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How to manage client expectations for project success

manage client expectations
By Imogen Allen, Last Updated September 18, 2023

Knowing how to manage client expectations on a project is key to a project’s success. Communication is vital to every project that you are involved with and once you fully understand this and implement ways to achieving this, it will lead to smoother projects which will stay on track and meet, and often exceed, expectations.

Managing expectations starts before your client is even a client. From the very first communication they have with you, it’s important that you start as you mean to go on.

From the first step, it’s important to set your boundaries in place from the beginning. You can do this by following a process and guiding clients to do what you need them to do and when you need them to do it.

Don’t Jump in Too Quick

You can take control of the very first email you have with them. Don’t jump in too quickly and reply to an email straight away. However keen you may be to discuss a new (and shiny) project with a potential client, you will set yourself up for a hard time if you jump in straight away. You will have immediately managed their expectation that you will respond to their emails in this way every time. If you get an email in the morning, check in with them later that day. If it’s the afternoon, take the time to respond properly the next morning. If you really are super busy, you can reply with a holding email, then get back to them fully at a more convenient moment. There’s nothing wrong with replying to an email within 24 hours! You will thank yourself later.

manage client expectations

“Communication is key to a successful project”

Get the Right Information

The first step is to ask for more information about the project. I do this before I even have a face to face (via Zoom) conversation with them about their project. This does two things:

1)   You find out all the details about the project so that when you come to speak to them you are fully informed and can have a much more fruitful discussion about how you can help them.

2)   It shows that the client is serious about their project and that you are not dealing with a tyre-kicker who is going to try and barter with you on price.

To get this information first of all, I always refer my potential clients to complete a client onboarding questionnaire which goes through a series of questions that really help me to understand more about them, their project and what the needs of their business are.

Set the Next Steps

At each interaction with the client, tell them what’s coming next. When you have dealt with the issue in hand and confirmed in an email, tell them what is going to happen next and stick to it. For example, when I ask for a Website Questionnaire to be completed, I tell them that when that has been submitted, I will write to them again within 24 hours and arrange to get a Zoom meeting in the diary. Try and only tell them one next step and deliver information one piece at a time. Make sure that if you do say you’ll be in touch within 24 hours, then make sure you do. Sticking to what you have said you will do will start to earn the client’s trust because you do what you say. If you are in touch a little sooner, then you’ve exceeded their expectation.

Break it Down

When you are underway with a project, try to break each stage down into bite sized steps. You might be managing multiple tasks behind the scenes on a project but go through one step at a time with the client. For example, if they are busy preparing content for their website don’t pester them with questions relating to other parts of the project. The reason for this is that you want to keep them on task getting their content ready and not get them distracted. Secondly, you don’t want them to start to feel overwhelmed with multiple things for them to do. Keep it focused and to the point.

Tell the Client What They Need to Do

If you need the client to do something for you, them tell them exactly what they need to do. Never assume that they will know what needs to be done or even understand the processes going on from your end. So just tell them clearly and simply what they need to do and don’t overload them with multiple tasks in one go.

Regular Check In

A great way to manage the project is also to have a regular check in point. On a recent project, I checked in every Friday morning of each week of the project to let the client know where we were up to with the project and if there was anything I needed them to do. At the same time, this was their time where they could ask their questions. Asking the client to keep a note of all their questions during that week so that they can ask everything at once saves being bombarded with many emails each asking a single question. You can also do this over the phone in a quick 15-30 minute call and go through everything if that works better for you. I find a good way to set this up is to tell the client that it’s the easiest way to keep track of everything and you would hate for anything to get missed. This way you are managing the project without them really realising and managing your own time effectively.

project success

“Keep your project on target and make it really clear in your proposal what is and what is not included in your website project”

Keeping Scope Creep in Check

This can be difficult area to manage but so much easier to manage if you make it really clear in your proposal what is and what is not included in your website project. If your client starts asking for extras to be included in the website, then refer them back to the contract to show what is included and if they do want additions to the site then this can be looked at in a “Phase 2” delivery as a new project. If you set your stall up right from the start, then any deviations will be much easier to manage and keep the project on track.

The key to managing client expectations is good communication. Clear, simple communication about what each step of the project will entail, telling them what to expect it and when to expect it. Most importantly, you need to keep yourself accountable and make sure you meet the next steps and timelines that you agree.

Over to You

What are the lessons you’ve learned in managing client’s expectations and what processes have you put in place to help you keep you and the client on track?

For further reading about keeping your projects on track, check out this guide on website planning and this one on writing creative briefs that streamline your process.


3 comments on “How to manage client expectations for project success”

  1. Great post Imogen! Very helpful tips. I still struggle with scope creep from time to time. I like your "phase 2" approach. Thanks

  2. Useful post! I think staying consistent and proactive is the key to have a happy client at the end of it. Thanks for sharing your stuff.

  3. Expect that client expectations will change, so be prepared. Imogen your advice to have a well defined contract document is vital and absolutely we should never be afraid to say, yes, we can look at that as phase 2 or an additional piece of work. You are bang on, as usual. Just like when my wife asked the builder to add a 'wee sunroom' at the side of the kitchen. The builder did not say yes we can and I will do that as part of the project. No no that was an 'extra' and we wanted it so we were happy to pay for it. Well getting it for free would have been nice 🙂

Imogen Allen

Imogen Allen is the founder of Umbrella Digital Media building websites and relationships for SMEs looking to grow their online presence without the overwhelm. Based in the UK, Umbrella Digital Media works side by side with business owners and entrepreneurs to translate their business goals and aims into online solutions.