Freelancers: Get Client Wow-Factor By Managing Expectations

Estimated reading time: 11 mins

Want to know a secret of how to make your clients say Wow!?

Is it about bells and whistles?

Do you do it by providing comb-bound booklets?

Or is it about *really cool* slide masters when you do a powerpoint presentation?

Like Hell it is!

Happy Customer It’s something so simple to describe, you won’t believe it. I know because it works for me. I’ve also used this, and made my clients say Wow! too. If you want to make your clients say Wow! then all you have to do is…

….Get the Job Done, when you said it would be done, at cost, and at quality. And Manage Their Expectations.

So do I have a degree in the obvious?

Well not really. I’ll divulge another secret: most clients don’t really believe they will get all those things, but do say they expect them. So when they get it, they really do say Wow!

It’s about organization, and demonstrating it. It’s about creating confidence, and honoring it.

Being an organized IT freelancer goes hand in hand with being a successful freelancer. If you work for several clients or if you have many projects on the go, tools that help you manage your client communications and projects are as essential as your computer.

Not only do you need organization for your own sanity but for transparency to your customers and team members (if applicable) as well. There are some great tools that can help you whether it’s your job to manage large projects or whether your job is a specific piece in a freelance project.

First Things First: Your To Do List

Do you use a to-do list? If you don’t you might find that the busier you get the more you’re scrambling to get things done at the last minute. A day planner is an essential tool to help you and many technical people do suggest that even if you have an electronic handheld planner or use an online calendar that you still keep a paper record of what you need to do because sadly, technology is flawed and systems do go down. You need to know what has to get done on a daily basis and that can be as simple as a checklist. If you have a lot on the go, you’ll need more than that but a basic checklist is an essential tool for keeping you on target.

Why You Need Project Management Tools

Managing your own to do list is challenging at times but whether you’re a project manager, a key player in a big project or someone who finds that project management just happens to be a big portion of what they do, effective management of your freelance jobs will make a big impact on your stress levels and your success levels, too. Various tools can help you stay on top of your tasks and communicate with your customers and remote workgroups. It can also help you ensure you get paid properly and keep everything on target and on budget. Effective tools can help you both proactively and reactively so that you can handle any crisis that comes your way and circumvent crises before they threaten the success of your project.


Showing a client that you’re organized and giving them the ability to track the progress of your project themselves works wonders for your relationship and reputation. Transparency can be very valuable with a freelance gig, especially when you are a remote freelancer and not working on site with a client. Some clients like to micromanage projects so their ability to quickly look up the status of something or have a quick web conference with you can save you time and hassle.

The Benefits of Web Based Project Management Tools

As much as you need tools for your client’s satisfaction you need tools to help you do your job more effectively as well. If you work as part of a team, web based tools offer a great deal of collaborative options and helpful features including offering you the ability to access the tools from anywhere. You can use web based tools for your own project management as well as for collaboration with clients and team members.

Another benefit of online tools is the ability to access them any time and anywhere. A lot of people don’t back up their work. Despite being IT professionals who know how catastrophic it can be to lose all your hard work, we get busy and we often forget or disasters happen suddenly. This is another reason why web-based tools work so well. While you should do your best to keep backup copies of everything it’s comforting to know that you can quickly access projects online from an internet café if some horrible fate suddenly befalls your desktop or laptop or Blackberry.

Managing Multiple Projects: The Basics

Whether you work for one client or for many, those managing several projects concurrently you should be able to give a precise status update to any of those clients at any given time. Your ability to do that largely rests on the types of tools you use in your everyday work. Even if you’re just managing a fraction of a larger project, knowing the basics of project management can help you deliver your portion in a way that demonstrates you are a key contributor and offer value to your clients. In essence, if you manage only a portion of a larger project your portion of that project should be managed like a project itself.

