At long last, we are welcoming large-scale events back to the scene after a long and quiet season. However, with bigger events comes bigger expectations, so it's time for event pros to get crystal clear when setting expectations with clients. In a season that will be busier than most, establishing boundaries will be an essential step in keeping clients happy while preserving your sanity.
With 2020 celebrations stacking on top of those in 2021 and 2022, time will be of the essence for the upcoming year as the industry works through a massive backlog of events. As a result, some clients will understandably need some extra care and attention to assuage their concerns — after all, they just watched a year's worth of weddings and events get postponed or canceled.
Be prepared to invest more time and energy into your client experience, but that doesn't mean you lose control of the agreement. You are still responsible for setting expectations and enforcing your boundaries to ensure you can provide a top-notch experience for all of your clients (not just the more dependent ones!).
Here are what the industry experts have to say about setting expectations gently and respectfully that shows clients how much you care.
Establish your processes and policies early.
Your clients won't respect your boundaries if they aren't aware of them. As a professional, it's up to you to get crystal clear on how the working relationship will look as you progress towards their event. For example, instead of hearing them ask, "Where are we at?" every week, you can give them all the details upfront so they know what to expect and when.
"Having clear and visible policies as well as a specific process that is shared and explained to the client before they even book is incredibly important," states Kelley Nudo, client manager for Momental Designs. "Even when you have a verbal conversation with a client, it is best to follow up with an outline of notes via email after the chat to ensure the client has all the information to reference afterward. Sending a written account of your conversations is super helpful for the client but also protects you from a 'he said she said situation.'"
Nudo continues: "From a custom stationery standpoint, having a well thought out process is critical in providing your client with structure, so they know what is happening each step of the way. Closely following your designated process is the best way to avoid miscommunication, but should it occur, being able to fall back on your written policies can help support you in any sticky situation."
Be clear about your working hours.
You cannot and should not be on-call for your clients 24/7. You need uninterrupted time in your schedule to complete client work, execute events onsite, work on your business, pursue personal projects, and spend time with family and friends. So don't put your calendar up for grabs!
"Set availability and clarify your working hours," encourages Nora Sheils, co-founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss. "Communicate with your clients the appropriate methods of communication (preference to email, no texts after 5 p.m. or unless there is an emergency, etc.) early on in your relationship."
Sheils adds: "You will be setting a great foundation for your relationship, and it will be super clear to the couple what is and what isn't appropriate. Don't forget to stick with your boundaries! Receive a late-night text that is not an emergency? Don't respond until the next day's working hours and remind your couple of what was set early on. It's a slippery slope, and clients will push until you say stop!"
Change "no" to "yes, but."
Saying "no" is hard as someone who lives and breathes hospitality. You might feel like you are hardwired to please all the people and enthusiastically agree to every request. Yet, when you follow that approach, you often end up taking on more than you can handle and burning out.
Lynne Reznick, owner of Lynne Reznick Photography, encourages event pros to take back control of one's schedule and bandwidth: "We have to master the art of saying no, by saying yes. We have to find a way to set clear boundaries and stick to our guns, without always saying no to our clients and making them feel like we aren't flexible or willing to work with them."
Reznick elaborates: "The way we can do this is by saying no to unreasonable asks, or to things we aren't willing to do while offering them a solution at the same time. For example, clients often ask if I'll stay later than my contracted time. Instead of simply refusing to stay late at an event, I explain that I'm happy to stay on beyond my contracted time for an additional fee of $XXX/hour. In this way I'm able to positively communicate that I value my time and that I'm also willing to be flexible. It feels like a yes."
Accept your mistakes.
While you might expect miscommunications on your client's side, nobody's perfect, and you might slip up from time to time as well. You're only human! It's OK to make mistakes, but make sure you address them with an authentic apology and plan to avoid it from happening again.
"If a miscommunication occurs and there is an error on our part, the first thing we do is apologize and listen," shares Catherine Guidry, owner of Catherine Guidry Photography. "Our job is to make the client happy, so if they're not happy, we want them to know that they are heard. From there, we ask, 'what can we do to make this right' and allow the client to guide the conversation making the best of what we can with the situation."
With the right procedures in place to set expectations with clients in the early stages of your agreement, you will start off on the right foot and set yourself up for a successful client experience from start to finish. It all begins with speaking up and making yourself clear!