Managing Client Expectations as a Female Small Business Owner

Champagne Marketing with Pickled Ginger Marketing

Are you too nice to run a successful business?

I used to work in a Litigation & Dispute Resolution of a brilliant law practice in Gerrards Cross.  I worked there for near-on 10 years. The Partners and I were good friends.  There were 4 Partners in the Department and each one was different, but one thing they all had in common were a) they were men, and b) they loved confrontation.

I won’t get started on the lack of females in law…that’s a WHOLE other article.  Anyway, back to the above paragraph, why am I telling you this?  Because 2 of the Partners really pushed me to strive for more, that’s why. I was a legal secretary, paralegal, legal executive, fee earner, shoulder to cry on; ear to abuse; and general dog’s body. Good times! David and Tim (as it was they who knew I was destined for a different take within law or change of career in entirety to do something I really loved), both said I was seriously capable of doing more in law. HOWEVER, one of them said I was “too nice”.  That wasn’t an insult of course, but in litigation it means, I’d struggle.

When you work in a company or corporate, and your job isn’t anything to do with credit control, or sales or setting boundaries (owing to the fact that there are other departments or colleagues who complement our strengths and weaknesses); we just do our jobs right? Assuming we’re not in sales or credit control, we don’t have to worry about that side of things; we just our roles to the best of our abilities.

Fast forward to…

Becoming a Business Owner & Setting Boundaries

Wow. Baptism of fire. My (above mentioned) problem of being “too nice” really has its problems! How does one toughen up without being aggressive? I often think “what would Roberto do?” if there’s a situation where I feel someone is ultimately abusing their boundaries (yep, taking the piss).  Roberto is my husband, by the way…..

How do you set boundaries? Terms and Conditions? Setting Client Expectations from the outset? As female small business owners, there often comes the “friend” angle. At what point does being “friendly” begin to step over a boundary.  Here’s a few examples, that aren’t awful but it shows you where the boundaries need to be drawn:

  • Calling, emailing, or messaging at any time and expecting a reply ASAP;
  • “Just a quickie” question that takes 2 hours of your time experience and time to research or investigate;
  • Not paying on time (let’s face it, cashflow when you’re a small business is VITAL);

Difficult clients have a huge cost to any business, but especially a small one. Not only are the clients more likely to dispute their invoices, pay late, or not pay at all, but they’re also a drain on workflow and resources. If a client is gripey or needy all the time (for example, I get a few clients who literally want to know every bit of SEO along the way, I now explain that maybe if they are interested in the subject I could recommend a course that might suit them.

Delivering a satisfying experience that exceeds the expectations of a client should always be the first priority of a small business. It’s essential for any business to thrive in today’s global, digital and competitive market.  I get this. I want this.

By meeting the expectations of your clients, you can earn their trust. They’ll see you as their partner in success, as long as it’s not at the cost of your mental health if they become too close.  Client expectation not only helps with customer/client retention (think the Pareto Rule*), but it also strengthens your brand’s reputation and helps attract new business or sales’ opportunities.

*The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Source: www.psychology.wikia.org

However, there’s no denying that managing client expectations and demands can be challenging, but there are things that should be kept in mind to be able to keep your clients happy and satisfied. I studied NLP for Business and did a few years of psychology (until it go too hard!), together with the studies in Client Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy; and have been putting these learnings into practice when it comes to teaching myself boundaries as a womxn running a small business.

To make things a little easier for you, I’ve come up with this simple guide.  I’d like to give you some practical and actionable tips for successfully managing client expectations.

Before I kick off with the list, I’d like quote Roo Davies, an award winning Life & Business Coach based in Thame, and a female business go to for situations just as this.  I asked Roo to give me her thoughts on managing client expectations:

“My mantra is Friendly but Firm.

Yes I want to be as flexible as possible to meet my client’s needs. Yes I want to be compassionate and empathic to what’s happening with them when they need to move the goalposts on a project. But I’ve learnt that delivering that high service can’t be at my detriment. So now at the start of a new working relationship I’m really, really clear about how I work – my hours, my charges, my response time. When those boundaries are challenged (which they always will be) I hold myself accountable to them. It’s not always easy but it’s a necessity for happy clients and happy me!”

Elaine’s Tips for Managing Client Expectations

Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to manage my clients’ expectations:

  • Set Expectations at the Beginning

It’s a good idea to avoid making promises to clients. This is because your project might face unforeseen events, which would push back the deadline for you to submit the project. That’s why it’s better to set expectations from the start. Also, depending on your line of business, guarantees and promises might be hard to measure, so it’s about achievable goals, analysis and testing.

Together, you can set achievable goals that align with the business goals of your client. This is the best way to ensure that you and your client are on the same page.

  • Good Communication is Crucial

Good communication is the key to success when it comes to building and managing business relationships.

You can start by creating a client persona. This will help you become familiar with the pains, preferences, habits, and demographic characteristics of your target audience. It’ll allow you to deliver a more personalised experience when communicating with your clients.  Small businesses are often instructed owing to the trust and personal interaction, it’s just this point where you must set your boundaries though.

