How to manage client expectations: 5 essential tips

Ding! You just got a new message from a new web design client.

You open it up excitedly, expecting details on their vision and needs. But then you see this:

“Hi! I need a modern website ready in 2 weeks. It should be mobile-friendly, easy to navigate, and be set up for eCommerce. I’m also interested in adding a contact form and a blog. Tksss!”

You’ve been in the web design industry for a while to know that’s an unrealistic deadline. What’s more, they expect you to get started and haven’t even sent over the creative brief yet. 

Now, it’s up to you to explain that the deadline isn’t feasible.

GIF Source: Giphy

We feel you. As a seasoned web designer, you know that timeline is plain unrealistic. Now it’s up to you to somehow get this client back down to earth.

But don’t stress – you’ve been around the block enough times to know how to handle situations like this. Keep reading for some stellar tips to manage expectations and steer clients in the right direction.

Table of contents

  1. Get everyone on the same page (with realistic milestones)
  2. Get it in writing, or it didn’t happen
  3. Introduce the client to your team and processes
  4. Communicate early and often
  5. Dodge difficult clients from the start
A list of five tips for seamlessly managing client expectations:

1. Get in sync: Agree on goals and important milestones.
2. Do things the "write" way: Keep notes on everything.
3. Give them a backstage pass: Introduce your client to your team and processes.
4. Be proactive: Keep your client in the loop about your progress.
5. Trust your gut: If you have a bad feeling about a client, listen to it.

1. Get everyone on the same page (with realistic milestones)

Ever seen those “what I ordered vs what I got” memes? A new client orders a cute product online, but what they get is completely different from what they thought they were getting. Something like this:

Image Source: Pinterest

The same thing happens when clients and designers aren’t on the same page about what the end goal of a project is. You build what you think they want, but when you unveil the final product, instead of wows you get crickets. 🦗 Not ideal!

To avoid that awkwardness, you gotta get crystal clear on the project goals upfront. Never assume you know what success means to the client. You gotta ask the tough questions early and often.

Here’s what you can do instead:

Define project scope

You should set clear, realistic goals and milestones for the project. And here’s how to do that:

  • Identify project objectives: To begin, have a sit down with your clients where you can talk about their objectives for the project. You can also use the opportunity to let them know what’s feasible on your end. 
  • Break it down. Together, chunk their goals into bite-sized mini-missions. Smaller steps = bigger success.
  • Assess your resources. Be real – do your team members have the skills and bandwidth to deliver on what the client wants? If not, head back to the drawing board.
  • Map it out. Create a plan of attack to achieve each mini-mission. Give your squad members tasks and set milestones to keep everyone motivated.

Another way to set goals is to apply the S.M.A.R.T. goal principle. 

According to this concept, your objectives must be:

  • (S) Specific: What needs to be done? What is needed to achieve the job? Who’s responsible for it?
  • (M) Measurable: What metrics can be used to quantify the progress or be certain you’re on the right track? To know what metrics to use, you need to know what the client needs.
  • (A) Achievable: This is a reality check phase where you need to be certain your team can handle the client’s needs.
  • (R) Relevant: You should also consider if the objectives align with your client’s needs.
  • (T) Time-bound: When will the project begin and end? There need to be parameters included in the plan so everyone stays on track. 

Getting ultra clear on the destination before departure prevents detours down the road. Here’s why.

Set expectations early to avoid scope creep

Ever have a client try to radically change the plan mid-project?

You originally signed up to build a website, but now they want you to magically morph it into a mobile app. 

By tomorrow. 😵‍💫

That, my friends, is the dreaded scope creep. And according to a Project Management Institute (PMI) study, more than 50% of projects fall victim to scope creep.  Yikes!

Scope creep happens when clients add surprise requests outside of the original agreed-upon scope. It can extend your timeframe, zap your budget, bandwidth, and sanity if you’re not careful.

The best defense against scope creep is to set ultra-clear expectations upfront. Define the project scope and goals in writing so there’s no room for surprises later.

Of course, clients may still request changes down the road. When they do, gently remind them of what you originally signed up for and offer to schedule a follow-up contract for any new work.

Trust us, scope creep is a productivity vampire you want to avoid at all costs. 🧛‍♂️ Here’s how to drive a stake through it: 

  • Set expectations and define requirements: When setting customer expectations, speak with them about every detail of the job so everyone is familiar with the scope of work. 
  • Keep communication flowing: This helps ensure there’s no misunderstanding about what’s to be done. Preferably, let communication be between the project manager and client alone. 
  • Don’t overpromise: Ensure the client’s expectation is within your team’s ability so you can over-deliver. If it’s not, you should let them know. 

It’s always a good rule of thumb to define requirements so clients and stakeholders know what to expect. 

But you know what’s even better than defining the scope? Putting it in writing before you start.

2. Get it in writing or it didn’t happen 

“If it’s not written, it never happened. If it’s written, it doesn’t matter what happened.”Sercan Leylek

We’ve chatted about setting expectations upfront during the onboarding process. But after the meeting has ended, the next step is to get everything in writing with signatures from both sides. 

Why is this important?

  • It’s easy for people to misunderstand what you say but not what’s written.
  • Some clients might claim that you’ve not fulfilled your obligations.
  • Official records are legal documents and are binding.
  • Everyone respects a signed agreement. 

