How many times have you found yourself in the middle of a project when everything starts going off the rails?
Where the client suddenly provides new information that totally changes what you have to do or how long it's going to take...?
Or they change their mind on what they want...?
Or they never get back to you with feedback but still want it delivered on time....?
Or they start asking for things that were never included in the first place....?
And you end up getting stuck having to make a difficult decision:
Have a really awkward conversation and potentially ruin your client relationship AND your reputation...? OR
Suck it up, avoid the conflict and just get it done as quickly as possible so you can move on?
Most people will end up doing the latter.
Protect their relationship and reputation at the cost of their profitability and stress levels.
This is especially true when you never actually clarified if things were included or not, or what would happen if something changed.
It was all a bit 'vague'.
So you feel bad having to explain to the client AFTER they've paid and you're halfway through that that wasn't actually what they're gonna get.
And it all comes down to this:
Mis-matched client expectations.
In business, as in life, managing expectations is key to healthy, long term relationships.
When I work with big corporates, managing client expectations usually involves an 80-100 page written document.
Which is fine when you're spending multi-million dollars.
But it's simply not practical when you're working with small businesses or small budgets!
However you already have the key document you need to manage client expectations AND protect yourself from having to take a bath when the shit hits the fan! (metaphorically speaking of course!)
It's called your Quote or your Estimate.
Basically whatever document you use to outline exactly what the client is getting for their money.
There are 5 components all good quote documents need in order to manage your client expectations AND enable you to back yourself in a considered and thoughtful way so you can protect your reputation and your profit!
Here they are:
Let's take a closer look...
Your deliverables is basically a list of all the key features or outputs your client will be getting.
What's included will depend on what type of service you offer.
If you run a coaching service, then you might outline how many sessions are included, how long they are and how often. You may want to spell out it email or messaging support is included, or if there are any tools or resources the client will also be receiving.
Social media marketers may include deliverables such as quantity of posts per month, what post formats are included, how many platforms, frequency and format of status updates, etc.
For photographers it may be the number of images included, at what resolution, in what format. You may also want to include quantity of locations, clothing changes or family members (depending on what you offer).
The key is being clear, specific and detailed on what your client is getting for their money.
Managing expectations is key, so in this section you are managing their expectations for when they will receive your service or deliverables.
This isn't necessarily a big section. Again it depends on what you are delivering.
Coaches may include the date when the programme or service starts and finishes.
Photographers may include timeline between when the photoshoot is completed and to when they can expect to receive their images.
Marketers may include campaign duration, start and end date, or reference the length of the contract.
The key here is to be realistic with when you can start and when you can complete the service.
Pro Tip: When you're managing your timelines, make sure you differentiate between the how long something will take to do and when you will actually get it done.
To do this you want to build in buffer or 'contingency' from when you expect to start the work to when you say you will deliver it so if anything goes wrong (they're late with feedback, your kids are sick, you've got another project, it takes longer than you expected) you've still got time to do it without missing your deadline.
For example, is a piece of work is likely to take you half a day, plan your timings around having 2-3 days to do it in. You'll only charge the client for the time it took, but it gives you breathing space to get it done.
So this is a pretty obvious one. A quote without a number ain't much of a quote!
However, how you detail your costs can have a big impact on how they are received.
If you only offer one option with no alternatives or add-ins then this is a pretty straight forward process.
However for more complex services you may want to put a bit of thought into how your prices are presented.
Bundling everything, including optional items, into one big cost is generally not going to go down well.
Most clients already have a budget in mind and if they see one big number that's a lot more than they were expecting (even if parts of it are actually optional) then that becomes a tougher sell.
Separating your costs into required, or minimum items and then separately itemising or bundling your optional extras can be a smart option.
This way you don't end up scaring the client with one big cost for things they may not need or want.
And you also enable the client to feel in control of their budget.
Now, this doesn't mean include ever possible optional extra - an overwhelmed client will not buy!
Just include the options that have either already been discussed or you believe would provide real value or benefit to the client.
Lastly don't forget to include any relevant taxes such as GST or VAT where required.
This is basically a list of everything the client could reasonably expect to be included in the price, that isn't.
