A good goal to have as a web designer make the most amount of money with your time. Setting the right expectations with your client before you start and early in the web design processes means that you will get paid accurately for your work, save time for you and your client, and prevent a lot of headaches.

There are four things you can do to set the right expectations
  1. Explain to the client your skill set. The client will not ask you for something that you can not deliver.
  2. Ask your client a lot of questions. The more questions you ask, the more information you'll have to respond to any misunderstandings.
  3. Create a Plan If or when expectations are not met, you'll need to have a strategy. A plan will explain to your client additional charges or an alternate route.
  4. Get it in Writing. Having a written agreement will help enforce the expectations you've made. This is something you'll have as a last resort.

Set Expectations Earyly During Sales Process

The best time, and the easiest time to set expectations is before the project starts.

The size of the project is proportional to the time you should spend setting the right expectations.

To manage the right expectations I recommend that you be open about who you are as a company, what resources you have available to your clients, and what skill set your offer. That means, don't under sell or over sell who and what you do. In my experience this will always set you up to fail either by lost revenue or promising something that can't be delivered, in time or quality.

I imagine your conversation (sales cycle) goes like this.
1. You're introduced to your client (initial call or meeting).
2. You present proposal.
3. Client spends 1 to 2 weeks reviewing proposal.
4. You either win or loose the business.

That's very typical.

I'd like to make sure in this example your process is more refined. In step 1, you ask questions like: What is your timeline? or When do you plan on making a decision? Typically for smaller companies it's whenever they find what they are looking for. If you've met with the owner, chances are they can make a decision on the spot. Now the ball is in your court, you know better when the client is going to act. You can plan with that information.

If the answer is, "I'm looking at a few other proposals." Then you might have a timeline. You ask "When are you reviewing those proposals."

Yes, you can ask these types of questions to your client! It's easy.

If the answer is "I'm just doing my research." Then you can write that one off. Maybe they will call you maybe they won't in 2 to 3 months.

That's why it's good for you to make a plan with the right information. Typically a client is trying to get the best deal with the company that can get the work done correctly. That means you need to set the right expectations with the client. If you're limited resources, then tell the client that. They will know you're higher demand. If they value your service as a company they will have no problem accepting that you're worth more because you're forward thinking enough here to utilize your time well.

Managing Expectations During Web Design Process
The next most important time to set expectations is during the project. Mostly it's to keep your project in scope and to keep from doing something unexpected that your client didn't pay for. This means you will need to manage the expectations that you've put forth during the project. 

If you've done a good job in the sales process explaining your web design process (e.g. time for delivery) the less you will have to do managing.

Resetting Expectations During Web Design Process

Consider this scenario, you have the best intentions to complete the project on time, but the client is asking you for more and more changes. They have a big event on the first of the month and there's no way you can deliver on time.

Typically its frightening and you can be in a insecure place when you've promissed something that you can't deliver. Whether it's on a timeline that you've promissed, or a functionality that the client is asking for you can't deliver. This will most definitely happen during your web design carreer from time-to-time. The best you can do is plan for the unexpected. That's why setting expectations early on will always give your client the confidence to address issues with you as they come up in a professional manner.

In this scenario - Option 1, is you tell the client you can't deliver on time. But you know this will make them unhappy and cause more phone calls and more emails. or Option B, is you don't tell the client, and wait until the first of the month and delay the inevitable.

The answer here, is to reset the expectations by explaining what you can do by the timeline.