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Managing expectations - the “soft” skills of business.

Guest blog by Dan Truman, Founder of Duga Digital.

This article comes with a warning. Running a business is a mental game as much as it is an email based strategy game.

If you think becoming a founder is going to be liberating, free of all responsibilities and pressures put on you by upper management within your current role or organisation, you are going to be mistaken, disillusioned and unhappy.

This article is the warning to make this decision with eyes wide open in all directions, not just the one you have idealistically identified.

But if you are aware and ready for the challenge, running a business is thrilling, diverse and challenging in all the ways you are seeking from your unfulfilled life.

The key to all of these feelings and opinions is to manage expectations around the different stages.

Managing expectations is, in my view at least, the key to a successful business and lifestyle.

But you have to manage them in a lot of different ways:

Your own

At different stages of business creation you have

  1. Had your business idea

  2. Setup the business, bank account, product

  3. Found customers or clients

  4. Made sales (!)

  5. Done your accounts for year end

  6. Repeat

But after a while things will either be going really well, really badly, or somewhere in the middle. And you will become expectant for patterns to continue - “Why have my sales dropped off even a little bit?” or “Why have I not won any business for 3 months?”. 

These expectations become a burden, regardless of the position. 

One of my most used phrases is “Everyone has their hard”. Someone’s job might be hard, their home life might be perfect. Or another person’s job might be easy, and their home life hectic. 

My personal experience of this has been I’ve learnt I am crazy committed and dedicated. To the point where it’s been detrimental to my health in some circumstances. But now I know the signs, I have a toolbox of tactics to employ and I have learnt to prioritise myself as well as the business - if I’m not on top form, I can’t deliver what the business needs.

Managing your own expectations and providing yourself with a rational and removed view of the big picture of your business, the time it takes to get to profitability and all the intricacies of day to day operations can hugely influence your ability to take the best next step.

It also helps you be a nicer person to be around (or so I’ve been told).

Your clients/customers

If looking after your own expectations is important, then looking after your clients/customers is absolutely essential.

Making sure everyone is aware of deadlines, shipping, possible blockers are all part and parcel of business. Perception is reality, as they say, and it is really important that you are perceived to be delivering on what you said you would do. 

We work in digital analytics services and solutions and so there is a high requirement for collaboration and communication between different client and agency stakeholders to make sure that projects are delivered and achieved on time. 

One of the first ways that we learnt about managing expectations with clients was through contracts - these are the agreements we make with clients around deliverables, ways of working, payment terms and scope. And boy, have we learnt a lot.

Scope creep, payment currencies, sign off processes, deliverable wording, expectation of weekend working or weekday working. All sorts of fun and games.

There are parts of contracts which are open to compromise and there are parts that are set in stone. But knowing when to push and when to accept is crucial, because these initial agreements and interactions set the tone for the types of expectations you are setting for the whole engagement. If that is only a week or a day long, that is fine, but if it's a long term contract you will want to be very careful how you interact.

This works on both sides of course…

Your partners and suppliers

Those in businesses that you rely on to help create a product to sell, also need to be kept up to date, aware of your needs and ambitions.

They need to hear the direction, understand the market, help to deliver answers and products that will give your clients and customers satisfaction and want to continue working together.

Some working relationships are able to exist with little communication and a rock solid understanding of what is required - but that will have come from the most incredibly well judged and scoped set of objectives at the beginning. This might seem like overkill and unnecessarily bureaucratic and paperwork filled, but it will be worth it for everyone involved.

The boundaries you draw with suppliers and partners become the strong commitments that you can hold yourself accountable towards when things are easy or when things are hard. You can count on them to do what they say, and they can count on you. And its fun, extending and contracting when things change in the business, working together on projects that challenge your capabilities or scale. It’s a wild ride that shouldn’t be attempted alone.

Your employees

Speaking of which - your employees are your next batch of expectation management recipients. 

And they need to know their role. What is expected of them, how often, to what extent and level of quality, for how long, who they will need to work with, what kinds of skills they need to have and what success looks like.

If you’re a founder and have employees, it’s time to learn communication skills.

The old cliche of “employees don’t leave bad businesses, they leave bad bosses” is only too true. You need to become a good manager, and that requires great communication. It requires respect for your employees' time, their intelligence and their ability to get the job done that you’ve hired them to do.

And if you do that, you will free up your own time. You can deliver great client service if everyone on both sides of the agreement knows what to expect and there are no surprises. You can be open, transparent and in control if projects are hitting blockers because you’ve been clear on the ways you deal with problems and your team knows what their role is. 

Your friends and family

Lastly, but most importantly, you need to let your friends and family know what they can expect (and not expect) from you, now that you’re a business owner.

It’s a completely different role to employee or having a job.

It will require patience, require commitment, require understanding and require some significant tolerance if you are to keep those relationships to the level you have them now. Some will be excited for you, some will be fearful for you and some may not notice at all.

The most important expectation to set is with a partner. Long days, longer nights, some weekend work, some holiday work, some birthday misses, some special event misses. It’s a tough gig and something that needs to be communicated well.

If the support isn’t there immediately, then it is very difficult to get on board later - by then the relationship might be too strained to resolve.

So be open, state your ambitions and make your commitments. Then work out if the compromises that will be required are worth it. If yes, then let’s go!

A key part of this is the type and the frequency of communication for each group. 

Choosing what to say, how to say it, when to say it and the level of formality is very important because it determines how each group receives the information. It determines the impact and importance they give the message in their own minds.


Type of communication

Frequency of communication


Reflective, take a walk, ask questions and be honest in the answers

Daily - things can change by the hour.Annually - long term direction.

Your clients/customers

Meetings, calls, emails, messages with project plans, roles and responsibilities, team introductions, progress updates

Depends on the customer - but weekly is likely minimum

Your partners/suppliers

Roadmap, growth plans, new discoveries

Depends on the relationship but quarterly is likely the minimum

Your employees

Updates, client statuses, company focus and direction

Weekly minimum

Your friends and family

Ambitions, progress, asks of them, their asks of you

Partner - probably weekly

Family - monthly

Friends - depends on the relationship but monthly

The best news? It’s impossible to get it right the first time or every time. I am still learning. I’ve written an article about it but I am by no means the finished article and I find it challenging on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis.

You can find Dan on Linkedin at

And learn more about how Duga Digital can support your business to gain more value and insights from your data -


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