Serving your clients — under-promise and over-deliver

There’s magic when you do just the right amount of under-promising.

It’s a Goldilocks thing. And it’s a super-shero thing.

  • Too much of an under-promise makes me wonder if I’m going to get what I need from you. Excessive under-promising will for sure under-impress me. And probably ensure that I don’t sign on with you in the first place.
  • When you over-promise I feel like I can’t trust your promises at all. If I sign up for your over-promise, it’s going be really hard to impress and delight me because you’ve set such high and probably unrealistic expectations.

Under-promise and over-deliver

There’s a middle ground that is “just right.”

It’s subtle. Stay close to the middle with this.

Here are some tips:

  • Add a PITA factor to the time and fees in your proposals. PITA = Pain In The Ass. Because shit happens. Avoid the temptation to promise the fastest possible turnaround for the lowest possible fee. Whatever you estimate it will take, add another 1/3 — time and money. This way you can’t lose. You can get done quicker and end up charging a bit less and look like a super-shero to your client. Or shit can in fact happen and you won’t have to go back to your client asking for more time and more money.
  • Sometimes shit will happen in a spectacular fashion and you’ll fail to deliver. This is a lovely opportunity. (Yes, really! Read on, sister.) When you do everything you can to recover and make good even after a world-class failure, you will surprise and delight your client more than you would have if things had gone as expected.

What kind of word of mouth are you going to get as you do and deliver your work to your clients?

Under-promise and over-deliver — in this age of word-of-mouth marketing — is a great credo for solopreneur business women, healers, and changemakers. You give your clients something solid to lean on and lean into, and you maximize your potential to surprise and delight because you gave yourself room to do so at the start. Yay you!

How does this land for you? Are you using this tool in your business already?

What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments.

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I’m a barely tamed hippie, sage, seasoned, sarcastic (not all the time any more, but still). I’m a mom, a daughter, sister, a neighbor, and a friend. I’ve been on this meandering journey — like you, probably — seeking a better connection to and experience of peace, harmony, and fun in every bit of life. I’m single, quite good at it, and mostly love it. I’m here for the conversations I get to have with you, which these days center on exploring the mystery and beauty of life, work, health, aging, and creative expression. Want to know a little more about me and my journey? Explore the site. Read the blog. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Join the conversation!

  1. Hi, Sue! YES! I love the underpromise/overdeliver formula for my clients. It’s just a great win-win situation for me *and* them. Fantastic blog post – I will be tweeting for you. xoxo

    • Hi Andrea,

      I’d love to know how you use this when you’re receiving service; I sure could use some help sometimes when the service I get can be so maddening!

      Love and light,

  2. Sue, I love this post and totally agree. I particularly liked the first part where you showed how making these mistakes can have a big impact on our credibility! These are such great reminders and I am sitting here asking myself where can I do a better job with this? Excellent post!

    • Thanks Minette, for the feedback.

      I promise you there was a fair measure of pain in my learning of these lessons! 😮


  3. When I was first starting out as a writer, I was so guilty of “promising the fastest possible turnaround for the lowest possible fee.” I still have to fight that impulse sometimes. But you got a great business philosophy going there! Love it and plan to use it!

    • Julie, I totally get it. Remembering that old way of doing business is painful! I “made my bones” in retail advertising, where clients would decide to do a multi-platform promotion about six days before launch. Oy. Exhausting. Have you ever seen the cartoon that says: Fast. Cheap. Quality. Pick two.



  4. Thanks for this, Sue! As I craft and refine packages in my eating program, this is definitely good advice to keep in mind.

    Also, I find that what someone gets out of working with me is, in a big way, dependent on what he/she puts into the process and partnership. I take responsibility for following through on my end…and also try to be really clear that the client will need to do his/her part to achieve optimal outcomes.

    It took me a while before getting to this place, where I let go of feeling responsible for people who didn’t follow through. I don’t “blame” them either–life happens and changing eating patterns is really hard! But I just try to be really clear, for myself and for them, that ultimately, they decide whether the process is successful in offering what they’re seeking.

    • Dana,

      In 12-step I’ve heard “you can carry the message, but you can’t carry the mess.” A crude (maybe) way of helping me remember that I’m only responsible for offering my teaching and my solution and not at all responsible for the client’s follow-through.

      I love this stand you’re taking. Very clear. Very loving.


  5. Hey Sue,

    I love “carry the message, but not the mess.” I love the folksy wisdom of 12-step programs.

    When you point out the value of making a mistake, I think you are right. It’s so rare that people respond well to difficult situations that, when you do respond in a kind, caring and responsive way to repair how the relationship was affected by the difficulty, it sticks in people’s minds and hearts.


    • Shulamit, I love the way you wrote this. Thank you. Not only are you repairing the relationship, I venture to say you are improving it by your kind, caring, transparent, and honest response.

      Love and magic,

    • Thanks so much Suzie.

      Building that PITA factor into my pricing has saved me over and over again. Not only that, but I also make very clear how many revisions and other changes the original fee includes. Another way to protect my clients — and myself — from scope creep and overruns on those kinds of projects.


  6. I love your approach here, as it puts the emphasis on the client’s positive experience while they work with you, rather than than on their expectations before they work with you. Anything that allows us to ‘surprise and delight’. well that must be useful!

    • Thanks so much, Dave. The way you put it helps me remember that the relationship with each client extends back before the moment of hiring as well as into the future from that point. Acknowledging this journey is such a lovely gift to give your clients even before they become paying clients.


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