10 steadfast rules for managing freelance client expectations

Successfully managing client expectations is easier said than done. We're here to help with these 10 steadfast rules to ensure a happy client.
10 steadfast rules for managing freelance client expectations

Hero image by Toa Heftiba

Thanks to pandemic conditions, the demand for freelancers shot up by 41% during the second quarter of 2020. This move towards decentralized working has sparked a fundamental shift in companies and employers.

Where before there might have been some reservations over hiring freelancers, it has now become the norm.

However, while you might have more clients than ever, it's still important that you keep them happy. One of the ways to keep your clientele happy and coming back for more is through successfully managing freelance client expectations.

Managing expectations is essential in freelance work, both for building trust and lasting relationships.

If you don't succeed at managing client expectations, even if you do good work you might still be faced with disgruntled clients.

Fortunately, there are many freelance tips and strategies you can implement to avoid this.

Want to know what these are? Keep reading to find out how to manage freelance client expectations like a boss.

1. Create detailed proposals and project outlines

According to reports, freelance workers earn more per hour than 70% percent of Americans. However, if you and your client don't see eye-to-eye on a project's scope—these good hourly earnings might never reach your bank account.

Having different expectations of a project to your client is one of the surest ways not to get paid. If you deliver a project to a client and it doesn't contain what they were expecting, nine times of out ten they aren't going to be happy with the outcome.

The way to avoid this is to create detailed project proposals and invest time in the client discovery phase. This way, the client is informed of the details from the get-go and has an opportunity to ask for modifications.

Project proposals act to align your value offering with your pricing so clients can make an informed decision on your services. A good proposal should define:

  • The project structure
  • Any specific tasks, milestones, and deliverables
  • The terms of the engagement
  • Timelines
  • Pricing and payment terms

Besides laying the ground for aligned expectations, project proposals are also an opportunity to sell yourself to your new client. To assure them you can achieve what they need, you should make it clear:

  • Why they should choose you
  • That you understand their need
  • How you'll solve their problem

Besides this, you should also aim to include a strong CTA.

Lastly, keep in mind that while you should include all of the above, you also need to keep proposals as clear and as short as possible. Research shows that proposals that are less than 5 pages are 31% more likely to be accepted.

Most clients don't have a lot of time on their hands, which is why they are hiring you. They might have multiple proposals coming in, and if yours is too long or hard to understand, they might just skip over it.

Creating killer proposals is an art. It's also vital to the lifeblood of your freelance business. If you want to make the process easier for yourself and create stronger proposals, check out our proposal and contract builder feature.

With Moxie's proposal builder, you can craft beautiful, professional proposals with customized images, fonts, and information. This allows you to showcase your brand from the get-go and establish a strong foundation for managing freelance client expectations.

2. Underpin your projects with watertight contracts

After drafting a project proposal, the next step in managing client expectations is creating a crystal clear contract. Contracts are essential, not only for setting the right expectations—but also for legal purposes.

If you don't create contracts for your projects, you increase the risk of having unhappy clients, and of not getting paid for your work.

On the other hand, a comprehensive contract ensures that you and the client are on the same page from the start. If you have fulfilled your side on the contract, they are then under legal obligation to fulfill theirs. Aka, pay you.

The key to drafting effective contracts is to make them as detailed and specific as possible. Contracts are not the same as proposals. You aren't competing for your client's time, and it's essential that you nail down the specifics of the project and its associated responsibilities.

Some of the standard things to include in project contracts are:

  • The exact compensation rate for the project or its components
  • By when payments are due
  • The currency in which you want to receive payment (if working with international clients)
  • The exact services provided
  • Intellectual property rights and stipulations
  • Confidentiality
  • How/where you and your client will communicate
  • What happens if the contract is breached

As you can imagine, creating detailed and comprehensive project contracts can take time. However, they are an essential component of managing freelance client expectations and protecting yourself legally.

Fortunately, if you choose to use Moxie, you will be able to leverage our contract builder. This tool allows you to turn proposals into air-tight contracts, complete with industry-standard e-signatures and terms that have been legally vetted.

What's more, you can send, review, and sign your project contracts all within the app. This cuts down on paperwork and time and streamlines your document process.

3. Under-promise and over-deliver

One of the most impactful freelance tips for managing expectations is to under-promise and over-deliver. When pitching your services to clients, it's very tempting to promise as much as possible.

However, this is a recipe for disaster. Over-promising can cause you to spread yourself too thin, which can result in poor quality work. Both for your new client and for existing ones you are still serving.

Instead of forcing yourself to burn the candle at both ends—and running the risk of breaking your clients' expectations—only promise what you can confidently deliver. Work in buffers of time to make sure that if something goes wrong, you can still make those deadlines.

If you give yourself a generous amount of time to complete deliverables, you won't find yourself rushing things and being down to the wire. Instead, you may even find that you can complete deliverables ahead of deadlines.

What's more, giving yourself an achievable time frame for deliverables also allows you to iron out problems properly, and make your work really shine.

