Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Managing Expectations & Deadlines for Creative Work

Establishing deadlines and expectations for a creative service or product keep both the client and the creative happy in their working arrangements.  Without clear deadlines or expectations, the creative can infinitely revise their own work, or the client can continually expect service without an end point.  Many contracts outline the basics of payment expectations and deliverables, but a great creative working relationship will make sure to outline the following considerations before working together...

When the work will begin:
Let's say you have 10 projects on your plate and you can't even think about the client's project until the end of the month.  Discuss this in advance with the client, and what they can do to prepare themselves before the working arrangement begins so they aren't expecting you to be on call with their project right out of the gate.

When online or in-person meetings will happen for progress updates:
If your project has multiple steps that require client feedback or updates, establish a calendar of when those updates and check-ins will happen up front.  Get the dates into your calendar and into the client's calendar.  This way, even if your schedule or the client's schedule changes over time, you can renegotiate the check-in dates and expectations for updates and feedback.  Just having regular check-ins on creative work can help put a client more at ease than having nothing.

When middle parts of the project are due:
Consider the wedding photography internal deadline like the client family who needs engagement photos to send newspapers, or a framed photo order they want to place before the wedding.  Consider the website design client who may have a deadline for a landing page before the full site is ready, or a deadline for a product logo before the rest of the work is completed.  By discussing project deadlines that need to happen in the middle of the project, the creative creates more clarity around the process and internal deadlines that the client is expecting to have ready in advance.

When client contributions are due:
How many times have projects been delayed because the creative was waiting on the client to deliver something necessary for the creative to move forward?  By establishing client deadlines and expectations for contributions - AS WELL AS late fees and late consequence expectations for not delivering on deadline - the client and creative have opportunities to discuss the importance of the client contribution in advance of working together and signing a contract.  This also gives the client an opportunity to be better prepared to contribute in advance.

What are the communication expectations (video, phone, or email?)
In the age of a million ways to communicate, we now have to address HOW we should expect people to communicate with us.  If your client is a phone person and you hate talking on the phone as a creative, is the Video Call the next best solution for both of you, or do you need the client to send emails only?  What should the expected turn around response time be before a client asks if you received their email?  These things actually need to be discussed in advance now so that the creative and the client can have the best understanding of what communication method they should expect to be the most effective for working together.

When updates should be expected:
By scheduling project updates into your creative work calendar, you can help regularly reassure clients, who do not understand what happens the creative process behind the scenes, that in the silent moments between the time they hear from you and the time they don't hear from you, you're still working on their project.  This also helps set appropriate expectations that help the client know how often they should expect to hear from you, so that they don't expect project updates to be sent just because they want to check in regularly.

When creative or client won't be available (in case of vacations):
If there are periods where you simply won't be available or the client won't be available for long stretches of time due to vacations scheduled in advance, those should be outlined in advance to set the expectation of when someone should not expect to hear from you.  By putting it in the contract or in an advance schedule, the client will have a reference document to turn to rather than asking the creative random questions about why they aren't getting in touch.

When the project or contract will be finished:
Establishing the deadline for when all work will be completed and provided helps make sure that clients and creatives are not wasting each other's time with additional requests above and beyond the contracted arrangements.  Setting both a deadline as a date, as well as a full outline of what will be provided by that date, means establishing expectations that both the client and the creative agree upon in advance before beginning the work.  This also creates a clear and clean cut-off as to when the work and the contract have ended, so that a new contract for work can be established, or so that the creative and client can walk clean and clear away from a working arrangement they don't want to have anymore.

Have any other deadlines or expectations you think need to be discussed up front?  Comment and let us know!
Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

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