Five things to tell your customer before you start a job

Ever been to a doctor’s room for a procedure and didn’t know what was coming next? It’s enough to make you feel a bit anxious. Working with a new customer is bit like this – they need to know what to expect up front so that they feel at ease and things don’t go awry further down the line. That’s why it’s important to set a few ground rules before you jump right in and start the job. Here are five things you should talk about before you start working together.

1. Discuss how you’ll keep in touch

First, it’s important to talk about how you both prefer to communicate. Text, email, phone calls, carrier pigeon? Your customer wants to know that you’re attentive and will take time to communicate throughout the project, and will do so competently and professionally. The reverse is also important. You need your customer to respond to questions on time to meet deadlines and delivery dates.

2. Talk about the process

Take care of your customer by explaining the process of working with you – lay out the timeline, who does what (and when), the communication schedule, third-party costs involved, etc. You can help them feel comfortable by setting expectations up front. Take the time to listen, plan and document. If you’re in tune throughout the process, your customer’s bound to be thrilled with the end result.

3. Be truthful about costs

No one likes being surprised with a hefty bill. So make sure you quote carefully and accurately, including your material costs, labour costs, third party costs and possible add-ons. Be considerate of your customer’s budget, and be clear about what’s possible or what’s not. If you’re more expensive than the competition, explain why their money is better spent with you – for example, you might promise exceptional customer service. If it looks like there’s going to be some scope creep, keep your customer in the loop so they can decide whether they want to fork out for the additional costs.

4. Get inside their head

Here’s where you turn investigative reporter. Ask as many questions as you can to try and understand exactly what they want from you. Are they looking for an ideas-person, or do they just want someone who’s going to get on with the job? Have they got a clear vision of what they want, or are they happy for the process to be more organic? This is really important so you can manage expectations and ensure that no one’s disappointed. Take some notes and play their words back to them, to ensure you’ve really ‘got’ what they’ve been talking about and you’re both on the same page.

5. Tell it to them straight

If their budget won't cover it, their time frames too short or their ideas unrealistic, you need to tell your customer right from the start. There’s no point saying what they want to hear just to get the job, because this can lead to major issues further down the line. Saying ‘I’m not sure’, I’ll get back to you’, or ‘I need to do a bit of research first’ is totally okay. They’ll respect your honesty right up front, and it means you’re not committing to something you can’t deliver on.