Setting Client Expectations to Set Yourself Up for Success

| April 24, 2017 | By
Setting Client Expectations to Set Yourself Up for Success

Setting Client Expectations.jpg

This article on how to set clear expectations for your team members is one of our most popular Profitable Entrepreneur posts. In it, we discuss why it’s important to outline duties and set boundaries for your staff and give practical tips for setting expectations without micro-managing.

Now, we’re turning the tables and talking about setting expectations on the client side. We’ll discuss why they’re important, what makes for good ones and how to set them effectively.  

Why Expectations Matter

Setting formal expectations with a new client can feel like overkill. At the beginning of the relationship everything is typically sunshine and roses, and it’s hard to foresee the difficulties that can sometimes creep into your work.

But setting expectations isn’t just about fearing the worst or covering your own behind; it’s about putting the client relationship on a path to success by clearly and openly discussing what each party wants and is anticipating.

Whether you’re a wedding planner, a mechanic or any service provider in between, setting expectations gets everyone on the same page. It’s an important opportunity to make sure you understand your client’s most important goals, and to make sure they understand how and when you plan to achieve them (or to find out if their expectations are unrealistic before it’s too late!).

Last but certainly not least, expectations minimizes the likelihood of unhappy clients down the road. When you both agree to a set of responsibilities and intended outcomes up front, your client will be less likely to come back later and claim they weren’t aware of something or they misunderstood the scope of your work.

The Elements of Effective Expectations

Your set of expectations with your new client might be simple or complex, formal or relaxed. Whatever your style, though, they should contain four key elements:

  1. Responsibilities
  2. Timeline
  3. Deliverables
  4. Communication Channels


Responsibilities.jpegWho will be responsible for each portion of the work required to complete the project? If you’re in a profession that involves multiple businesses or contractors working together toward the completed project, all of this should be clearly outlined up front. Don’t forget to include the client’s responsibilities in the expectations, as well, like things they’ll need to sign off on before work can proceed further.

Your responsibilities may seem obvious to you, but remember, the client isn’t an expert in your field and may be completely naïve about what’s the norm.

In one worst-case-scenario, an acquaintance’s web design firm failed to establish who would be responsible for implementing a set of completed website designs for a client. The design firm assumed it was understood that they would only be responsible for the graphic design portion of the work, not coding the site. The client, on the other hand, assumed they’d walk away with a fully coded, ready-to-launch site.

As you might imagine, this small oversight at the beginning of the project resulted in huge added costs for both the client and the design firm, not to mention loads of bad feelings between them. Save yourself from a similar nightmare by outlining responsibilities up front.


Without a timeline, your project could stretch on for months or even years past what you expected! Of course, you need to get paid, so establishing a deadline for the completion of the work should be of utmost importance.

If your work is complex, provide a breakdown of milestones to be completed along the way. This will not only give the client peace of mind that things are moving forward, but help keep you and your team on track to finish within the agreed-upon time frame.


Deliverables.jpgIt’s a simple but poignant question: what does success look like?

Before you commence any work, have your client give you a detailed description of what a “job well done” looks like in their eyes. It might be a physical product, like a completed construction project, a successful event, or a set of results that demonstrate return on the client’s investment.

However you measure results, establishing deliverables at the beginning is an important step for you to understand the client’s goals. More importantly, this step is a chance to identify and manage any unrealistic expectations ahead of time, before they become a detriment to your success.

Our post on goal-setting will help you establish the types of specific, time-oriented goals that make success more achievable.

Communication Channels

Now that you’ve both got a clear understanding of who will be doing what, by when, how will you communicate about it? This is your chance to set some boundaries for how and when you talk about work with your clients.

Is email your preferred method of communication? Vocalizing this expectation will minimize phone calls and text messages that take you away from the work. Does your job put you out in the field, away from your computer most of the day? Let clients know to call you directly if they need a quick response.

Write It Down

Once you’ve got your expectations for responsibilities, timeline, deliverables and communication channels set, put them all down in writing and deliver them to the client for review and signature. If there’s anything that gives the client pause, talk it over and come to an understanding before moving forward.

Setting expectations should be a regular step in your onboarding process for every new client. It’s just one more ingredient to put you on the path to a profitable, successful business!

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