When managing a project you need to manage several factors:

  • Schedule
  • Delegation
  • Budget

If you’re on a strict timeline you need to know if you’re on schedule at all times so you can act fast if you fall behind. Many factors can impact the timing and some of these are out of your control but your scope of the project has to be managed effectively otherwise you can impact other projects. If you have several people working on the project with you and everyone has various tasks they’re responsible for it’s important for the PM (project manager) and the end user to be able to get a bird’s eye view of where everyone is at, at all times.

While it’s useful to get text updates from everyone that tells you they’re on target sometimes you actually need to see this for yourself because the project can be like a house of cards so if just one small factor is out of alignment everything can come tumbling down. This will affect the schedule and the budget and potentially your reputation and ability to get future business from that client.

Project Management Tools

There are some fancy project management systems on the market that allow teams to collaborate and work with one another but if you’re freelancing you might not have the resources to use a high end expensive tool like some large corporations do. This doesn’t mean you can’t be organized. There are a lot of tools you can use to help you whether you pay for them or use them for free.

Let’s have a look at some options that are available individually for collaboration and for using on your own. You might find a great solution that encompasses many different areas or you could use a few different systems together to help you keep your project flowing well. Some options include forums, document collaboration tools, web conferencing and chat rooms.


Elance is the ultimate freelance job site that offers a great system that helps put customers and freelancers together. Not only does it match buyers and sellers but the tools in the system help you manage the process from start to finish.

If you’ve ever used Elance, various aspects of projects are tracked through the systems which are useful both for the provider and the buyer. If you’re managing a customer project the Elance system setup allows for conversations about the project to be saved in one place, for both parties to track the involved funds, for a chat room, status reports and more. While this tool doesn’t easily manage a large project with many providers, it can be very useful and does have team capabilities.


Skype is a chat tool that also allows video conferencing, voice conversations, instant messaging and document sharing. It also saves text discussions which can help you with organization.

This is a service that has a free service or a fee based service. If you have a headset and a webcam you can have regular meetings with clients and project team members. Using Skype can also save you substantially on long distance calling because you can call for free from computer to computer or pay a flat fee to call other mobile or land lines.

As a freelancer it’s a good idea to invest in tools that help you grow your business but a lot of the free tools can be very effective as well. Whether you pay for a project management tool for your computer, subscribe to a web based collaboration tool, have your client supply one or use one of the many free online tools that are available it’s important to find something that works well for you because it’ll help you effectively manage the projects you handle so that balls do not get dropped and so that you have back-up and documentation if you need to handle any client disputes.


Community forums offer a great way to collaborate online. They can be set up so that people can talk and discussions can be organized. You can even assign tasks in some robust forum solutions. This can work well too because login names and passwords and permissions are assigned so it can be set up as completely private. Also, various sub folders in the forum can exist and people can set up permissions so you can have one forum for executive discussions and various other folders set for workgroups within the project team. Many forum systems are free for basic use and then offer add-on modules that allow additional features (such as a support ticket system.) Email alerts can be set up to notify forum members when something new has been posted or when something has been delegated and group announcements can go out as well.

Support Ticket Systems

Some web based project management applications have a ticket system feature to allow you to delegate and assign and track tasks. You can set up a forum that works with this type of system as well. These systems often have great reporting capabilities that can aid in the management of a project. The ticket system can notify someone on the project of various things like: new tasks, problems, items delegated to them or issues that are resolved. Reporting can also be pulled from these systems to analyze the project as well as individual team member response and performance.

Google Documents

Google Documents offers a free web based document sharing solution. If you have a Google account, you can collaborate with clients through document sharing tools. This allows you to share documents with clients and track conversations related to those discussions.

Microsoft Office’s Word

Microsoft Word allows you to track changes to any document. This can be very helpful in a collaborative effort because you can request revisions, see document changes and share with others.

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat is a very collaborative tool as well. While this isn’t free it does offer some great features for document sharing.

Project Management Tools: Find The Right Tools

It may take time to find the right tools to help you do projects effectively. The more projects you manage the more you’ll put together a bag of tricks to help you shine as a great contributor in the future.

