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Today, I want to talk about managing your client projects and client expectations. Now, let me ask you a question: have you ever had somebody come to you and say, “Hey, I’d love to sit down and have lunch with you. You got some time?” Usually what they’re really saying is, “Hey, I know you’re busy, but I want to be able to sit down and pay $7 to pick your brain rather than $100, $250, or $1,000 to get coaching from you.” There’s a big difference between somebody who wants to pick your brain and somebody who wants to sit down and have a conversation about how you two can work together. What I want to do is outline first and foremost how you can manage this process. I’m going to give you five steps that are going to help you get through it.

1) Project Scope

The first step is to understand the project scope. I get this all the time. A client will call and say, “Hey, it’s a simple, little project. Can you help me out? I’ve only got a budget of X.” Well, before you say yes, make sure that you dig in to find out what exactly is going to happen. A clear example of this is one of my clients I’ve been working on this website for a long time turned out to be a custom coded WordPress website. Embedded in this is a bulletin board directory, something that allows people to post and sell products, and all of that was custom coded. So one of the problems was that I looked at it, but I didn’t go behind the scenes and I never realized how complex it was.

I ended up having to bring somebody in afterward and say, “Look, this is beyond the scope of what we originally talked about.” The initial request was to transfer Website A to another server so that it would work properly and they could make the changes they needed. After I had to bring in a third-party PHP programmer who had to recode an entire portion of the site and bring it up-to-date from 2006 to 2017, the project took on a life of its own. So make sure you understand the scope and make sure you define it upfront.

A lot of companies send out RFPs, which are a “Request For Proposal”. I don’t touch those with a 10-foot pole. There are two reasons why. Number one: 9 times out of 10 they’re just looking for the lowest price. They’re not looking for the best quality of service. The second thing is that in order to really quote a project, you need to understand a lot more of the history and the depth and the time it takes to go through all of that discovery upfront, plus write a proposal, where somebody else may get that proposal and just basically undercut you and then they get the work, and it is not worth the time. So the best thing to do is sit down and have a conversation with somebody and say, “What exactly are you looking to accomplish and how can I help you?”

2) Invoice Upfront

The second piece of this is, once you’ve agreed upon the fact that you’re going to work on the project, this is what I do: I bill them upfront. I send them an email with a bill that says, “Okay, here is what I’m going to do. It’s going to take X amount of hours to do this, X amount of hours to do this, X amount of hours to do this. Here is the cost per hour,” and it lays out everything in a nice, neat package. So when your client comes back to you and says, “Hey, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do this,” you can explain that it was not in the invoice.

The other thing that you want to make sure that you do when you’re billing upfront is get a portion of it upfront, meaning you’re either going to get a deposit of a third or a half of the project total before you start. Otherwise, you could spend a lot of time spinning your wheels and not get paid a penny. So by putting it into an invoice, it’s going to be super clear to these people that (A) you’re serious, (B) you’ve defined what the project is, and (C) they get to put their money where their mouth is.

3) Email

Part three is where we get in to the actual work. As you’re working on the project, make sure that you’re getting emails from a client, because emails are trackable as you go along. If you’re doing phone calls and taking notes, that’s fine, then put it into an email and send it to them and ask them to acknowledge back. Email is a very trackable source of expectations.

As an example, one of my clients in a project that we’re working with wanted to simply move another piece of a product away from one web server to another web server. Now, I looked at that request thinking, “Okay, based on what I know, that’s not going to be as simple as it looks,” whereas somebody else on the project said, “Oh, it’s really easy.” So we got on the phone and we started talking about it. I said, “Yeah, it may be really easy, but we can run into Problem A, it could be old code; Problem B, it may interfere with the current website; Problem C; and on and on and on.” I said, “Okay, let’s do this.” We’ll talk about this a little later in step number five.

So, email is a great way to track everything as you’re going through the process and making sure that everybody agrees on what’s going on, what’s happening, what the steps are, what’s going to be fixed and corrected, and which is something that maybe is an addition to this or changing the scope creep of the project.

4) Clear Communication

The next piece of the puzzle, number four, is very important: clear, concise communication is key. You want to make sure that you’re speaking in the language of your client. So, for example, the client I mentioned before with the website where we’re going to make that simple transfer, he’s not technical. To someone that is technical, I could sit down and say, “Hey, we may have to custom code the SQL because there is a possibility that PHP is not going to be compliant with the current code that you have on the current server, and once we move this over it’s going to be really complex.” However, if I said that to someone who is not technical, they’re going to look at you with a blank stare, or just stare at the email.

So make sure you simplify, and put it in terms that they can understand. You could say to them, “Because this is custom code, there may be some unforeseen circumstances that are going to take us longer than expected, which means that we need to put this compartmentally into another project.” Make sure your communication is clear, concise and to the level of the person that you’re talking to.

5) Do Projects In Phases

The final piece of this is to set completion expectations. I am going to deliver A and I’m going to deliver it by such and such date. Now, in cases where somebody wants to add something or move an additional thing, I say, “Okay, that’s going to be phase two.” So you define phase one, you define phase two, you define phase three. You say, “Here’s the end of this part of the project. Here is another piece to this.” I always try to break projects into phases because customers can handle smaller chunks. Any time I’ve taken on these huge projects, I’ve shot myself in the foot.

Final Thoughts

Let me go through those one more time.

  1. Set the project scope;
  2. Bill upfront;
  3. Use email to track everything;
  4. Make sure your communications are clear; and
  5. Set completions.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on how you manage a project. Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas or questions about showing the concepts presented. Have you or your business ever run into client expectations gone wild? Do you have any ideas or advice you could share?