You have a meeting with a prospective client. You prepare an amazing presentation. You do your research, ask about their favorite sports team, and their family. You knock their socks off with your expertise, and they agree to work with you on the spot. You’re on top of the world!
But then, your calls start going off the rails. They have other ideas they’d like to do, but they expect it at the same price you previously discussed. Ten hours of work becomes 30, and your team (which may consist of you and your MacBook) can’t handle the workload. What was once a simple project is now chaos. Your phone is ringing at all hours of the night, and no matter how much work you do, the client isn’t happy.
How did this happen?
Too many consultants and service providers end up living this reality on a regular basis. Their entrepreneurial spirit gets crushed under the weight of unrealistic expectations, as they begin to doubt their years of expertise and the viability of their business. This existential crisis is readily avoided, however, when we focus on the art of expectation setting.
The art of expectation setting
When you spend time at the beginning of the relationship setting expectations, you may feel you are hindering your customer, keeping them from getting all they expect from you. However, it is unclear expectations that make for ambiguous relationships, and ambiguous relationships are never healthy in any part of life, business included.
Here are a few things to remember when setting expectations with your client:
Make sure expectations are consistent from the beginning. Your website and social media should indicate your hours of operation, and when people can expect an answer to their calls.
Clearly offer products/services that you can consistently deliver with excellence. It is scary to exclude that service you can struggle your way through, as you may end up losing customers. However, choosing an actual expert in that service is in your customer’s best interest, and you cannot be successful without their interest in mind. This will also ensure that your valuable time is spent with customers you can turn into raving fans. Finally, your honesty with that customer you are unable to assist will be appreciated, and may lead to future business and referrals.
Agree upon the scope of your project or service, in writing and signed by both parties, before you begin. This will let your customer know exactly what to expect, and will give you a reference to guide future conversations around that project, leading to what both parties will agree is a completed project.
Make the scope of work your authority for the project. Avoid the temptation to fulfill on “one more thing” until you are sure you have the time, the bandwidth, and a viable connection to your project. Be willing to say no when needed, or to ask for compensation for your additional time.
The importance of boundaries
Here at Keap, we are passionate about small business success. As a coach and project manager for our new customers, I naturally want to do as much as possible for every customer that comes into my virtual (or actual) meeting room. It is a commonality among most of those in the coaching/consulting profession; we got into the business to help people, and we have big hearts for the people we have the privilege of helping.
However, in order to keep ourselves passionate (and sane), while providing consistently stellar service to our customers, we coaches and consultants must learn the importance of boundaries. When we set the proper expectations around our time, our personal life, and our resources, our customers can plan around us and get the most out of their time with us.
An effective method of enforcing a time boundary is the calendar link. An automated calendar allows a customer to choose a time that they know you are available, staying within your boundaries while scheduling at their convenience. This goes in conjunction with posted office hours, combining to ensure that your personal boundaries are enforced.
Another important boundary is around your time with other clients. I always make sure my customers know to expect a delayed response from me, as my time on the phone with clients is dedicated solely to that client. I also have time dedicated to administrative tasks, ensuring that at the end of the day, I get to hang out with my 6-month-old daughter without worrying about calls or emails.
Your personal/digital life
Protecting boundaries around your personal life can be more complicated, especially when many of your business contacts are also personal friends. It is important, as soon as possible, to create a Facebook page for your business. Your customers should not be contacting you through your personal Facebook page. Do the same for your Twitter, Snapchat, and any other social channel. LinkedIn is more difficult, as the profile is inherently business related. One common response I have to those who reach out via LinkedIn is as follows:
Please reach out to me on my work email, as I track all communication there. Messages here are deleted frequently. Thank you.
However, if you commonly do business through LinkedIn, treat your LinkedIn messenger like your business email, and create expectations accordingly.
This refers to every business tool at your disposal—your cell phone. Does your customer have the number? If they do, do they know what time they can call you? Do they know that an emergency at 10 p.m. will be treated as an emergency at 8 a.m. the next day? Unless you have genuinely dedicated your every waking moment to this business, there is no reason a client should expect an answer in the middle of the night.
But Rich, I hustle! I work until the job is done! These boundaries are for the 9-to-5 crowd! I’m an entrepreneur!
Au contraire, mon frère! This is just as much about efficiency as it is about free time. Let’s say you work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. And, let’s say, you answer calls in the middle of the night, if needed. If you have three customers, each with an overnight need consistently from you, when are you going to sleep? What kind of service are your customers going to get from you in zombie mode?
The great entrepreneurs of our day aren’t creatures of boundless energy but rather creatures of habit. Many famously wear the same shirt/pant combination every day, to have less to think about in the day. They create efficiency to maximize what they can do with their “up time.” If they are up 14 hours a day, they are going to fit 14 hours of work. They are going to make sure that their one-hour scheduled meeting goes one hour, so that the next meetings don’t get the short end of the stick. They are going to protect their development time, their mentorships, and their creativity outlets—with ferocity.
Whether you are working four hours a day or 14, the expectations you set and the boundaries you enforce will ensure that you (and your customer) get the most out of those hours. They will keep you, and your customer, sane. Most of all, they will keep your list of completed projects, your list of new projects, and your overall bottom line, sustainably growing.
Rich Benavides is a Kickstart Pro project manager at Keap. In his spare time, he plays music and leads youth programs for his church and hangs out with his wife Kristen, six-month-old daughter Ily, two dogs, and a cat.