I know that most of you want to tell clients that everything is all daisies and roses, and every client who’s ever worked with you gushes about how beautiful the interactions with you were.

Unfortunately that’s a total lie

It’s a lie for me too. I totally screwed up 2 projects at the end of last year. I resolved things with one client though they won’t be using me again, but the other one was left hanging and there really isn’t anyone to blame but me.

Here are the 5 things that you should be saying to your clients because they’re true.

1. I’ve failed at projects and here’s why…

Like I said above, I’ve failed at projects. And I’ll fail again at some point. That’s how things work. In fact, about 68% of software/IT projects fail in that they either end up with a crappy product with no real return on investment, or they take 2 to 3 times the expected delivery time.

The important thing to figure out is WHY you failed at a project and that you have a clear plan for solving that issue.

[Tweet “Yup, I’ve failed at projects, and here’s what I do about it.”]

Have a process, enforce its use and tell your clients why you use it. Because you’ve failed at projects before and this system is going to help make sure that we don’t fail.

2. You’ve got a bunch of work to do as well.

The leading cause of project delays is clients not submitting content or feedback on time. You need to tell them that.

I still have issues with delays due to feedback cycles. However, when I added a discussion about how it can impact a project to my client on-boarding process I was able to significantly reduce those delays.

Talking about it up front also sets the stage for bringing it up effectively later. You can talk to your client about them missing their due dates and how that impacts their project timeline. If they hear this for the first time mid-project, when the project is slowing and stress is growing, you’ll simply anger your client because you’re bringing up a problem they probably didn’t anticipate.

3. I don’t know.

You should be telling your client that you simply don’t know the answer to some questions, but of course you can figure it out.

Nobody knows everything and spouting off an answer to your client that’s just a random guess, without qualifying it as a guess, is only going to make you look like an idiot.

Back when I started selling canoes I had some fishermen come in looking for a boat that you could put a motor on. I knew which models could accept a motor so I showed them the boats. Then they asked me how big a motor you could put on the boats — and that’s when I opened my mouth and looked like an idiot.

[Tweet “You should be saying ‘I don’t know’”]

I told them you could put a 20-horsepower motor (huge for a canoe) on the boat. They laughed and asked if they could talk to someone who actually knew what they were talking about.

Over the remaining years I sold canoes I got similar questions a number of times. Instead of trying to sound smart I’d just reply, “Hey I’m not sure, but XXXXX will know, so let me write it down and when we go inside I can get an answer for you.”

Not once did I have a customer tell me they wanted to talk to someone that ‘knew what they were talking about’ because I didn’t make myself look like an idiot. They just accepted the answer I had and we got the answer from the proper staff member.

Clients are okay with you not knowing things. Just don’t say you know something when you don’t and make yourself look like an idiot.

4. There will be bugs and/or problems.

Bugs happen in software (which is what a website is) so you should set your clients up for that expectation. You’re not perfect and at some point you’re going to miss a comma in some code. It will show up on the page and you’re going to have it reported by the client or one of their customers.

If clients want bug-free software then they should not get involved in software because it all has bugs. If clients don’t want to pay for bug fixing then they shouldn’t be involved in getting custom software built.

You need to tell them that up front. It’s entirely possible that you’ll spend 2 weeks tracking down one silly bug and catching all the edge cases you didn’t think of, so they need to be ready for that.

5. My biggest struggle in a project is ____.

What part of a project is hardest for you? For me it’s that final 2% of a project where things are working awesome but a few tweaks are required to make it 100% awesome.

I’m happy with 98% and have to work to notice that last 2% that takes the project to 100% awesome. I have to work to not get frustrated when a client brings up that missing 2%, which is totally what they should be doing.

Yes, I tell my clients that because if that 2% is the part of the project that’s super important to them, then we may not be suited to work together. Or at least they need to know it and be ready for that part of the project.

It’s about honesty

We all want to have successful projects, right? We want to launch awesome sites for clients that net them an awesome ROI. It’s important, then, that we prepare them for the rough parts of projects.

Starting to tell your clients about the things that may not go as planned or that you don’t know the answer to a question is the sign of a mature business owner that’s comfortable with themselves.

photo credit: clement127 cc