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Emily Sullivan

Yes, You Can Manage Impossible Client Expectations

When your clients' dreams don't match reality, you have to step in. Here's how.

In a world of Pinterest-perfect inspiration boards, blogs and magazines, it’s easy to understand how event client expectations have taken a turn for the impossible. Surely if a picture of something exists, it can be done, right?

Unfortunately, not every photograph represents achievable reality, and as an event professional, that can set you up for the perception of failure--unless you manage the situation from the start.

Once you’ve recognized the first signs of impossible client expectations, there are steps you can take to help educate your consumer. Protect your reputation and ensure that your clients are satisfied by carefully managing their expectations.

Think of yourself as an event client in today’s world. You’re exposed to inspiration shoots everywhere you turn. Unfortunately, those shoots rarely mention that the one table that was photographed under professional lighting and in ideal circumstances came with a $15,000 price tag--per table! Face it: Almost no one has that kind of budget!

There is also a big push in the media for clients to personalize their celebrations, so hosts feel pressured to customize every single detail. The costs add up and the stress increases as they succumb to the pressure to be unique.

How should you handle the situation when your client approaches you with these big ideas, and you know that their budget or logistics won’t allow them to have exactly what they want? 

I personally never say “no” right away, but I do give them reality checks and gently play devil’s advocate. I always take the opportunity to explain the reason their inspiration might be beyond their budget or logistics, and I try to research and offer more reasonable alternatives. That way, if you have to present a problem, you’ll have a solution to present at the same time.

Is the problem primarily financial? A lot of times event clients don’t realize how small changes can impact the overall budget. I find it most effective to show them on paper how each possible adjustment might help or hurt. Most clients appreciate this reality check and are better able to consider their options once they see how the financial situation impacts the overall event outcome.

Another way to help your client is to put together a cohesive, talented team of dependable vendors who can help make some of their dreams come true. Look for like-minded professionals who share your desire to help meet some of the client’s expectations and wow them with what they can have, rather than stress them out over what they can’t. Your help assembling such a team is truly invaluable to clients who may be planning a major event or celebration for the very first time

It’s never easy to say “no” to a client, but it is always in his or her best interest to be honest when expectations cannot possibly match reality. If your client has impossible expectations, start with the truth, offer solutions and put together the best possible team to support you and your work. Your client will ultimately be much more satisfied with the event outcome and your services. 

Emily Sullivan is the owner of Emily Sullivan Events, a full-service wedding planning company based in New Orleans and serving couples everywhere.


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