Why Aligning Initial Client Expectations is Critical

Aligning client expectations at the beginning of a project is the key to their happiness and yours.  Availability and communication expectations are two of the most  important to align.

It's important for clients to know when and how they can reach you. It's also important for them to know when they can't.

And it's OK that they can't sometimes. I agree with Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, that sometimes work can wait -

If you’ve used a modern chat, collaboration, or messaging app, you’ve  probably noticed that there’s a growing expectation of being available  all the time.

Someone at work hits you up on a Saturday, you get the notification, and what are you supposed to do? You could ignore them,  but what’s the expectation? The expectation is “if you’re reachable, you  should reply.”

And if you don’t reply, you’ll likely notice another  message from the same tool or a tool switch to try to reach you another  way. And then the pressure really mounts to reply. On a Saturday. Or at  9pm on a Wednesday. Or some other time when it’s life time, not work  time.

…We believe Work Can Wait is an important notion. 9pm on  Friday night is not work time. 6am on Wednesday morning is not work  time. It may be for you, but it’s not for me. And I don’t want it to be  work time for my employees either.

Jason Fried
CEO, 37Signals

(My gratitude to Ian Patrick Hines for pulling out this version of Jason's quote in his post about fostering a healthy work culture in a client services business.)

Here's  the template I use to  align my clients' expectations. I send a  version of it to each new client I work with, at the start of our first project -


Hi,

I find it helpful to set availability and communication  expectations with new clients and partners. Here are a few notes about  my availability and communication style.

I've learned these guidelines enable -

-You to do your work with minimal disruption and distraction, while not having to worry about what you hired me to do

-Me to perform at my best for clients

-A successful collaboration and project delivery

General -

A  big reason I freelance is to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I  have a strong appreciation for balancing hard work and well-being. This  balance enables me to bring sustainable high performance to the work I  do.

You can read more about this approach on my blog.

Availability -

I'm  generally available between 9A-5P US ET. I can be available outside of  those hours if needed. The more advance notice given, the more likely I  can be available outside that window.

I'm usually available for calls given at least 1 working day's notice. I can be available in critical situations with less notice. My experience scheduling calls with less than 1 working day's notice is doing so becomes a significant distraction for both of us.

Communication -

I believe in the power of asynchronous communication.

I've also learned it's important to have uninterrupted blocks of work time.

This  is why I'm not tied to email or chat/IM at all times. I check email  often enough to not miss key messages.

I'm on chat/IM when we've  scheduled a time to connect. I'm on more often if we decide chat/IM is the project's primary communication channel.

It's also why I recommend using a project management tool to manage  projects. Using one helps us streamline our communications. It also helps keep  our Inboxes clean and minimizes always-on inefficiency! Hopefully most project communication happens in and  through the tool.

If you need to get in touch with me right away, please text or call on [my mobile #]. I'll respond as soon as I'm able to.


P.S. - An older version of this post and template was first published here.

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