I invited the carpenter, Frank, to my house. About six years earlier, he made a couch for me, which I loved. I donated the couch to someone else because I wanted a new design. I offered him tea, caught up a bit and then discussed the new project.
Frank carried his tape measure, took measurements and then promised to return with swatches for me to select the fabric and colour for the new couches. Based on that, he would provide the cost. No problem.
Two days later, as promised, he popped by with two huge plastic bags full of swatches to choose from. Then he provided the cost. I haggled because which African doesn’t? Agreed on a price and the terms of payment. 50% upfront and 50% on delivery of the couches.
I was deliberate in asking if he was sure about the payment terms and categorically told him I would not add any money until the couches arrived. He repeated the 50-50 breakdown and told me the couches would be ready in three weeks.
I told him that in case of any expected delays in delivery, he should let me know, and he nodded eagerly as he looked at his phone, smiling at the MPESA deposit confirmation on his phone.
I didn’t bother him, but he sent me WhatsApp images showing progress two weeks later. I thanked him for the update and loved his work, and asked if we were still on track, which he said we were. But Frank, oh, dear Frank, quickly added that he needed an additional 20,000 shillings to complete the task.
That was the end of the WhatsApp chat. I called him.
“Frank, what did we agree on?”
“Yes, exactly. Didn’t I ask you if you were sure about that split, asking you if you wanted to increase it even to 60,% and you insisted that the 50% was all you needed?”
“Yes,” he responded sheepishly.
“Sawa, bas. Once you complete the project, you will get the remaining 50%. Figure out how you will complete that work and ensure you still deliver it on time.”
“Sawa.” He responded sadly and ended the call.
The advantage I had there was a relationship, so reinforcing the agreement was easy. True to his word, a week later, I had my new couch paid the balance, but not before reminding Frank that contracts don’t change just because you made a bad decision.
The same applies to us as consultants. Before you run and accept work, be very clear on the terms. And unlike most casual jobs, you need a contract stipulating this.
- Be very, verrrry clear about the terms of engagement upfront and how much you need. If it is 80%, stick to it; even if it means losing the job, so be it. Don’t accept an amount you are offered if it doesn’t suit your cash flow situation.
- Keep communication open – delivery of work or even payment may experience gross delays. DO NOT GO QUIET. Kenyans irritate the living daylights out of me with this habit. If you are also experiencing delays, say so. Even if the report is bad, keep people posted. This is how you manage expectations and emotions. It is entirely unfair to keep people in the dark when they are reliant on the monies owed to meet other commitments. When you owe one person money, there is an entire ripple effect.
- Be honest, don’t tell me what you think I need to hear – another signature Kenyan move which drives me mad. Feedback is not about ego stroking. It is about creating an understanding of a situation. A delay in work delivery, a fallout with a supplier means payments will be delayed or worse, the work you did was rejected, and feedback was given four months later etc.
- Be Precise – this is also tied to point two. If there is a delay, give people a time frame. Is it a week, a day, a month or a year? In one job I completed in October, I was told I would have to wait six months for payment. Frustrating, yes, but does it help me manage my expectations, yes? And with someone like that, I may consider working with them because of their transparency.
The bottom line, managing expectations means keeping a very open line of honest communication and providing regular weekly, monthly or annual updates on the situation as it develops. Because that reduces anxiety, frustration, and resentment. And most of all builds a proper business relationship. We get it. We are human. There are problems in cashflows or bureaucratic systems. An open line of communication means hearing, understanding, and, most of all, seeing the humanity in people.