Client Management - Managing Expectations

Joe Clay | Feb 2, 2017

This is a quick guide about the business side of things. This is by all means not an exhaustive guide about how to deal with every situation, and it might not work in every situation you face. I don't use all of these ideas with every client, because it's obvious that some people already know these things. But not talking about any of these things with your client will likely end negatively for you at some point.

All of the best relationships in business and in life have two things in common, mutual respect and communication. So keep that in mind every time you talk to your clients.


Tell your client what your business hours are. Let them know how you prefer to be contacted and be especially accommodating to clients who are respectful of your time. If someone asks politely to discuss something after your business hours, and you can swing it, do so.


You'll encounter clients who know how to budget for mograph, and you'll encounter those who have no idea what it costs. If someone doesn't have a clue about it, ask them what their budget is. They should at least know what they're looking to spend. If the budget doesn't work, look for ways that it can. Sometimes there's non-monetary value in a project. Is it something you can have fun with? Can you get more creative control? I often will try to get creative control of a project if there's no budget for me to concept and go back and forth with endless revisions. Usually people come to you because they like your style, so you might be able to work out a deal where both of you benefit. I've done this a few times, and it's always been a great experience. So don't always discount a low budget.


If you want an upfront deposit, ask for it. If your client tells you they're net 60, see if you can invoice the bulk of the money—like 75% to 80%—at the start of the project. It's never a bad idea to ask how quickly they pay. A good client will usually be upfront about it if they're non-standard i.e. not net 30.


We've all had a client who had us work through the weekend—losing time away from our families—to deliver on a deadline that was shortened because someone didn't deliver a script or some elements on time. And we've all been really angry when we find out that client didn't even look at the draft until three days later. It's going to happen. But if you probe them about actual deadlines, and perhaps tell them that you'll have to grind the whole weekend, they might actually let you know their deadline was artificial and the timeline is a little more flexible. So if you're put in this situation and you think there might be a little more play in the timeline than they're letting on, lay it on thick. Because if they're going to let you do that, knowing that the deadline is flexible, they're not respecting your time—which is your most precious commodity.

Showing the work, NDAs, etc.

If a client wants to have a work-for-hire gig, or they want you to sign an NDA, don't be afraid to still ask if you can show the work. Sometimes they won't have an issue with you adding snippets to a reel, or even showing a director's cut with relevant branding removed. That usually is enough for me. But if you don't want to work with that, I don't blame you. Tell the client that. Often these issues come about because they want to be able to distribute the work in whatever way they choose and think they need all the ownership rights because some lawyer said they should. I often have issues with that because I frequently reuse pieces of animation, icons, or snippets of code, like expressions, that I've built or that others have built. So they can't really own that and it becomes nebulous. So if I can, I'll offer them rights to distribute and reproduce as they see fit while I maintain copyright so I can show my work and get more work from it. I don't like to take work-for-hire jobs that I can't show, but if you do, charge more for it because you have a blank spot in your work history.

Under-promise, over-deliver

This one is pretty standard, but it works well. I don't take the approach of purposefully saying I can't get something done, but I won't make a guarantee if it's not guaranteed. If you say you're going to do something, you must do it. Keep your word. And if something happens, a render glitch, an emergency, etc., tell your client as soon as you can. That way you're not silently missing a deadline, leading them to wonder about what is going on.

Remember, communication is key. It's fine to be casual, but be firm about what you expect and what your client should expect. If you act respectfully and stand up for yourself, you'll get respect. And if you don't, avoid working with that client now or in the future if you can, and remember all of the red flags they put up. If you have any questions or want to tell some stories, hit up the comments. Have a good day and manage expectations!

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