When Client Expectations go Awry: How to manage projects in a dynamic (but realistic) way

Landing a new client is one of the most exciting parts of living the solopreneur lifestyle. After all, helping clients realize their goals for their small business is what keeps us iMarketers motivated and energized. But what happens when client expectations morph from ambitious to downright unrealistic?

I want 50 new customers by the end of the month. That’s ambitious! I want 50 new customers by the end of the month, and I don’t want to spend a dime. Well, that’s unrealistic. We want to say “Yesyesyes!” every time, but sometimes managing client expectations means saying, “Let’s pause for a moment and talk about that.”


One of the most common challenges for keeping unrealistic expectations in check is by ensuring that you’re upfront from the beginning about how long certain projects take to complete. Your client wants the best quality work for their money, and that often means slowing down. When work is rushed, the end product can be messy or — worse — include errors.

Think about how you can break projects into multiple steps so the client can see your progress and give input along the way. Can you have a sparkly new website designed and branded with fresh copy by the end of the month? Ehhhhh, that’s tight. But you could get the ball rolling with an outline of what you expect the navigation to look like, along with content plans for each section in a week or two.

A client who is involved in the process is more likely to love the final product, and a happy client is a repeat client.


Money talks will never be our fave, but they’re an essential part of the process. Be as clear as possible about costs from the start, keeping in mind the client’s budget, the time you’ll be investing and the subcontractor fees. Get everyone on the same page with a detailed agreement in writing before the work begins. (Psssst! Details about agreements like this are exactly the sort of thing our fellow iMarketers have access to in our Blueprint Guide!)

Also, beware of what we like to call “scope creep.” That’s when the project work starts to creeeeep outside the scope of the original budget parameters you and the client agreed to. For example, maybe you’re creating an in-store poster for a client’s upcoming sale. Done and done, right? But now they’d like some suggestions on how and when to post that flyer to their social channels. Oh and, also, could you make a second, pared-down version for them to distribute to potential customers in person?

Being flexible and throwing in a couple of little freebies now and then is a good thing. You’re always looking for ways to go above and beyond what your client expects. Just make sure you’re being clear that certain requests fall outside the project’s parameters, and in the future could be subject to be an additional cost. If what they’re asking for creeps too far outside of the project’s scope, hop on the phone to chat about how that would be a great next project to work on together. Scope-creep conversations almost always work better over the phone.

Remember that setting boundaries with clients in general is good practice, but it is especially important where the budget is concerned because your time is money.


The frustrating thing about marketing is that we don’t always know if certain strategies will work. Nor can we always say for sure what their competition is doing that seems to be working so well. When discussing outcomes with a client, focus on how your expertise and experience position you to determine the best strategies to achieve their goals. Talk about other clients you’ve worked with and the results you’ve produced for them, emphasizing that all the work you do is specifically tailored for each client’s unique needs.

Beware of giving away too much of the final product before you’ve been officially hired for the project, though. New clients may want to see some of your ideas (and even finished work) before they commit to spending the bucks. Offering general ideas is good, and showing them your portfolio of work with other clients is great. However, spending your time — and your subs’ time — for work they may not pay for is unsustainable.

The best way to ensure that you and your client are on the same page is to communicate early and often. Keeping them involved in the process helps manage those client expectations throughout the project.

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