If your company provides any kind of service, then working with clients is a necessary part of business. As such, it’s incredible important to be intentional in the way that you do it, and set clear guidelines for what it will look like to work together. Here are 4 best practices for managing client expectations with a side hustle:
1. Set the Tone Early
Don’t wait till you are months into working with someone before telling them that you don’t want to get text messages from them at all hours of the night. Instead, make it clear how you will communicate with them, and when, and how quickly they can expect a response.
Do you only answer to emails? Do you want to communicate in a dedicated Slack channel? If they email you outside of business hours, will you respond right away? The next day? Talk about these details in one of your very first meetings.
If you’re running a side-hustle, your hours of communication might be all over the place, and that’s okay
If you’re running a side-hustle, your hours of communication might be all over the place, and that’s okay! As long as you tell your clients. Maybe you can only reply to emails after 10pm, because you have a 9-5 and then you have to get the kids in bed before you start working. You can make that work, as long as you are open about it.
I recently heard an episode of the Goal Digger podcast by Jenna Kutcher on this very topic, and one amazing recommendation she had was to set up text shortcuts on your phone, so that when someone reaches out on social media or by text and you’d rather they email you, you can type in your text shortcut and send a longer message that says something like, “Thanks for reaching out! Please email me instead!”
I’ve recently implemented an email strategy in which clients must email me website support requests. I will answer within 24 hours, letting them know that I have received the request, and I tell them how quickly I can have the task completed (if it’s simple) or how quickly I can provide them with more detailed estimate for the time and cost required to complete it. It’s early days, but I think having this expectation in place is going to be huge for my internal systems and for the client’s peace of mind, knowing that I’m on it and they have an idea of what’s coming next. That brings me to my next point:
2. Underpromise and Overdeliver
It’s important to be organized with your time so that you know exactly when you can complete a task. And then estimate that it will take you even more. A good rule of thumb for me is 1.5x the time I think it will take.
So if a website task will take me an hour, I assume that it will take me an hour and a half. Then I look at my calendar and see when I have an hour and a half to do it. I keep “misc” time open in my work schedule every week for just such tasks. I then tell the client that an estimate that is 2-3 days longer than I anticipate it taking.
Two outcomes are possible:
- I finish it in the time that I initially expected, and the client is thrilled that it’s done a few days early, or
- Something comes up and delays me, but I still have time to complete within the established deadline.
Either way, the client’s happy!
This article about client expectations by Jami Oetting on Hubspot’s blog points out the negative consequences on the flipside of this: if you don’t deliver on time, you’ll quickly lose the trust of your clients. Timing is everything!
3. Be Organized
Organization is key, and this means both internally and externally.
This mean having systems in place so that you can stay on top of everything, with task lists and deadlines and space for detailed instructions for yourself. Break big projects into smaller pieces, and set internal deadlines that only you know about. And hold yourself to them.
Have systems in place so that you can stay on top of everything
Even if you are just starting out and you only have one client, start now with being insanely organized. Start a good habit so that when you have ten clients you can still stay on top of everything.
This encompasses a lot, but one of the biggest places to be organized and communicate expectations is in your contract. It should have details about timeline, cost, responsibilities of both parties, and it’s also a good place to put in writing the expectations around communication mentioned above.
Another organization tip: if there is some way to visualize your work where the client can see it, it can be hugely helpful. This could be a flowchart of a project’s process, or a graph of analytics being tracked, or anything that would help to put your progress into visual terms.
You would much rather your client be annoyed with how much you email them than frustrated that they can never get ahold of you. Communicate early and often.
Having an issue that’s causing a delay? Tell them.
Confused about something your client said? Tell them.
If it far better to flood your client with communication than to make some kind of misstep and have to backtrack on your work—that’s worse for everyone involved. It’s also a really good idea to end very email with “next steps” for you and for the client, and to followup every phone call with an email with a recap of your discussion.
A note of encouragement
No one is perfect at managing client expectations. It may take months and years before you feel like your contract includes everything you need, or your communication is consistently happening the way you want, or you are able to estimate your time with accuracy. It takes time and experience to improve at this. What small step can you take today to make things better?