Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Managing Client Expectations

This past month I've been thinking a lot about managing client expectations. I wish that every single person I photographed 100% loved their images, but sometimes it just isn't in the cards. I'm always trying to figure out what went wrong and what part I had to play in it. Was their expectations of me/the photos unrealistic? Did they ask me to capture them a certain way and I failed? Did we have different understandings of the inspiration for the shoot? Managing client expectations is something that all creative professionals have to deal with, so I asked members of our Success Squad about how they manage client expectations. This is what they said:

Know your own boundaries, and clearly communicate those boundaries. Don't be afraid to talk about money. Funny thing I've learned about clients in a creative field - not everyone will like your work. You learn that not everyone is your demographic, and that's ok. You also learn that, as hard as it is, you can't take that personally. But it's hard. Definitely something I know I still struggle with. You just have to do your best to believe in your own work. :)

Be very clear about what you offer or how you work. If I get clients asking for things I'm unsure of I tell them and try to find another resource for them. I also think really explaining what to expect through the whole process, especially in a service based business. How many meetings, what they need to bring to the table, what they'll get in the end, etc. But even product based sales can benefit from knowing exactly how big the item is, receiving samples of materials, seeing photos of the item "in use" and knowing how long the production and shipping process take. 

Process is a biggie for me – specifically, not allowing clients to rush my process.  I often find in my clients’ excitement about the project (and in my enthusiasm and eagerness to please), that I’m willing to “bend the rules” or stay late, work on weekends, etc. to get them what they want faster.  But I am learning that I have to set up those boundaries early – teach them how to wait, if you will – or they will always expect that level of work.  And when you’re rushed or you go off-plan, that’s when mistakes happen!  It’s like being a good parent, I imagine – you need to be okay with making them unhappy now as a trade-off for long-term gains.

I like pleasing the client and making them totally happy, but sometimes I end up working overtime in order to do so. And, I find that I can't charge for all the extra time. My new plan for 2012 is to be more specific as to the phases of a project and what a client can expect. These phases are listed on my written proposal I send each client. I just did this on a new project I kicked off on Friday. The client seemed so appreciative of the detailed descriptions on the proposals. And, it put her at ease with the whole process. But, it really depends upon the client....some like a lot of details and some don't care.

Set your boundaries and be clear about your business and services you offer.

I'll add time frame with the client expectations.  Drawing that out at the beginning so they don't expect results too quickly.  Not rushing MY process is key.  Also, you gotta learn how to talk about money!  Making sure they budget design time into their product budgets.  People forget we gotta get paid too! ; )  Our skills are valuable and corners can't get cut if they want a nice end result.

Super helpful huh! So, what do you do when a client is unhappy with your work? Offer a refund? Discount on products? Photograph them again? I'm curious!

After reading their ideas and obsessing about this the past week I guess my suggestions would be:

  1. Create a client intake form. Ask the questions that you might forget if meeting them face to face. Sometimes I exchange 1-2 emails before meeting with a client and I have about 10 minutes to build rapport before we start shooting. I can forget to talk about quite a lot! 
  2. Get super specific about how you work and what your client can expect from you on your website. I keep changing mine and it has been very helpful to point clients back to it later on.
  3. Be willing to give a refund. Seriously! 
  4. Express your boundaries the best that you can in the beginning and when you start to feel them being pushed - push back. You don't want to become reactive and send a ranty email at 11pm at night because you're so upset at them you can't sleep.
  5. Be honest with yourself about not everyone liking your work. There have been times when I've needed to refer a client to someone else I think they'd be better suited to work with.



  1. Nice! I think we can all benefit from each other's advice here. So much great knowledge and experience. And, every day we'll just learn more. That's the cool part. Thanks for curating this info, Sarah.

  2. Great advice. I need to be a little more consistent with my guidelines. Thanks for putting it all together Sarah!

  3. BOUNDARIES BOUNDARIES BOUNDARIES. We often fight against what we most need. Boundaries make us feel safe, secure and allow us to trust each other. When a boundary is broken we often feel as though we are doing the client a favor. It is exactly the opposite. Instead, we are proving to them that we are unpredictable, unsafe and untrustworthy. Boundaries are actually a courtesy we extend to each other.