6 real-world tips for managing client expectations

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When you’re running a business, it’s not all about bringing in new clients, but keeping the ones you have too. Managing client expectations is really no different.

Of course, it helps to keep your current clients happy, but it also ensures you have enough room to bring on more. In fact, data shows retaining clients is overall more profitable than gathering new ones — and that’s why companies with higher retention rates typically bring in more money.

Just how much more money?

It varies highly by industry and other factors, but one study suggests that a 5% bump to customer retention increases profits by 25% to 95%. The client onboarding process can be a costly one without the right template or tool, but maintaining a great client relationship actually saves you even more money.

So what are the best ways to manage client expectations such that they keep coming back for more? We have tips that will help.

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Great client management starts with managing expectations

Keeping great relationships with your clients starts with managing their expectations.


To boil it down to simple terms, it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than to over-promise and under-deliver. If you set client expectations too high, you set them up for disappointment. Once disappointed, well, they head elsewhere.

It isn’t just about your product or its quality, but also the other key metrics you’ll be expected to deliver on — like costs, communication, and so on. Promising more than you can offer in any of these areas leads to trouble, which is why good client management starts with managing expectations well.

Want to learn more about what it takes to convert and keep your clients? Let's take a look at these six real-world tips on how to manage client expectations and set them in the first place:

1. Make honesty and transparency your client management superpower

To effectively manage client expectations, honesty and transparency need to be your superpowers.

For starters, both honesty and transparency are absolutely crucial for building trust. Customers are much more likely to return to providers they can rely on. 

The other major reason is that open team communication with your clients lets them know what to expect. When companies deliberately over-promise to lure new customers in or keep current customers around, customers quickly learn not to trust those companies. 

And when companies are vague about what to expect, miscommunications happen. 

Miscommunications will always have a negative impact on your reputation, even if that impact is small or doesn’t lose you a client right away. Each little negative point against you adds up over time, and that’s why you need to be clear from the start.

Give clients a live view of your projects

Sit down with new clients as soon as possible to discuss goals and set expectations. If your client’s expectations seem too high — for example, they’d like a job finished in a week that you think will take two weeks — be upfront about the fact that you will need that extra time in order to do the job well. 

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Start by giving them a look into the project with access to your project management platform. Teamwork.com lets you provide seats to your clients for free as well as set permissions, so they don't get too distracted.

Make sure to cover not only project timelines but project deliverables and cost estimations in perfectly clear terms so that your client knows exactly what to expect.

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You can also provide examples from your own experience to show your client more about what to expect where deliverables and timeframes are concerned. It’s easy to demonstrate how long a project will take and what your client can expect to receive.

2. Prioritize both regular and proactive communication opportunities

Establishing lines of communication is another important part of building trust. Think about it this way: Your client is investing money in you and your skills.

They want to know that the money was well-invested and that they’re not going to have to worry over multiple unanswered emails or phone calls. This means good communication should be a priority — and you should have plans in place for both regular and proactive communications.

What’s the difference? 

Regular communications are the daily, weekly, or monthly status updates. These could be meetings, emails updating your client on progress, or a board within your collaboration software that is devoted to regular updates.

Save proactive communications for immediate things that benefit them to know right away. Think of situations like when you’ve accomplished a goal much sooner than expected or an issue is arising that could potentially cause a delay.

Whether it’s good news or bad, the sooner you tell your client, the better. Encourage your client to do the same when they have news that will affect the project.

Define specific communication channels early

Your client relationship is important, so why not save both sides a lot of trouble by deciding on how you will communicate. As busy as most of us are, almost no one has time to respond to endless phone calls or emails as new ideas crop up or the job evolves.

Set up ways for your client to leave feedback or easily view projects so they can check in periodically.

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Save emails for the big things, like administrative information or when you need to warn about potential setbacks. This way, the critical emails won’t be lost in a flood of ideas and other thoughts.

3. Set realistic goals and milestones

Avoid falling into the trap of just saying “yes” to anything and everything for your clients. Your conversations can end with you promising that a task may not be completed or possible.