Over-delivering after under-promising is bound to win you an accolade in most clients' eyes and make you stand out as a reliable freelancer.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

One of the biggest components of managing freelance client expectations is communication. No matter how many of the other client management tips you implement, if you don't communicate clearly with your client, you're almost bound to run into issues with them.

Therefore, make clear, regular, and comprehensive communication a priority for managing client expectations.

Also, keep in mind that the nature of freelancing adds inherent obstacles to communication. While you might have face-to-face interactions with your client, in this digital age it's far more likely that most of your communication will take place virtually or over the phone.

When communicating via text, it's easy for misunderstandings to creep in. Therefore, make sure that all your communications are clear and as detailed as necessary.

For instance, if you email a client to say their deliverable is delayed, but you'll have it to them by the end of the week, does this mean Friday afternoon or Sunday evening? Clarifying these details can go a long way to preventing misunderstandings and managing client expectations.

Also, keep an eye out for signs that a client may have misunderstood you. If something in their responses doesn't make sense, reach back out and double-check that you're on the same page.

Lastly, if you feel unclear in any way about something your client has said, don't be embarrassed to ask for clarification.

5. Agree on preferred communication channels

Another essential part of effective communication and successfully managing client expectations is agreeing on communication channels.

If you're communicating with your client via email, but they only check their inbox once a week, this can lead to problems. Ideally, you want to settle on a communication channel that is convenient for parties and effective for your needs.

If you have a preferred channel that is better suited to your workflow, don't feel you have to abandon it completely for your client. However, be aware they might not be as responsive there, and that you should double notify them of things using their preferred channel as well.

6. Set boundaries

When it comes to how to manage freelance clients, setting boundaries is a must. Not only can this do wonders for one's work-life balance and mental health, but it also helps for managing client expectations.

According to statistics, 27% of people freelance for the flexibility it offers, and 40% for personal growth. Achieving either of these is hard if clients are ruling your life.

A good example of boundary setting is making it clear what times you are available. For instance, maybe you have a strict rule that you don't work after 6 pm or on the weekends. If so, you don't want a client calling you up in the evenings, or on a Sunday morning.

On the other hand, say you do your best work at night, and you're fine with clients calling you then—but they probably won't be able to reach you before 10 am.

Communicate your available hours so that clients know when to call, and why their call is not being answered out of these times.

Another way to set boundaries and start managing client expectations is to have an email autoresponder that notifies clients of your response time on emails. This is a great way to ensure you aren't getting taken off task by your inbox, but that clients also don't feel you're ignoring their emails.

7. Learn how to say no

Another of the most important client management tips to learn is how to say no. If you find it hard to say no to clients, next thing you know you've over-extended yourself, promising more than you can realistically accomplish—and given your clients unrealistic expectations.

Instead, train yourself to say no when you need to. By being honest about what you can take on, you'll ensure that clients aren't disappointed and that you're comfortable with the projects and time frames you say yes to.

8. Upsell your services

Speaking of saying no and setting boundaries, one of the common circumstances where you should implement both these client management tips is if a client asks you to "just" do this one little extra thing.

Before you know it, them asking you to adjust the color in a photo for a social media post turns into you color correcting all their images going forward. Often, clients don't even realize how invasive this kind of project scope creep can be.

To stop yourself from being the victim of unintentional scope creep, draw the line at doing extra tasks for free at the request of a client. Instead, provide them with your rate sheet, and inform them of how much that additional service costs.

This kills two birds with one stone, as not only are you setting boundaries, but by offering your rate sheet you're also up-selling your other services and skillsets.

9. Have a rate sheet

Of course, to provide clients with rate sheets, you have to have one in the first place. Rate sheets are also an integral part of managing freelance client expectations. Some of the biggest questions clients have are whether you can get the job done, and for how much.

Although you should include pricing, billing, and terms in your proposals and contracts, it's also important to have a rate sheet. This way, if they ask for additional services, you can quickly provide a list of your standard rates.

10. Be transparent

Lastly, always be transparent with clients. Everyone appreciates honesty, and it can go a long way in managing freelance projects and client expectations.

If you're pretty booked out, communicate that to your client, and explain that their project will take some time. If you want to, you can offer them the opportunity to pay a rush fee for a tighter turnaround.

Alternatively, maybe something big came up in your personal life and you aren't able to complete a deliverable by a certain day. Instead of staying silent, contact your client as soon as possible and keep them in the loop. That way they aren't left waiting on the day, wondering why you didn't make the deadline.

Managing freelance client expectations isn't hard if you have the right tools

Managing freelance client expectations is essential for getting paid on time, avoiding disputes and misunderstandings, and winning repeat projects.

There are various components to managing client expectations. However, Moxie makes managing client expectations simple. With easy project proposals, client discovery, contract building, integrated time tracking, invoicing, single-click Stripe payments, and more, Moxie takes the headache out of freelancing.

Sign up today and let Moxie start helping you manage your business so you can get back to work.

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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