How to underpromise and overdeliver

Janet Arrowood

If you really want to impress your clients and referral sources, make an end-of-the-year resolution to underpromise and overdeliver. This simple goal serves many purposes. First, you’ll stay out of trouble from overcommitting. Second, you’ll impress clients and referral sources by showing them you’re a valuable and reliable part of their team.

If you’re estimating the time required to complete something, for example, figure 20 percent more hours. This will give you a cushion in case things don’t go as planned. If everything goes well, your client gets the most valuable resource — additional reaction, planning or production time.

If you habitually finish ahead of schedule, you can charge more since you take less time and provide your clients the one thing they can’t manufacture — time.

So how, exactly, do you underpromise and overdeliver? Here are some ideas to consider implementing or adapting:

Design your projects so they exceed normal standards or requirements — often called overengineering. But only bid or promise to the norm or baseline. Make sure your cost estimate or pricing structure allows for possibly exceeding, but always meeting, whatever you promise.

Provide quicker delivery than you estimated. The extra reaction and planning time you give your clients is invaluable.

Split cost savings with your client. If you find a less expensive source for materials or products, split the difference in what you bid versus actual cost with your clients. You win, and so do they.

Make safety a top priority. If you complete a project with few — or no — Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations, that will result in big savings in cost and time for you and your client. Build and maintain a record for staying well within OSHA or other industry standards for compliance. If your job site gets shut down for an OSHA or other compliance violation, it will cost both you and the client in terms of money and scheduling.

Sharpen your forecasting skills to ensure you properly price your goods, products and services. Leaving out key pricing components like overhead or shipping makes meeting deadlines or cost constraints difficult, if not impossible.

As George Bradt wrote in a recent Forbes column: “Getting on the right side of delivering your forecasts is important for your business, your personal brand and your bonus. Your business needs to anticipate what to make and deliver to run effectively and efficiently. Delivering what you say you’re going to deliver impacts your personal credibility. And bonuses are given to people that overdeliver. Putting all three together leads you to underpromising and overdelivering at the right level to enable the business, strengthen your personal brand and maximize your bonus.”

Rather than promising the moon and stars, reliability is what businesses — and people — need and want from you. Your referral sources and centers of influence want to see a track record of performance and staying within your cost estimates so they can comfortably refer their clients to you.

The bottom line? Your company and personal brands are at stake every time you take on a new project or client. It only takes one “gee did that vendor mess up” to obliterate 99 cases of “wow that vendor is great — always delivering more than expected on time or ahead of schedule and at or under budget.”