such a love-hate relationship going with our clients.
We have Ideal ones (that exist solely in our head).
And we measure the Real ones (the ones who are actual flesh and blood, the ones who pay us and shit) up against that “ideal” all the time.
No, don’t even bother trying to deny it. We do it. We know we do it.
This client has a bad habit of sending email after email, instead of putting all her questions in a single email, the way you’ve asked her to repeatedly. (But Ideal Client wouldn’t do that.)
That client refuses to read your emails to him, resulting in dispute after dispute over changing scope. (No way IC would do that.)
And that other client? The one who freaks right the hell on out when you don’t immediately call her back? Somehow, she feels it’s appropriate and OK to not return your calls for days. DAYS. (IC? Wouldn’t dream of driving you batpoop crazy like that.)
The IC concept is just that — a concept. It’s not real. It’s just a way to help you narrow your focus and target your marketing efforts. It serves a very useful purpose, and you ignore it at your peril.
But I think somehow, deep down, a lot of us have internalized this concept as an expectation. Our expectation.
We expect our real clients to behave like our IC.
And then, when they don’t, we just sort of sit there in stunned silence, jaw dropped, feeling blindsided.
We might rant and rave to our mastermind groups, or loved ones, or the dog.
But we don’t talk to the client. (The real one.) And the cycle just repeats, until we just have to explode in anger, and we either sabotage the project (subconsciously, of course, ’cause we’re pros) or decide we have no choice but to cut the bastard loose.
More than a few iterations of this pattern, and we’re left with this sense that everybody is crazy!
Of course, they’re not. They’re just human, with human failings, and their own sets of expectations.
And that is the problem.
But it’s also the solution.
A Problem of Expectations
What’s going on with ‘crazy clients,’ 9 times out of 10, is a failure on your part to manage expectations.
It’s completely understandable. We’re so excited to get a new client, especially in the beginning when funds are tight and loved ones are looking at us funny come bill time, that we don’t want to do anything to ruin the warm fuzzy feeling. We just wanna take the money and bask in the good feeling.
But hold up there, sparky.
Your relationship with the client, and by extension the entire working experience (for both of you) is like a huge jigsaw puzzle. One way or the other, those pieces are gonna get filled in — either by preconceived notions and pre-existing expectations, or by design.
The more you craft by design, the less is left up to the vagaries of human nature and personality and experience and emotional states, etc.
In other words: If you don’t take the time to manage client expectations — and your own — at the beginning of the project, then the client will run with her own.
And that may — but probably will not — result in the completed picture you had in mind.
It’s on us, my fellow llama-lovers. We have to manage those expectations in the beginning, before the first piece is officially set down on the table.
You can (but don’t have to) make this a formal contract thing (but you totally should have a contract anyway). You can just cover this in a conversation or an email at the outset.
But however you do it, you should think about the following …
- How do you expect to be paid? And when?
- What deliverables should client expect from you and when?
- How long do you expect it to take? And what might change that timeframe?
- How often do you expect to communicate with client? On a regular basis? As the need arises? Email or phone or carrier pigeon or what, exactly?
- What do you expect the client to do? Or refrain from doing?
- Likewise, what can client expect from you? What should she not expect?
Also, think about past working experiences and where they went wrong. What tends to happen that you don’t like? Where did things go wrong? How could you have prevented that with clearer boundaries?
Just like with the metaphorical puzzle, the more pieces you can provide up front, the more complete the picture will be on the back end.
And when expectations are not met, don’t shy away from having that slightly awkward convo with the client. Don’t delay it. Don’t let it fester or build up. Putting that uncomfortable conversation on the back burner will only result in a boil-over, with a greatly decreasing chance of salvaging the relationship at all.
In this day and age, and with our “couch warrior” realities, we just cannot afford not to manage expectations from the get-go. We need the vast majority of our clients (better still, all of ’em) to sing our praises after the work’s completed.
Don’t let them slip away merely because it was uncomfortable. Slap those puzzle pieces down at the start of the job.
How do you manage expectations? Got a handy tip I haven’t mentioned? Share in the comments!
Note: This post is part of this month’s Word Carnival. Our theme this month is all about improving communications with clients. Check out all the Carnies participating this month right here.