In addition, documentation helps you have a seamless working relationship with your clients. It shows them what the responsibilities of both parties are in the project.

The doc should spell out:

  • What’s in scope and what’s a big nope
  • Exact deliverables they’re getting
  • Cost breakdown
  • Timeline and milestones

Once it’s drafted, send it over for their review. If everyone vibes with it, you’re good to go!

This way, you and the client will have a simple workflow, with both parties knowing what to expect at the end of the day. 

With signed documentation, you and the client can boogie-oogie-oogie through the project stress-free. But paper can make some clients nervous, so next we’ll talk about showing some love to the team!

3. Introduce the client to your team and processes

After all the back and forth with expectations and requirements, another way to improve your client relationship is by introducing them to your team. 

GIF Source: Giphy

Let them put faces to names and get a feel for each person’s superpowers. This builds trust that they’re in good hands.

After meeting your team, give them a sneak peek at how you kick off projects. Walk them through your current workflow so they know what to expect along the way.

But don’t stop there! Great relationships require TLC. Check in regularly to update them on progress, delays or blockers.

Being proactive shows you care and keeps things running smoothly. But that’s not all. Here’s how to communicate like a rockstar.

4. Communicate early and often 

Ever have a team member swoop in with a preemptive solution before you even notice an issue? 

In that moment, you walked away feeling confident the project is in good hands and that your teammates had your back. 

Don’t you wish clients were that proactive?

Well, they can be! The key is consistent communication from the get-go.

Proactiveness involves initiating conversations with clients before they feel the need to. You share updates without waiting for them to check in. 

It’s taking action upfront to strengthen the relationship with your customer and improve their experience with your brand.

Being proactive has some stellar benefits:

  • Help you improve customer lifetime value (CLV) which is the total financial worth of a client during your collaboration. 
  • Lead to lasting relationships that build trust (and might lead to new business). 
  • Builds customer loyalty, as clients find proactiveness a sign of honesty and transparency. 

So how can you proactively communicate like a rockstar?

  • Provide regular updates: You can decide to send updates weekly or bi-weekly at your discretion. These updates are like road signs on the timeline, keeping everyone up-to-date about possible delays or progress. This way, stakeholders and clients know what to expect and when too. 

FYI, you don’t have to wait to reach a milestone before you do, just let them know what’s up at each turn. 

  • Anticipate possible issues: Now that you know what client expects, try to identify potential challenges that might arise and address them. It could be technical issues like software limitations or sudden changes in the market trends. 

In order to establish effective communication with clients, you need to ensure your tech stack comprises the appropriate tools.

Use the right tools for communication and feedback

For daily chitchat, async communication tools like Slack and Trello do the trick. They’re less stressful, help improve productivity, and are flexible for people in different time zones. 

But when sneakier project issues pop up, you need something more powerful.

Something like, a collaboration tool, where you can upload and share projects with clients for review. 

In turn, they can add pixel-accurate comments on the project and even record Loom videos to share ideas by clicking anywhere on the file. 

Image Source:

It’s a valuable option for communicating with clients and receiving feedback

Just remember – with great power comes great responsibility. Use your fancy new tools for good, not evil! 

In other words, don’t over-promise and deliver subpar jobs (best to under-promise and over-deliver!), which takes us to the next tip.

5. Dodge difficult clients from the start

We all get ’em – those clients who think you’re a magical creature that can violate the laws of time and space. 🤦

They want a complete website redesign the day before launch. Or a photoshop job that defies physics. 🙅‍♂️

In most cases, they only want you to do what they say even when you know their idea isn’t feasible.

The best policy is to just say no to high-maintenance clients from the start. You can follow up and politely explain why you can’t move forward together.

But if you have no choice, here are some tips. 

Best practices for managing unrealistic client expectations

  • Understand what’s driving them: Try to find out why they have these kinds of expectations. Have they had bad experiences with service providers in the past? Are they inexperienced? Are they under pressure? If so, you can document and explain why they’re in safe hands by clarifying the outcome they’ll get. 
  • Set clear expectations: Establish what you can and can’t do and set realistic expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Be transparent: Keep clients informed about the project’s progress, including challenges and what you’re doing to avoid them.
  • Suggest alternatives: When clients have unrealistic expectations, offer more feasible alternatives or better yet, a compromise. This way, they know you’re open to finding a solution for them. 
  • Educate clients: Customers are always right. But sometimes, they might be inexperienced or not knowledgeable about the work it takes to get a project over the finish line. Educating them can help them realize why their expectations are unrealistic.
  • Be responsive: Keep the lines of communication open with clients and business owners and address any questions they might have.


With some finesse, you can steer even unruly clients toward win-win outcomes. Just keep communication clear and expectations realistic, and you’ll be on your way to managing client expectations in no time.

Just one more thing before you go…

Improve client communication with

We’ve talked about the art of managing client expectations and good communication. 

But even Beyonce needs the right tools to craft those flawless tracks!

That’s where comes in. We’re like the swiss army knife for collaboration with stakeholders.

Using, you can share deliverables with clients via email or a live URL. 

Customers can review the project by clicking anywhere on the screen to add comments. 

Creative teams like yours are already using to streamline their communication. 

Wanna see how it works with your own eyes? Sign up for a free 30-day trial with and thank us later. 😏