Client Expectations: A Reality Check

I’ve got a friend who reminded me of this situation recently, now let me setup the story.

You’re a freelancer/agency/professional and you are good at your job. You’re busy, right? You’re really busy and you have clients and projects and schedules and proposals to write. If you’re good you should be busy, if the client wants to use you, you should be busy – that’s kind of the point.

Well, imagine this scenario and I’m sure many of you have been there, I know I have in the past. You spend weeks of back and forth with a client, getting their requirements right, getting every aspect of the project mapped out. The Project Specification is sorted, you’ve got enough to write a proposal and provide a quote. Great, well done! Everything is going swimmingly so far. Now fantastic news, you’ve got the green light, you’ve won the project. Right let’s schedule this in, you’re just about to open up your calendar but you’re interrupted by your phone, its your client and they’re in a blind panic.

I thought you would be able to start on this earlier, like today earlier.… um… hold that thought and read on.

How to avoid this happening at all, start the client relationship off the right way. I usually tell prospective clients that we’re booked out a month in advance by default. We keep a detailed Google calendar of all of our projects – it is my one point of truth, all of our work commitments and personal commitments go in there. We're organised. This means when I start discussions with a client they already know we're at least a month or more away from starting.

Keep the client updated as things progress

It was a month at the beginning but we're in demand, We’ve just landed another project which is going to take 8 weeks of our time, I’d be 10 weeks out of starting a new project. Tell the client that when you send through the proposal or earlier if required, they’ll wait if they want you to work on it.

If it happens, how to deal with that phone call (or email)

In an ideal world it hasn’t happened because you’ve taken steps to avoid a potent situation like this. If it does happen, take a moment to compose yourself and explain that you are a busy person. Explain that because you are good at what you do, you are in high demand and give a true update of where your schedule is at. If the client accepts those reasons for a “delayed” start date, great. If they don’t, then I’m sorry but you are going to have to turn this project down. You cannot take on more than you can manage and you cannot start this kind of a working relationship going into a project, it will only get worse. The client will hassle you on every project milestone and be constantly badgering you on progress updates.

Trust me, it will end badly.

In summary don’t be scared to be in demand and not immediately available to kick-off a project. You need to have a positive mindset in your business and a feeling of self worth. If you’re doing things right, you shouldn’t be sitting there twiddling your thumbs and if you have downtime or a lull – use this time to spin up a side project, level-up a skill or hustle for new work from existing clients.

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