Now you do need to be a little careful here.
You can easily find yourself with a massive long list of everything that ISN'T included.
And if you're not careful, the list of things that AREN'T included can quickly become bigger than what IS included.
And that is not a good look!
So the key here is 'reasonably' - you want to limit it to only those things the client could reasonably expect to be included that aren't.
An example is a website design and build, where Hosting is an excluded item.
You might not offer this as a service, but not all your clients are going to know that. They may not realise there will be additional costs involved in order to put their website live, and you can understand how they might assume it's all included.
So Exclusions is where you can spell it out to them so there's not awkward misunderstandings later.
Exclusions is also an opportunity to upsell.
A website developer MAY offer a hosting solution, but it's an optional extra . Identifying that it isn't included in the base price is one way to start a conversation about what else they might need that could be added in.
Either way it avoids that awkward situation where the client (rightly or wrongly) assumed everything was included and now they are facing unexpected costs and looking to YOU to resolve it.
Having it clearly written down enables you to gently point out that it was never included in the price and have an honest conversation about what the best options are going forward.
Assumptions section is my all time favourite section and is always included in my quoting documents.
Basically Assumptions is a list of all the things that either need to happen or need to be in place, in order to be able to deliver your product and service, in the specified time for the specified price.
Now, most of the time these assumptions live in your head.
Whenever you are working out how long something is going to take or how much it's going to cost, it will be based on a whole bunch of assumptions.
Some may be things the client has explicitly mentioned, others will be things you just know based on past experience and expertise.
The problem is, while they just live in your head, they're not much help to anyone else.
Because the client will ALSO have a set of assumptions they're working with in THEIR head.
And often they ain't the same!
So at least getting YOURS down on paper is and sharing them with the client is incredibly powerful.
Take one of my clients as an example. She's an amazing designer and prior to working with me had quoted to do a single page A4 menu for one of her clients.
When she was working out how long it would take she understandably assumed the menu copy would more or less FIT on an A4 menu. Common sense, right?
She assumed it, but she never specified.
So when the client rocked up with three double sided pages of copy that somehow needed to be magically squeezed on to a single page she freaked out.
Suddenly the amount of time it was going to take more than tripled.
It's really hard to backtrack with a client to explain that wasn't what you meant, AFTER they've paid!
And even if you manage to charge them a little extra, your relationship has just got a bit rocky.
In this case, while she managed to get the client to refine it down a little, she absolutely bore the brunt of all the extra time - lesson learned the hard way
However, now when she quotes for similar work she specifies the client needed to supply the copy to fit in a certain size or have a maximum word count.
This way she's in a much stronger position to gently push back and either ask for the client to refine down the content before she begins, OR offer to work with what the client has but at an additional charge for the additional work.
The choice becomes theirs - pay you to do more work, or sort it out themselves and provide you what you costed for.
It's clear where the fault lies, and it's not with you.
By including the assumptions in the quote, you are giving the client an opportunity to flag if any of those assumptions are incorrect, in advance and make the appropriate adjustments.
And when they sign-off on your quote the client is also signing-off on those assumptions being accurate.
Pro Tip: You're not always going to know all the key assumptions off the top of your head. Many of the really important ones only come to light AFTER something has gone wrong. So the next time something doesn't go to plan or there are mis-matched expectations, write down what assumptions you require in order to deliver smoothly and make sure they're included in your next Quote.
So there you have it.
5 Ways to save your money and your reputation.
Over the years, making sure every quote has these 5 key elements has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue as well as protected client relationships and saved business reputations.
And it can do the same for you!
Got your Quote document sorted but still not sure if you're charging the right amount for you work?
Check out How To Nail Your Pricing And Pay Yourself What You're Worth to learn how to take the guesswork out of your pricing so you can have the confidence to charge what you're worth!
I'd love to hear from you...
Have you had one of these projects that start off great but end up off the rails?
What did you end up doing about it?
What have you put in place to help prevent that from happening again?
Are there any assumptions you make when costing up your work that you think would be helpful to share with the client?
Let me know your thoughts by sharing hem in the COMMENTS below!
We'd love to hear from you!