Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5
Subscribe

Set Yourself Up for Success By Setting Expectations

It doesn't matter if you have a dynamite product or brilliant service to offer. If you don't establish boundaries and expectations with customers, they'll be disappointed.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As an entrepreneur, one of the ways you can shoot yourself in the foot is by not setting realistic expectations for yourself, your business and your customers. It doesn't matter if you have a dynamite product or brilliant service to offer. If customers expect something else from you, they'll be disappointed. And though it's great that you give your team great benefits and pay them well, if their expectation of their job is different than yours, you're headed for a collision.

Often people don't set expectations because they assume that others already understand what to expect.

Nope.

When someone comes to you for your service, they typically do it because they don't know what you know, and they don't know how to do what you do. Maybe they never experienced the process or maybe they experienced it with someone else who operates differently. So, they don't know what to expect from you. Or — even more deadly — they have expectations that are totally unrealistic.

Related: How to Set Boundaries as an Entrepreneur

Set expectations from the start

A new client might show up for a chiropractic adjustment with the notion that their issue can be handled in one session. Or someone might come to you to handle their bankruptcy thinking they just have to fill out a little paperwork and it's done. What about a homeowner who expects you to crank out the design for their dream house in two weeks and fit 4,000 square feet of space into an 1,800 square foot home? Or a client who expects that a tiny eye lift will make them look 40 years younger? Unless you tell them off the bat what they can realistically expect from you, they'll be not only impossible to work with, but they'll end up being disappointed no matter how awesome your service is.

This applies to products as well. Your product may be terrific but if you oversell its benefits, you're doing your business a disservice. "Lose 50 pounds a month in your sleep!" or "Regrow a full head of hair in just three weeks!" for example. Setting unrealistic expectations may get you a spurt of sales in the short run, but it's a recipe for headaches and failure long term.

Related: Why Setting Boundaries Is the Secret to Preserving Energy and Focusing on What Matters

Tell them about pitfalls

Setting good expectations also includes explaining potential bumps along the way. For example, in my coaching business, my team and I noticed that at about 90 days into the program, it's common for clients to hit a wall. They've done the work, but they aren't yet seeing the results they want. They get discouraged and feel like giving up. But based on my experience over the years, I know they're actually on the verge of breaking through when they hit that wall. I've seen it time and time again, so I trust that it's true. But they don't know that.

So, I've learned to warn them up front. "This isn't going to happen overnight. You may not see any results for the first three months. You may get discouraged and throwing in the towel. But keep going and know that your success is just around the next corner." With this information and reassurance, they keep moving forward — and success does happen for them.

In my real estate business, I tell clients how quickly their house will sell and how much they can realistically expect to get for it. If they insist on unrealistic expectations, I don't accept them as clients. That sounds harsh, but I've learned that you can never please a client who expects what you can't deliver.

I also have a video called Seller Beware that warns homeowners about all the weird things that happen when agents start showing their house: People will use your bathroom and leave it messy. They'll lock the door you normally enter. They'll leave closet doors and cupboards open. They'll help themselves to the fruit on your counter. When homeowners know to expect the strange things people do, they can laugh it off rather than get upset about it.

Related: Successful Entrepreneurs Need These 3 People Skills

Expectations of your team

And what about your team members and contractors? A thorough job description is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to setting clear expectations. If you expect them to pick up the phone on weekends, you need to tell them up front. If they have non-negotiable personal needs like caring for sick children, you need to be aware of it before you hire them. No matter how qualified they are, take the time to make sure both of you lay out all of your expectations about the job before committing to one another.

Setting expectations in the very beginning of a client or employee relationship may seem like a buzz kill; you want your clients and new hires to be excited to work with you. But sharing realistic expectations from the start will ensure that the excitement continues, and everyone succeeds.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks