Knowing the Limits...and Getting Your Clients to Know the Same

There are only so many hours in the day, only so much you can take, only so much...mayonnaise in the jar?

The point is there's a limit as to how mw much you can fit into any given vessel, and that's an important fact for freelancers to understand. I'm not just talking about managing your workload and setting deadlines you can actually meet, though that's important, too; I'm talking about managing client expectations from payment through delivery.

Pick up any book on success—in sales, in business, in pick-up artistry (or so I've heard)—and you'll be told to give more than you promise, give without expectation, give so much that your prospects, clients, or potential romantic partners are just bursting with good feelings towards you. That's the way you'll get them to purchase/keep them coming back/build a long and loving future together based on mutual respect, the books say.

And that's solid advice, as far as it goes, but occasionally you'll run into people whose expectations are so out of whack you'll never be able to make them happy and keep yourself fed, clothed, and sheltered at the same time. In the freelancing world, these are the clients that need to be educated or ejected, and pronto.

I'm Sorry, This Brain Cell's Taken

One of the services I offer my content marketing clients is video scripting. Sales and explainer videos are all the rage, and are really a great way to reach out to both new and existing customers. Using voiceover, on-screen text, and visuals, you can reach learners of all types with information in a format they find easy to digest.

The things is, we Homo sapiens only have so much mental capacity—there's only so much information we can take in at a time. Videos are engaging because they reach us on multiple levels and capture our full attention, but the very thing that makes them so successful also limits what they can do.

It's a tragic flaw of Aristotelian proportions (look it up).

Because videos fire so much information at us in so many different ways, there's only so much video we can take before we start shutting down. Try to give us information above and beyond what we can process in a few minutes, and you've lost us. In fact, information overload can trigger a significant stress response, meaning a video that tries to pack in too much can actually harm a brand instead of helping.

Since the script is the foundation of the video, controlling the flow of information is an important part of my job scripting it. When a client hands me a three-page brief for a video that needs to be two minutes long, max, there's a real problem. That client needs to be guided to a better understanding of what this video can actually accomplish, and how trying to do more (to give, give, give) can actually be detrimental.

If I can't help them understand that, there's no way they'll ever be happy with any two-minute script I'll produce (and no way I'm producing a twenty-minute script for the same, you've got to have some VERY interested leads or a really remarkable innovation if you're going to ask a prospect to sit through a twenty minute sales or explainer video).

What's true of video is true of every other medium, too. You want a 250 word blog post the gives a detailed explanation of this black hole news written in language an eighth grader can understand? Ain't gonna happen!

This is something the freelance graphic designers I know have to deal with continually, too. As much as your puppy washing business needs an identifiable and attractive logo that speaks to your brand's unique value proposition and does everything else that marketing pamphlet you read talks about, that list of twenty esoteric bullet points you want represented is going to need to be cut down.

Yes, your customer should know you're a reliable, affordable, portable, hypoallergenic shampoo-using, faith-based grooming service, but try to clearly communicate all of that in a logo and you're in trouble:

There's a reason I'm not a graphic designer, but you get the idea.

The point is, all content is finite. Whether you're making a video, writing an article, or designing a logo, knowing how much you can pack in without defeating the purpose is an absolute must from the moment you start discussing specifics. If your client is asking for more than practicable, be upfront about it—be pleasant, and let them know that they'll get a better response if they try to take on a bit less.

I like to start with a compliment ("that's a lot of great information you've got there!"), then express my concern ("I'm worried that there's a little too much in this twelve-volume encyclopedia to get across in a two minute sales pitch"), then try to get them to take the lead ("if you had to pick three pieces of information your clients absolutely HAD to have, what would they be?").

If they seem open, you can also be a little firmer in guiding them to the right choices, but give them a shot first. You can also use this as an opportunity to create longer engagements—if there's more they want to say than you can squeeze into this project, they'll likely be interested in future projects if you can pull this one off successfully.

If they continue resisting, I'd recommend bowing gracefully out of the project and wishing them luck in finding another freelancer—it's better than an ugly exit down the line, and that's almost certainly where you'll be headed.

The Takeaway

  • Know what you can accomplish within the parameters of a given project
  • Don't overpromise—hard work and time can't overcome information limits
  • Coax your clients onboard by complimenting, then asking what they want
  • Guide when you can, bow out when you can't—it saves stress on all sides