Managing Client Expectations

Hey guys – hope your week has treated you well. I just got back from Idyllwild and I’m already dreading the city routine. But, the great thing about the internet is that you can work from anywhere! It wasn’t a “full” work weekend for me but I was still able to knock out a few projects while getting in some good food and scenic hikes.

Communication>Results

Today I’m going to talk about managing client expectations, and why this can actually be more important than the results that you generate for your clients. Sounds crazy right? That’s what I thought to, until I realized how important communication and visibility are in ensuring long-term relationships with all of my clients. I know it looks like it has been all sunshine and rainbows for me but I actually have lost a client, albeit one, and it was because of some very simple visibility and communication errors on my part.

My Consulting Mistake

One of my very first clients, who I’ll abstain from naming here, was skeptical from the get go. My age was a turn off for them, and it took about 2 months of back and forth diatribe just to come to an agreement upon which we could work.

We were already starting our relationship off on the wrong foot – they were just waiting for the first chance to cry incompetence and I was pretty annoyed at the way they had been treating my team and I.

Low and behold, I thought everything was running smoothly, but that wasn’t the case when I got 15 emails at 1AM one night. From my point of view, we had been communicating via e-mail (big mistake) and everything that I had done was super visible (it wasn’t). From their point of view, I just changed some of the copy on their site with some “stupid keywords”.

In all of about 2 hours, our relationship was terminated. I tried to show the examples of all of the highest ranking candle companies and what we were trying to emulate. But I was rebuffed because they only got “8 orders on that product” instead of the “10 orders we got last week”. Now, I’m not a statistician, but that seems to be a case of correlation, not causation 🙂

I made 2 big mistakes: 1) I assumed client SEO knowledge; 2) I communicated via long email threads. So, why were these issues? For starters, I thought it was pretty obvious that one of the main functions of an SEO consultant is to optimize the website for certain keywords in an attempt to rank higher in Google & generate increased organic search traffic. Clearly, this was NOT the case. I was lambasted for touching the copy, even though I had only added about 3-5 keywords per page. People are very sensitive over something that they’ve spent months and sometimes years on. I wasn’t clear in my communication because I thought it was obvious that I would be adding these keywords to the site. So, when they saw these keywords, they immediately attacked me for doing stuff to the site without permission. Secondly, I communicated with them via email or phone calls. This is TERRIBLE. Everything gets lost in email, it’s hard to keep track of initiatives, and if you’re not taking notes on a phone call it’s even worse. There’s no visibility for the client because who realistically scrolls 45 emails back to check and see if X initiative was talked about and if it was completed.

So how did I fix my 2 major mistakes and make sure I’d never disappoint and lose a client again?

1. Client SEO Knowledge: Strategy Deck Proposal

Over the course of my client relationships, I’ve realized that everyone varies in their knowledge of SEO and their desire to learn. I now tell all my clients that they can be as hands-on or hands-off as they like. I don’t need a lot from them to fulfill my job and meet our SEO goals, but if they want to understand the logic and science behind it I am more than willing to guide them along.

In order to combat the differences in SEO knowledge, in my proposals to every new prospective client the SEO portion is an exhaustive, 12-slide description of the entire process. This helps my prospective clients who don’t realize the scope of how much work there is to be done with SEO and also allows my clients to tell me what they are interested in learning more about.

2. Communication: Trello

Not only were my clients getting frustrated, but it was becoming impossible for me to keep track of 15 different clients initiatives and requests via email. I spent more time figuring out what the hell I actually had to do than on executing the projects.

In came Trello to save the day. I had already been using Trello for my own internal team initiatives in order to keep track of tasks, set meaningful deadlines, and assign projects. So why not create a Trello board for every client where the client and I can collaborate on all of our various initiatives, eliminating the need to scroll back through long email threads to see what was previously discussed.

Managing Client Expectations Summary

To wrap it up, the two most essential tenants to my current client relationship success are ‘Assume Zero Knowledge’ & ‘Communication+Visibility’. Never assume your client has a base set of knowledge for the initiatives and projects you are about to conduct for them. And before you even start working together, set expectations with your client for the level of communication & visibility they expect from you. From there, just execute and nail your results!

I’m going to try and stay consistent with writing on here once every week or so, but we’ll see how that goes when midterms and some biz projects are all during the same week 🙂

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