One of the most important contributing factors to a successful client engagement is how you manage expectations. When you’re just getting started in the consulting or freelancing world, it’s tempting to tell the client what they want to hear in order to win a job. I’ve learned it’s better not to over-promise and instead be as realistic as possible with respect to the client's expectations.
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Sometimes a potential client will ask if we can help with something that isn’t within our skillset. In these situations, I’ve always been very honest about what we’re comfortable with and if something is outside of our wheelhouse. That way I’m not getting us into a situation where we’re expected to deliver something we’ve never done before.
Sometimes we will even take on these additional requests as they’re good learning opportunities for us. If we do, I’ll make it very clear to the client that we’ve never done this before and that this is an experiment.
The same is true for managing expectations around the timing of a project. Everyone wants things done yesterday. I always ask our clients if they have an important deadline that we need to meet. And again, I don’t commit to a timeline that I know we can’t meet. Rather than biting off more than we can chew, I’ll share details of our current lead time for starting new projects and how long we expect a job to take and I’ll usually lean more on the conservative side of things. That way, if anything, the client is pleasantly surprised when we deliver the project ahead of schedule.
When you overpromise and underdeliver, it’s more likely the client will be unhappy with the work, even if you’ve done a good job. While playing down expectations can feel like you're not telling the client what they want, in almost all cases, I’ve found clients appreciate the transparency and are more likely to come back with repeat business if you’ve done a good job managing their expectations.