Hands messaging on an iPhone.

Years ago, I had an artist client who did large-scale commissions for hotels (yeah, it’s a niche).

He did terrific work but always seemed to conflict with his clients. They got pissed that he didn’t answer their calls or return emails as fast as they would have liked.

Some of these conflicts almost turned into legal disputes.

We figured out that the antidote was to set freaking solid communication protocols with clients even before they started working together.

Although initially reluctant, he put together a simple document explaining to clients how he communicated, what they could expect when working with him, and how the whole process would go.

That simple investment upfront created a complete 180 in this artist’s business. He evaporated client disputes that had been endemic, and he was able to focus on producing better work and charging more for it.

Huge win and easy to do if you follow a few simple steps.

Set expectations early and often

Wouldn’t you want to know upfront if someone doesn’t want to work how you want to?

I would.

Setting early expectations is critical – preferably before you work together or make other commitments.

I often tell my clients to include communication standards in a proposal or other sales page they share with potential clients. That lets people know exactly how you do things and lets them decide you’re not a fit BEFORE anything is at stake. Similarly, you learn whether or not you can serve that particular client before it becomes a nightmare scenario.

Yes, that might mean some people choose not to work with you. But if these people weren’t a good fit for how you work, it would have been a nightmare anyways.

Make the communication protocols clear

Everyone has different ways of communicating and different expectations around how you should communicate.

If you don’t clearly express how you prefer to communicate, you’re setting yourself up for stress and disappointment. You don’t need that.

If you prefer email, say that. And be clear about, for instance, how long it takes you to respond.

If you do phone calls, establish whether or not you take unscheduled phone calls – and if you don’t, provide an easy way to schedule.

Also, if you have hours during which you respond, say so. For example, if you don’t choose to communicate on weekends, say so.

You’ll create a crazy good experience for your clients

While setting communication boundaries at first can be intimidating, you create a stunningly good client experience.

And client experience is what this is all about.

When you set clear expectations, clients aren’t left wondering how to reach you or how you will communicate essential information. Instead, by telling them these things upfront, you cull uncertainty from the relationship and build massive trust.

PS – This is an ongoing process. As your business grows and your needs change, your communication changes. Your clients will provide feedback (some of it wrong, but you can still learn from it), and if you act on it, you can improve things. The point is: don’t worry about getting everything right on day one or even day 100.

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