Should you under-promise and over-deliver?

The recommendation is often made to professionals starting their practices to under-promise and over-deliver. A word of warning: you must be very careful how you do this.

Let’s look at an example. Nicola is a financial adviser to a large client. The client had previously been her employer. Since undertaking some contract work for this client, she became involved in additional aspects of the business she didn’t need to, such as answering the telephone. She did it for good reasons – mainly, she wanted to help and she already had solid relationships with the staff.

But the result was that people did not see her as the contract professional she was. She was then asked to do other things that were not in her proposal or scope of work.

Many professionals (and I include myself in this) are guilty of over-serving their clients. The main reasons for this include:

  1. We don’t have enough work or we’re not stretched enough.
  2. There is too much familiarity between us and the client, particularly if they’re a previous employer. Familiarity breeds contempt.
  3. We are trying to prolong the engagement or get more work that is not in our area of expertise.

Becoming the go-to person can bring unwanted consequences:

  • Your core work is not valued enough.
  • You don’t get paid appropriately.
  • You feel frustrated when your advice is not implemented or your work respected.

I recommend my clients set rules for dealing with their own clients:

  • Have a proposal or scope of works that clearly articulates what you will and won’t do.
  • Don’t bundle your services. Quote separately for additional work and invoice that work separately. Your clients may have the perception that they’re paying too much if you don’t.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver in the quality, not the quantity, of what you deliver.”

I help professionals move from being unemployed to self-employed in professional, profitable practices. Email me at