Expectations vary from client to client, but one thing is for certain: Most people are uninformed about what it takes to pull off a spectacular event. With Pinterest showcasing celebrity-worthy designs and a pervasive case of FOMO influencing the market, it’s not unusual for event professionals to deal with assumptions.
From budgets and timelines to client care and communication, unrealistic expectations can set your clients up for disappointment (even when it’s entirely out of your control!).
That’s why it’s essential to set expectations and establish boundaries from the start—before there’s a chance for small misunderstandings to turn into major setbacks.
“When someone is trusting you with the most important day of their life, they might have a lot of opinions on how or why something should be done, but it is up to you, the professional, to know what's best and adhere to it even if it's a difficult conversation,” affirms Jenna Porter, owner of Jenna Noelle Creative.
As an event professional, you are more than just an expert for your clients. You are an educator and an influencer, so use the power of your experience to take charge and lead the conversation with prospective and existing clients.
Follow these four best practices to set clear expectations and cultivate positive working relationships with current and future clients.
Don’t wait to discuss client expectations
If you’ve ever been shocked by a client’s request or action midway through working with them, it’s a good sign you need to have “the talk” earlier in the process.
“My biggest piece of advice is that we have to manage client expectations from the very beginning of our working relationship with them,” confirms Leah Weinberg, owner of Color Pop Eventsand attorney with Kunbi Odubogun. “That's the proactive approach. Because when we don't set expectations from the start, we will be on the defensive for the remainder of our relationship.
”Start the conversation about expectations long before a contract is signed. Talk about them in sales calls, proposals, and even in your marketing to qualify new leads. It’s never too early to make your boundaries clear!
Set yourself up for success
Tempering a client’s expectations is one thing—but continuing to impress them is what wins glowing reviews and testimonials. And the best way to win their favor?
“Under promise and overdeliver,” asserts Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates. “Give yourself a buffer. If you think it will take two days to do the project, say 2.5 or 3. Then, they're happy when you're done in 2, but if you happen to have a hiccup that requires extra time, you're still within what you promised.
"Remember, nobody but you and your team know how your business works behind the scenes. Padding estimates—for time and costs—provide you with extra wiggle room to avoid disappointment.
Prepare them for market fluctuations
As event professionals, there is so much outside of our control. You have no say in how well blooming season goes for a couple’s highly-coveted peonies, nor can you dictate shipping speed or packaging quality. If something arrives late or damaged, you and your client must be prepared to find an alternative solution.
So it’s up to you to identify risks in the market and present them to your clients before they're caught by surprise. As Weinberg notes, “some of the things we need to be setting client expectations on early and often are rising costs, staffing shortages, material shortages, turnover at venues and other vendor companies, and the overall boom in events that's leaving everyone with an increased workload.
"It’s not enough to throw up your hands and place blame on the market when something doesn’t go as planned. Instead, you must get ahead of the curve by setting realistic expectations and offering innovative solutions.
Protect your boundaries
Talking about the parameters of your working relationship is only the first step. You must also maintain those boundaries when you feel like a client is toeing the line. It’s often easier to tell people what you stand for than to tell them when they’ve pushed your limits!
“The most important part? Don't forget to stick with your boundaries!” reminds Nora Sheils, founder of Bridal Bliss. “Receive a late-night text that is not an emergency? Don't respond until the next day's working hours and remind your couple what was set early. It's a slippery slope, and clients will push until you say stop!”
Remain firm but respectful with clients that test your boundaries, and when in doubt, point them back to the contract they signed, agreeing to your business’s parameters.
An unsatisfactory client experience is often linked to mismanaged expectations, so don’t leave anything to question! Be clear from the start and offer gentle reminders throughout the process to ensure everyone remains on track to the final goal: an unforgettable celebration that erases any doubt that their day would be anything less than perfect!
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Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm
OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.