  • Explain How Your Business Model Works

Building trust is one of the most crucial things to consider when it comes to managing client expectations. This is why you must be as transparent about the processes as possible.

You can consider introducing your client to the people who will be working on their project, for example. You should also communicate to them how your team (if agency) works.

What’s more, you can create a list of promises that can help you earn the trust of your client. For example, you can tell your client that your business never charges any hidden extras. You can also tell your client that your team always responds to client queries and requests within 24 hours, even a holding call. I know this has frustrated clients in the past, so it was up to me to manage my team.

This will enable your client to better understand your processes. It will give your clients a better idea to what extent your service can help them. This way, you can ensure that your client doesn’t have unrealistic expectations. Some clients want constant reassurance of updates, if you think that might be the case, it then connects back to initial conversations in the points up above.

  • Thorough Terms and Conditions

When all is said and done and whatever the dialogue, help and hard work you have spent on client work, if there is any form of disagreement or dispute, then the ts & cs unfortunately have to come out.  Never just copy and paste someone else’s terms, unless they are seriously accurate and in line with your own terms, as a court of law would see through them and pick holes.

Credit control or disputes aren’t fun for anybody, but if you have done the work set out in the terms, together with attaining the monthly goals (as an example) then just because the client doesn’t understand how your service works, or the back-end to your offering, or doesn’t like you etc, then I’m afraid that’s just a point of principle, and when I worked in litigation, I ALWAYS advised new clients never to sue on a point of principle. They would end up bankrupt, and that’s no joke.

It goes without saying that when you send out your proposal or quote, you need the full terms and conditions to go with them.  Terms of payment can be within.

These terms and conditions, by the way, are different to your website terms and conditions……!

  • Set Goals

It’s important to define clear goals that the project must achieve. It will serve as a basis for client expectations. However, don’t set unrealistic targets.

Here is a set of rules you can follow when creating goals:

    • You should create a detailed plan for the project. Be as specific as you can with your goals.
    • The results should be measurable.
    • The goal must be achievable. Setting unrealistic goals will only lead to unnecessary frustrations.
    • Your goal must have a deadline.
  • Consider Involving the Client in the Process

One of the best things you can do to manage your client’s expectations is to include them throughout the process. However, it doesn’t mean just giving updates on the process. You need to give your clients space to express their opinions and participate directly in the journey of achieving the goals. The involvement of the client in the process will help you ensure that he doesn’t have any unrealistic expectations from your business.  This point, I appreciate will be for bigger clients, whose reason for a bigger budget is to have our “in-house” vibe.

  • Help Your Clients Understand Their Place in The Market

Your client may think that they’ll start generating thousands of new leads and customers per month just because they’ve committed to content marketing/digital marketing etc (as an example).  So, you need to help your clients understand where they are in terms of marketing sophistication. This is one of the best ways to manage the expectations of your clients.  This reminds me, I need to design a flowchart.

  • Learn How to Prove Your Value

When beginning a client relationship, you could present data and stats that explain exactly how you have helped your previous client achieve their business goals. It will give your clients a clear idea of what they should expect from a particular campaign.

Many clients like pure confidentiality and don’t want others to know that they are your client, in which case a it’s not so easy to give full data and stats, but honest reviews for example, or case studies will help.

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Walk 

Love this quote from Philip Michael, from The New York Equity Group:

“They chose you for a reason and if that reason is forgotten, don’t be afraid to walk away”.

I don’t know about you, but a tricky client who takes up all your time and energy can impact negatively on your other clients and yourself.  There’s no shame in referring a client onwards, or calling it a day.

ADIOS!

Beginning to wrap up this blog, I’d like to bring in someone who I respect highly as a female in business, Gill Kirkham, an ex-corporate leader who now brings all that knowledge and wraps it into everyday life through her coaching and training as the Modern Day Alchemist.

I asked her the same question, how does she manage client expectations?

Gill replied,

Harmonious energy exchange is what’s required! Like a beautiful orchestra playing in the moonlight. I get to see them shift into a brighter light more successful version of them whilst they trust in me to help make this happen. The key for me is to be inquisitive at the beginning then deliver the framework of processes and structure in a way they will understand based on their experience and needs. This allows me to understand more about them too.

Top tip, be bold with your questions – it will pay dividends in relationship building. I send a very clear set of terms and conditions as part of the contract which creates a wonderful container of boundaries and requests for them, to be honest, active and courageous with their trust and action-taking. I promise consistency, accountability and transformation and they know this is based on their investment financially, emotionally and practically with a real openness to change.”

And to conclude

These are my tips on how you can set and manage client expectations. It’s not something I went into business thinking I’d be overly concerned about, but when you don’t have a business partner to bounce ideas or concerns around with it’s best to have procedures in place.

We can’t be everyone’s cup of tea but we are definitely many people’s Champagne.

And on that note, if you’d like to share your stories or tips with me regarding managing client expectations, I’d love to hear them.  Please email me or contact me HERE.