Why a Little Reality Is Good for Clients (and for You)

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Angry Mandy © by Luke Addison (2007)

Entrepreneurs are masters of great expectations. We talk up our ventures to potential investors, we have occasionally unrealistic projections for our companies’ success, and we enthusiastically sell our prospects on what we can do for them. More than anyone else – save Charles Barkley – we are experts at setting the bar high before we even get started.

But when you set expectations too high, you set yourself up for failure. My company, Digital Talent Agents, works on getting established experts in various industries published; they build a brand while sharing their knowledge. It’s a great model, but it’s a situation ripe for over-the-top expectations. When I was starting out, I would do whatever it took to “hook” people. I’d make sure to tell them about some of the high-level publications we’d gotten other clients published in. I was, of course, implying that the same could happen for them.

The problem was that these new clients would expect to be in Forbes or The Wall Street Journal the next day when, in reality, our business has to leverage up their brands. In the beginning, we got into trouble for mentioning these publications before making it clear that we had to develop each expert’s brand over time in order to qualify for these opportunities. People get published in Forbes because they’re well-known, credible sources, and others want to hear what they have to say. This isn’t their first rodeo.

But for people who are jumping into the publishing world for the first time, this is a big disappointment. We had clients who were frustrated because we weren’t meeting the expectations they had for us, and we knew it was because they weren’t cooperating with us to get there. This caused some hurt feelings on both sides; we didn’t lose any clients, but it can take a long time to recover from something like this. We all want to achieve big success, but it’s better to slowly build your reputation than to loudly arrive out of nowhere – this was as true for our clients as it was for us.

Because of this, it’s essential to clarify expectations, no matter your business. Make sure you set expectations you can deliver on. In my company, we had to set up processes to establish what we can do, as well as what it takes to get there. We can deliver on a lot of the inflated expectations people have, but we had to make it clear that we work as partners with our clients. We have to meet each other halfway, each of us providing the knowledge that makes our process successful.

To build mutual trust, we developed an on-boarding process that outlined what our clients needed to do, and what they could expect in return from us. This new on-boarding packet came with a document containing our guidelines – a black-and-white reminder of what they needed to do – as well as a customized editorial calendar. This helped keep things realistic – it may take months before clients are published in their dream magazine, but they know exactly what they have to do in order to get there. This also eliminated missed deadlines, which had been hurting our results.

Since we’ve made these changes, we’ve been able to consistently deliver for our clients, and they’ve been happy. A huge mistake was to get clients in the door by promising what we could do, rather than focusing on what it would take to attain it. It’s far better to under promise and over deliver than to set high expectations that are never met – and never satisfy either one of you.

If you make an effort to establish realistic expectations at the outset, and back them up with an easy process for your clients to follow, this strategy will get you where you want to go. Gradually impressing your clients – who can go forth and set decent expectations for future clients – will go a lot further than your Charles Barkley salesmanship ever could.

John Hall is the CEO of Digital Talent Agents, a company that helps experts build their personal and company brand through producing high quality content for reputable publications.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads  #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

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