Small Business

How to Manage Client Expectations as a New Freelancer

When you’re a freelancer, it’s crucial to set client expectations upfront to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. Not setting realistic boundaries and outcomes at the start can lead to critical misunderstandings. Over time, this can lead to burnout or even negatively impact your professional reputation.

To help you avoid this outcome, 10 members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) answered the following question:

“When you’re just starting out in the world of freelancing, what’s one rule you need to know to better manage client expectations early on, and why?”

Here’s what YEC community members had to say.

1. Say ‘No’ When Necessary

“Don’t take on more than you can realistically deliver and don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ Very often, beginner freelancers are afraid to decline any client requests. They think they will lose the whole gig if they won’t fulfill all the extra stuff the client is asking for. Don’t be a yes-man if something is outside of your skill set. Honesty doesn’t make you look unprofessional.” ~ Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

2. Value Your Time

“Never give away time for free — or if you do, don’t let them know. Once you give, they will always expect that and ask for it. Then, when you have clients who don’t ask for discounts, you end up getting frustrated with the ones who do. Save the relationships from the beginning by valuing your time with them and expecting them to do the same.” ~ Marjorie Adams, Fourlane

3. Document Expectations

“On your kickoff call, create a document in which you review three things: what success looks like to the client, what failure looks like to the client and what specific activities fall inside the scope of the current engagement. This creates clarity and transparency while giving you mutually agreed upon benchmarks in writing that you can refer back to throughout the engagement.” ~ Rob Hoffman, Contact Studios

4. Be Honest

“You might be tempted to over-exaggerate your skills in order to attract potential clients, but this never turns out well. If you’re not prepared for the task, as you initially led the client to assume, you’ll only get negative reviews and ratings — which will ultimately impact your ability to work with other clients.” ~ Simon Bacher, Ling App

5. Create a Standardized Process

“Create a process. Set boundaries and expectations, and stick to them. It is exciting to be freelance because of the freedom, but it can turn into a headache if you are managing clients differently and do not have a daily and monthly process of work. Find a process that works for you, including setting clear boundaries and expectations for clients. Then, you can experience even more freedom in freelancing.” ~ Matthew Capala, Alphametic

6. Establish Payout Milestones

“When you’re starting off as a freelancer, the best way to better manage client expectations is by clearly setting the milestones for the project and the respective payouts. Payouts are the major reason for conflict between both parties. It’s best to set certain rules as per mutual consent upfront to avoid potential disagreements down the road.” ~ Chris Klosowski, Easy Digital Downloads

7. Maintain Work-Life Balance

“There’s a difference between being hard at work and working hard all the time. New freelancers often take work-life balance for granted as they keep accepting projects with unrealistic deadlines. This eventually leads them to either miss submissions or acknowledge burnout — neither of which is a positive outcome.” ~ Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

8. Communicate Regularly

“New freelancers should never forget that they must communicate with their clients throughout the process. This tip is crucial for first-time, budding partnerships. Clients want to know that you’re delivering on your promises. Communication and progress reports can streamline the process and make building trust with new clients easier.” ~ John Turner, SeedProd LLC

9. Provide a Project Outline

“Lay it all out for clients right off the bat through an introductory presentation or a project outline. If you aren’t clear on what you will provide, by when and to what degree, clients will create unrealistic expectations of you. When you’re deliberate and forthcoming with expectations, clients will have no choice but to understand exactly what you’re doing for them.” ~ Jared Weitz, United Capital Source Inc.

10. Remember That Every Client Is Different

“Every client is different, so you must set clear expectations from the start. Don’t assume that new clients will be the same as the last. Before you start the project, you must be on the same page in terms of scope of work, timeline, process, communication, reporting and costs. Put everything on paper and make sure both parties have copies for clarity. However, be open to possible changes.” ~ Bryce Welker, Crush The GRE Test

Image: Envato Elements


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