3 Strategies for Managing Client Expectations
When a client is planning an event, they don’t always see industry professionals as creatives; some just view vendors as order-fillers, which can leave them with some unrealistic expectations. The truth of the matter is that we’re the ones who have navigated the industry and have a strong understanding of what will work — and what will not. Perhaps they just want to hear you say ‘yes’ to their champagne dreams despite their shoestring budget or maybe they think you’ll be at their beck-and-call for the next year as if you didn’t have other clients.
Expectations are a tricky thing to manage because, oftentimes, it involves a bit of slight disappointment. It’s not about letting them down, but more about creating a realistic vision for them within the parameters of the situation. We understand how it goes, but it’s another thing entirely to get them to see the full picture. This is especially pertinent today, with COVID-19 impacting event plans through 2020 and possibly even into 2021.
Here are three ways to manage expectations right off the bat to ensure a healthy and happy working relationship with your clients.
Make it official.
Before diving into the work, your agreement must be ratified by a contract. Thus, this is the perfect place to outline your boundaries as a professional and set client expectations straight from the get-go. In terms of COVID-19, be sure to have clear statements about your postponement and cancellation policies. Your client will have to sign on the dotted line in order to move ahead in your partnership, so your contract is a great way to protect yourself from being taken advantage of and provide a document to revisit later in the process. You should also be including a termination clause that allows you to dissolve the working relationship if a client has broken a rule or crossed a boundary with you or your team.
Prepare to teach.
Many of our clients come to the table prepared to lay out exactly what they want, but they don’t typically understand what it requires to achieve that vision. We’ve all had that difficult client that can’t grasp the reality of their budget or ignores logistical obstacles and it can be easy to feel frustrated by that. After all, you’re the professional!
In that role, you aren’t just a performer but an educator — beyond your craft, you’ll need to guide your clients through the process gently but assertively. Explain the finer details like transportation costs, fire codes, virus safety measures, or catering requirements. If they don’t see why they can’t fit 300 people in their chosen venue, show them a virtual floorplan to help them visualize the challenge. Showing that your decision is based in knowledge will make it far easier for them to accept the ‘no’s along the way.
You can’t show up to the table to let someone down without a backup plan in place. If your client’s vision isn’t going to come out the way they want it, you need to be prepared to offer alternative solutions to help them achieve their dream. Can’t fit their guest list in the parameters of the indoor venue space (especially with social distancing guidelines)? Consider other venues if not yet booked, or discuss options for indoor/outdoor spaces to expand the usable space and accommodate more people. Unable to acquire a certain flower due to international restrictions? Explore similar blooms that can fit into the design scheme.
Of course, there are always those clients who won’t accept anything less than what they want — even if it’s impossible due to budget, geography, or timing. If anyone is making life difficult for you and unable to accept the reality of the situation, then you should feel comfortable walking away from the arrangement. Remember that termination clause in your contract? It’s there for a reason — you don’t need to be abused or mistreated for something out of your control.
Fortunately, you shouldn’t have to resort to dissolving the contract with most clients. It’s typically a matter of miscommunication and a frank conversation can usually set things straight. Be direct but respectful and keep your clients’ best interests in mind, but it should never come at the cost of your business’s solvency. Setting boundaries and managing expectations can feel uncomfortable, but I promise that the word ‘no’ is not a bad thing — it has the power to protect you and your business from being stretched too thin.
Jennifer Taylor is the principal of Jen Taylor Consulting, a consulting firm that works with creative businesses of all sizes to implement streamlined workflows and organized systems to find more time and space for business growth and personal development. She is also the owner and founder of Taylor’d Event Group, a leading event planning company that serves local and destination clients in Washington State and Maui, HI.
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