The Problem with Expectations

Expectations The problem with expectations is not that they’re unrealistic, or crazy or impossible. The problem with expectations is that they’re rarely expressed.

Not expressing our expectations is one thing if there’s no one else involved in getting them met. But if we expect to get the project we want, the gifts, attention, help, answers and service we want (expect), then we have to communicate our expectations when see they aren’t being met.

Several months ago I had a client who came to me for a brochure. I quoted them a price. I told them that price would include the layout, design, photos, copywriting and a final file they could send to their printer to get their copies. They would get a complete brochure. They agreed remarking how great it was that they got it for $100 cheaper than their last guy.

I wondered if I’d left money on the table, so to speak. But I drafted the agreement for just those things and delivered the brochure, as promised, a week later.

I didn’t hear back from the client for a couple of weeks. They paid the invoice, but there was no response to the brochure. So I wrote and asked them, “What do you think of the brochure? Was it okay?”¬† They called me back and said they loved the brochure, but when would they get the ad file and cover for their website.

I was confused. What ad file? What cover? Well, it seems the “last guy” they had charged them more money because he also sent them a small 2×2 “ad” block they could link to the PDF, and then a cover of the brochure for their “featured photo”. In other words, their last guy charged more because he did more. They thought the ad block and cover was just something that was part of the brochure. They didn’t realize they’d been paying for it. They assumed that just came with the brochure.

Their expectation then was that ALL DESIGNERS and creatives they hired did things the same way. They were happy to pay me for the ad and the cover once I figured out what was going on and they realized the cover and ad were a separate project. That expectation was easily sorted out. But what about the larger jobs?

If your expectations aren’t clearly expressed at the beginning of a project, it’s difficult for the writer or designer to know what you want so they can deliver that. For instance, if you have children would you rather them tell you what they want for their birthday, or would you rather assume, guess or get them what you want them to have? It’s much less stressful to know what they want, right? The same goes with projects you hire someone to do. They know how to give you what you want. But they need an idea of what your expectations are so they can tell you precisely (1) what it will cost (2) what your options are if the cost is bigger than your budget and (3) if they are able to handle the job.

Making your expectations clear at the outset is critical if you want your project to run smoothly:

Tell the designer or writer what you want. If you don’t know what you want, ask them what they can do. For instance, brochures come in different configurations, sizes and formats. There are bi-fold, tri-fold, and about 10 other potential ways to create a brochure. If you’re assuming and expecting a tri-fold brochure, but you TELL the designer, “Whatever you think will work best,” you may be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised at the results.

Yes, it takes a little longer to lay out your expectations, and to hear what the writer’s expectations are (e.g. I need you to hit all deadlines, I need you to NOT add more¬† information and changes after I start unless you’re willing to pay for a change order, etc). It’s a two-way process. And, it should be in writing so there are no misunderstandings or confusion over pricing, time, and the final deliverable.



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