During your project kickoff communications, one of the most important things you can do is create a firm project proposal at the start with all the specifics. Then you can break everything down into a set of project milestones.

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Then, make a goal to reach each milestone in a timeframe that you can realistically accomplish. Feel free to build in a little extra time just in case things go wrong — because despite our best efforts, sometimes issues are unavoidable.

Set expectations early to avoid scope creep

To ensure your client expectations are met, make clear limits with your clients early and stick to them to avoid scope creep.

This happens when clients start to ask for more and more than you’d initially promised to deliver. For example, if your client asks you to move deadlines up by a few days, it is perfectly acceptable to say no if it's out of scope or not originally agreed upon in your goals.

But if you can move those deadlines up – go for it.

However, you want to make it very clear to your client that while things may have worked out favorably to accommodate them this time, in the future, that may not always be possible.

4. Combine pricing with your documented scope of work

Clients don’t always understand your prices. They place orders and you deliver without a fuss. That can lead to misunderstandings or even disagreements about the rate that you charge.

Avoid those pricing disputes by making your pricing policy as transparent as you can. Multiple team members working on the project? Supplies you’ll need to purchase? Time involved? Fees you’ll need to pay?

These are all things that should be built into your quote.

Give pin-point accuracy into your billable hours

When you discuss your quote with your client, make it clear on everything you will and will not do for them.

This prevents you from getting caught midway through the project paying for things you hadn’t anticipated, like a new app that the client would suddenly like you to use. If it wasn’t built into the mutually agreed upon quote, it doesn’t get added to the job. (At least, not without an added charge to cover your additional expenses).

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Teamwork.com makes it easy to set billable and non-billable hours so your clients get full details into your pricing and hours used for specific projects.

The bottom line – provide details. it’s also good to be flexible — but not at the expense of your own bottom line.

5. Provide access to your tools for full project visibility

We mentioned this before, but we can't say it enough – transparency is the best way to build a collaborative culture with your clients.

If you're looking for a quick and easy way to not only build trust but keep your client in the loop, offer them project visibility. This is especially important when you’re working on projects with a lot of deliverables that need to be completed in phases. 

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Offering limited access to the project provides benefits to both sides. Your client can look in and rest assured that you are making progress — and you can use any feedback the client provides to make corrections as the project unfolds rather than waiting to do a potentially massive revision later.

Be smart about client permissions

Don’t give your client full access to the project — otherwise, you might one day wake up to a mess if the client attempts their own revisions.

Instead, provide access using tools where you can control the permissions. Try Teamwork.com for projects like this to get complete control over permissions for team members and clients alike.

6. Look out for red flags and avoid difficult clients from the start

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably run into managing a few difficult clients. They come in many forms: the nitpicker, the expert, the client with huge dreams but no plan to get there, and so on. How should you deal with them?

The short answer is: Don’t!

Remember that there are lots of potential clients out there. Working with someone who is throwing up lots of red flags has a reasonably high chance of leading to an unhappy client, which could cost you time and money — while leading to poor reviews.

Did you know it can take up to 12 positive reviews to offset just one bad one? So when in doubt, feel free to decline.

Document your client red flags so you can act quickly (nip it in the bud)

Make a list of red flags that have proven problematic before. Like the client with the gigantic list of demands who seems shocked — perhaps even offended — at the price you’ve quoted since you know this client could very well make your life miserable trying to “get their money’s worth.”

Or the client who never communicates, leaving you stranded at a critical juncture when a quick answer would allow you to progress.

These are your deal-breakers. When you spot them, a polite rejection is in order.

Learn how Teamwork.com helps you manage client expectations

Managing client expectations well is one of the fundamentals to success. It keeps clients happy. Happy clients not only come back for more but recommend you to others. The tips above will help — and Teamwork.com can help too. 

With our app, you can bring everyone involved together so that you’re all on the same page. Sign up and give it a shot!

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