You said Timex, but they heard Rolex — Clear communication is key to managing expectations

Being successful at managing client expectations often boils down to managing just one thing: communication. If you invest the time and effort to be a clear communicator and work with the client from the start to set objectives together, you’ll rarely have any problems in this regard.

When expectations are vague, problems can quickly materialize.

For instance, imagine that you’re at a camera shop and see a vaguely-worded sign that could possibly, just maybe, be loosely interpreted such that the new camera you’ve been dreaming of might be on sale for an obviously ridiculous price. You know in your heart of hearts that the odds are better than 99.99% that it’s simply a poorly-worded sign, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to give it a go just the same and try to get it for the unrealistic price. Your clients are no different – everyone loves a bargain.

We’ve been trained by the American retail juggernaut to be constantly on the alert for sales, and to take advantage of lapses in clarity of pricing or expectations to one’s own advantage. You’ve likely heard tales of airlines accidentally offering ridiculously low airfares, ultimately caving in and honoring those fares, usually as a face-saving PR move. It’s in our cultural DNA to be sale-shoppers, and we’ll save the moral soul-searching for after we’ve snagged that great deal, thank you very much.

On the flip side of that, venture into an Apple Store, and you’ll never have thoughts of stumbling across an accidental price break — you know that everything there is clearly presented and clearly described, and therefore your expectations are crystal clear. For any given purchase, you know what you’re getting, you know what you’re not getting, you know what it costs, and you know what to expect after the sale. It’s frustrating for bargain hunters, but people don’t go to the Apple Store looking for bargains — they’re after a specific high-end product, which is no different than our clients. The bargain-hunters will always go for the cheapest option regardless of consequences, and those in search of quality and consistency call the pros.

Offering clearly-written contracts is only the first step in the process of setting expectations. The rest comes from equally-clear conversations and emails which give you further opportunities to ask the questions that will ultimately result in a clear definition of the project such that everyone is happy.

Asking something as simple as, “This is my understanding of what you’re expecting, is that correct?” will at the very least get the conversation started. Your clients will appreciate your attention to detail, and you’ll need fewer antacids.


Francis Zera is a Seattle-based architectural, aviation, and commercial photographer. He currently serves on the board at ASMP Seattle/NW, teaches architectural photography and business at the Art Institute of Seattle, and holds an M.A. Ed. in adult education and training. You can check out his work at and follow him on twitter and Instagram.


This post also appears on the ASMP Strictly Business Blog.