One of the biggest causes of problems for freelancers is client expectations not being met. At some point during your freelance career you'll likely experience a client feeling let down and disappointed.
It's a horrible situation to be in—especially when you care about your job and know you're good at what you do. I say this from experience as I've found myself in similar situations.
Sometimes it's difficult to avoid a client feeling disappointed.
- Their dissatisfaction with the work might be subjective ("I don't like it" without accompanying this with anything constructive)
- Some clients aren't sure what they like / want / need. This can make it impossible to reach a conclusion
- And some clients change the scope throughout the project. This means the goalposts of what is expected of you are constantly shifting
If not meeting client expectations is what leads to problems then what is the solution?
The solution is to replace expectations with agreements. The more surprises we eliminate from our client relationships and projects, the likelier it is everything will run smoothly. An agreement is clearer to meet than an expectation.
Let's look at an issue that we've seen plenty of times before and how it could have been avoided by replacing expectations with agreements.
A client doesn't set a deadline for the work to be delivered by. After the project is underway they accuse the freelancer of delivering the work late. They needed this by a specific date and had an expectation of you to deliver it by this date.
If there was an agreement in place it would be clear what objective you had to meet. Without one, it paves the way for nasty surprises and this can cause one party to feel let down, leading to friction between you and your client.
Having agreements in place before a project begins will help to reduce a lot of the common problems freelancers face. It also allows you to have important conversations upfront. Remember our aim is to remove as many nasty surprises as possible.
For example, let's say a client has a tight deadline. You know you won't be able to complete the work within the allocated time frame based on the scope they've provided you with. At this point you should open dialogue with your client to avoid nasty surprises.
Freelancer: "I can't promise I will complete the work by this date. The deadline is too tight."
Client: "Okay. What do you need to make sure we can meet the deadline?"
Freelancer: "I'll either need another body to assist with the work, or we can look to cut the following features."
You're discovering in advance what problems may occur (unrealistic time frame leading to the project running over) instead of fixing them later only once the problem has arisen. This gives the client a choice to ensure the deadline is met and removes nasty surprises.
The alternative is to apply pressure to yourself to complete the work within the time frame and run the risk of delivering the work late. This can lead to problems between you and your client.
As a freelancer agreements should be a huge part of your workflow. Agreements will help you avoid having to deal with the fallout from an unhappy client. The fallout can sometimes be minor and require a small compromise to fix, but in some cases it escalates to claims being made against freelancers.
"I'm not happy with the work you've done. I'm going to hire another freelancer and I expect you to cover the cost of this."
"The work has been delivered late meaning we've missed our launch date. We're pursuing you for loss of business."
Expectations allow clients to put the blame on the freelancer even if the freelancer isn't at fault. We want to move away from this to a more formal agreement that:
- allows important conversations to be had upfront
- is clearer to meet
- discovers in advance what problems may occur
If you've been working without agreements and feel nervous about introducing them into your workflow, you can frame it more positively when asking clients to acknowledge the agreement.
It doesn't have to be from a position of not trusting clients. Tell your client having an agremeent is important to you because you want to have a relationship that benefits you both.
Most of the problems we help freelancers with are avoidable. A good place to start to ensure a happy freelance life would be eliminating expectations from your client relationships and instead approaching them with agreements.