How to Prevent Misunderstandings with Clients in 5 Steps


Realizing that a project is much broader than she had thought and quoted on is one of the most upsetting experiences business owners encounter.

Let’s say you own a small marketing agency and have been asked to handle advertising for a clothing boutique. You sign on the dotted line only to be told by the owner that she expects you to provide copy in more than one language. Or consider a web developer that agreed to put up a site thinking navigation will be one-level deep, when the client wants to go down three levels. Houston, we got a problem!

Most service providers expect the clients to explain the project and rely on the client to provide all the necessary information. The problem is that the clients are usually incapable of doing this for a few reasons.

Each client comes with a different set of circumstances. The circumstances are very obvious to her. So obvious that she doesn’t realize that the service provider has no inkling of the situation and doesn’t bother to fill in the details. Clients like this forget that you don’t know what they know about the situation.

Secondly, many clients don’t understand all that goes into a particular service. This is the underlying difference between clients and service providers. While service providers concentrate on the process, clients are completely focused on the result they are seeking. They picture a gorgeous website or compelling ads that will bring news business. Many clients don’t understand the process they need to go through to get the result or even if they do, are not interested in it. “You are the expert,” they reason, “just get me what I want.”

Since the clients don’t understand the process they also don’t realize the possible obstacle on their way to that result. For example, a client who wants to set up a website and blog may not articulate her need for a simple blogging platform, thinking it’s a given. If the web developer doesn’t understand her vision, he may use a web platform that does not allow for easy blogging.

Thirdly, to paraphrase Michael Gerber (in his E-myth Revisited), many clients prefer to outsource by abdication. Already overwhelmed with too much work, these clients dump the project on the hapless service provider without taking the time to discuss what they want in detail. They just want someone else to figure out the problem.

Finally, many business owners feel very uncomfortable saying no to a client, even if a certain service had never been discussed. We have been so brainwashed by “the client is always right” that we forget that sometimes he isn’t. Wanting to go the extra-mile and be well-liked, service providers let clients walk all over them.

To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, here is what you need to do to gain more clarity about the project than what your clients will provide on their own:

  1. Sketch a step-by-step diagram of your service. Consider all the components that are necessary to create the final “product.” For example, if you develop websites, a complete site needs a domain, hosting, copy, graphics, plugins, opt-in forms, subscription management, video, SEO, and so on. For each step, consider the possible options. Also consider what additional services can tie in with what you provide.
  2. Based on the diagram, write a list of everything that you do and do not provide as part of your service. This is an excellent opportunity to create 2-3 service offerings with different prices. Your basic package will better serve those interested in cheaper options, while the inclusive package will appeal to clients with bigger budgets.
  3. Before quoting on any project, ask the client to describe his current problem in detail. What does he need to have that he doesn’t have right now and how does that impact his life. Then ask about the solution he wants and what it will do for him. Follow up with several open-ended questions to get a good idea of the who, what where, when, why, and how of the issue.
  4. Think back to all the misunderstanding you had with clients in the past. Discuss this with colleagues in your industry. This should take care of many blind spots you have. Include these details in your proposal (see the next step).
  5. Draw an agreement or a proposal spelling out the services you will provide, the time frame, and the price and get your client to sign it. If it’s not in the agreement, you can always provide your clients with special consideration, but you don’t have to. It’s your choice.

Educating clients about everything that goes into your service is an excellent way to present yourself as an expert at what you do. It will also make your work easier and more pleasant, preventing frustration and financial losses.

Do you have a miscommunication from hell story? Do you have a tip on how to get the client on the same page? Please share.


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