Imagine, you are the expert in your field. You’re working with a client on a project that is almost complete. You have been communicating well, not everyday, and not too long. The balance is just right. You have followed their brief exactly to point and have the reasons to why you did what you did each step of the process. Every element can be explained. Now, 4 weeks into the project when it is wrapping up, the client doesn’t like results. What happened?
Unrealistic expectations are what happened.
It’s a common occurrence. But only common if you work with bad clients. It’s your responsibility to set expectations at the beginning of the project. What they can expect, if it’s a lettering design for example; the brand colours, the style of lettering, does it fit the theme etc.? There are so many variables, but these are the things that you must think about. These things come with experience and knowledge of the process of dealing with clients. All clients want the exact same thing – For you to solve a problem for them in the most effective way possible. Narrowing down your process and ‘trimming the fat’ to know exactly how to achieve this for a client is how to perfect your process.
The best clients come to you because you are an expert. You possess a set of skills that they don’t. You know how to use these skills to create something unique that solves the problem for them. The best clients don’t have the time. They have the money to hire you because their business is doing well. Bad clients don’t have the money to spend on you but have the time.
It’s your responsibility to set the expectations. But what if you’re dealing with a client that just doesn’t see your thinking and rationale behind the decisions you made for their solution, yet you know this to be the best solution for their problem based on the information they provided. Some would say it’s their fault for being stubborn. But a professional takes responsibility. Spot the red flags at the beginning of your process in the client communication stage. They don’t want your problem solving services, they just want your services. This is what is referred to as a ‘technician’, a service provider that does a task that is asked of them.
A bad client will have already entered the relationship with a preset expectation with no possibility of meandering to solve the problem more effectively. They want it done as quick as possible with no surprise.
This is half the battle with unrealistic expectation.
Unrealistic Expectations pt. 2
The other half is when a client has pictured the outcome before the work has even begun, again with zero possibility for change or seeing it any other way than what preexisted in their mind. You can’t read minds, you can barely read yours. An artist / designer / creative’s biggest struggle is trying to reimagine your solution from your head to paper / your computer.
A portfolio brimming with creative brilliance. A proven track record of working with exceptional results and an audience of followers who love your work. What does that mean? Nothing to a client that sees you as a technician, someone there to do a job they tell you to do.
A project is never going to turn out exactly like you had envisioned in your head. You know this, and so should the client. Especially if they’re asking you to create something that they envisioned. You can’t picture what is in their mind. It’s their responsibility to communicate to you every bit of detail that they want from a project. If they don’t, you are going to be without crucial details that the client has failed to provide and will set unrealistic expectations of how the project will turn out. Trying to receive precisely what they had envisioned in their head is setting you up for failure.
For example, you’re a lettering artist. The client has asked for a custom-made logo with an image in the background and white letters. After you asked for other key elements and design directions, this helps to set expectations for both of you without them telling you what to do, they failed to mention they want it decorated as a western-style typeface. This is the type of detail that is crucial to the style. From the moment you begin, you’re already struggling uphill, because their expectation will never be met, they have envisioned in their mind what it is going to look like and now the next time they see it, they will instantly dismiss it.
They could very well like the new direction that you have taken, unknowingly to you that this is not what they had envisioned. Imagine another scenario where you have purposefully deviated from their final vision because you know it is not the right solution to their problem, yet they don’t like it because they had envisioned something else from the start. Then you know it was never about solving problems for the client, just doing the work they had asked you, the work of a technician, of course it’s too late now and. You will never have creative freedom in the field your specialise in if you are only doing the work that the client asks you to do.
Unrealistic expectations is a mindset. A mindset found with bad clients.
The best clients realise that you are the expert in what you do, you are the one that has dedicated hundreds, or even thousands of hours to hone your craft and the sacrifices that came with mastering this skill. The refer to you when they need help or a problem needs a solution, likewise you refer to them when they are the experts in their field, you need information about their industry, competitors, brand etc.
Of course, in every instance you always have the clients best interests in mind and in heart, you want them to like their new designs, artwork, photography etc. And you want to establish a relationship with with. I’m not incurring that you purposefully deviate from their brief, or do something that they specifically did not ask for, only that at all times you exercise your freedom to explore the best possible solution for the client.
Remember, you are the one that knows best, this is your livelihood.