For freelancers who work on their own, especially, collaborative project management tools can make a big difference because various individuals working on a project might not ever meet in a boardroom together yet everyone needs to communicate. For this reason, web based solutions can be the most suitable because you can meet live, leave messages for one another and have sub groups within a larger group.

Here is a short list of ten project management solutions you might also consider:

1. WebEx Weboffice
2. DeskShare ProjectDesk
4. AceProject
5. Clarizen
6. Genius Project
7. Basecamp
8. Zoho Projects
9. ProjectsCenter
10. Liquid Planner

Most of these tools offer free trials for their software so you can test drive it before you buy. You can also read product reviews to find out what others are using and how it’s working out for them.

It’s a great idea to get involved with online groups when you do freelance work because this can help you stay abreast of news and information in your specialty where you’ll find out about great tools that can help you do your job better.

If your job is in project management, it’s big responsibility to let a whole project rest on your shoulders. Beyond having the right people in place, you need to have solid tools in place as well that enable you to effectively manage things and circumvent little snags before they become giant problems.

If your freelance career feels fragile because you are regularly running in multiple directions it’s time to take your personal organization more seriously. And if you’re someone who is already ultra organized you probably thrive on tools to help you so it’s a good idea to peruse some of the great online collaborative tools to enhance your productivity, too.

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5 thoughts on “Freelancers: Get Client Wow-Factor By Managing Expectations”

  1. Simon,

    Let me shorten your message here a bit. I sat on the “other side of the desk” for 6 years at my company as Director of IT buying services from freelances and larger companies alike. It does come down to doing what you say you are going to do.

    So for me, the shorter message is if you do what you say you are going to do, then you don’t have to “manage expectations”.

    I know what you are saying, and believe I agree with you that is a hard thing to do. But I think too often as consultants we can get too focused on this activity, somehow thinking it is a silver bullet.

    The fact is: if you don’t deliver, you’re dead; but if you do what you say you’re going to do, then there’s nothing else to discuss. Very simplistic, I know, but for me at least it’s all about honesty, openness and results.

  2. simonstapleton

    Hi Dave – I can think of two broad reasons why managing expectations is important.

    1) Some projects are initiated with freelancers when the deliverables are not always well defined – sometimes the freelancer assists with scoping the project. In these cases, the freelancer must do what they say they will do, but also manage expectations to help the client stick to what is deliverable within the overall timeframe and budget… don’t you agree?

    2) When there is a point of realization that you can’t do what you originally committed to…. but that isn’t always the freelancer’s fault. During a project, stuff happens. The client doesn’t make a decision, system integration doesn’t work properly, market conditions change, etc. This requires the freelancer to manage clients expectations and keep them uptodate on progress by reforecasting plans, expenses, etc in agreement with the client.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Ah – there’s our disconnect. We are using the term in different contexts.

    The two examples you offered I would call activities within good project management and scope management. Just part of good, open and ongoing communication between the consultant and the client.

    Too often I hear “managing expectations” used as a euphemism for “lowering expectations”. Everyone has their own style, but of the consultants I worked with in my IT Director’s role, the ones that had shown a track record of quality work and ongoing, open communication – those were the ones who didn’t need to “manage” expectations. I always expected high quality work delivered on time, and I knew if anything got in the way of that, they would proactively tell me. They also responded positively if I called them to task for anything I thought they were underperforming on.

  4. simonstapleton

    Dave – LOL! You credited me with a turn of subtlety I don’t possess 🙂 I totally agree with your view on the euphemistic use of ‘manage expectations’. I’ve known several freelancers, and permie employees, (as I suspect you have) whose modus operandi is to get the gig no matter what and then ‘manage expectations’ downwards to a level of a) their competence, or b) their desired profit margin. F*ckers. That definitely isn’t the way to go to create Wow! Factor.

  5. It’s always good to manage expectations (in the real sense, Dave!)

    I find that most people just want an honest answer – something they can deal with and manage any necessary interventions.

    Honesty is the best policy.

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