Every business relationship involves a set of expectations — whether they are written, spoken or implied. As a financial advisor, you have to make sure every client knows what they should expect from you, and what you expect from them.

Defining the terms of your relationship sets a tone of professionalism and can help you stand out from other advisors, says April-Lynn Levitt, a coach with the Personal Coach in Oakville, Ont.

Many advisors don’t take the time to clarify expectations with their clients, Levitt says: “A lot of times, they’re just winging it.”

If you adopt a haphazard approach, you might find yourself haggling with clients over details and overcommitting to clients. Instead, you and your clients should leave that first meeting with a firm sense of what to expect from each other.

Levitt outlines five tips to help set expectations with clients:

1. Segment your clients
If you serve a diverse clientele, Levitt says, establishing different service levels can help ensure consistent treatment.

A tiered approach can be an unspoken guide that structures your interaction with clients based on their account size. Different clients require different levels of attention, Levitt says, so it’s unrealistic to commit to four meetings a year across the board.

“It’s good to have that [level of service] defined so you’re not overpromising to people,” she adds.

2. Settle on how, and how often, you will communicate
Discuss both how frequently you will contact your client and how that communication will take place. Within reason, try to accommodate your clients’ preferences. Clients should be aware of the options available to them, including meeting over Skype, at your office or in their home, says Levitt. Also, discuss contact by telephone and email.

Beyond those personal exchanges, consider sending out newsletters or relevant articles to keep them informed. Most important, your clients need to know how soon you will be responding to their queries, and if your response will come via email or phone.

In return, you should set a cancellation policy for meetings, so clients can give proper notice if they are unable to attend, Levitt says.

3. Discuss fees
With CRM2 top of mind these days, the conversation over fees should be routine, says Levitt. Once clients sign on, they need to be briefed on the number of statements they can expect from you and what those statements mean. They must be informed in accordance with CRM2 requirements.

4. Explain terms of confidentiality
Because clients entrust you with sensitive information, you must tell them how that information will be protected and the conditions under which it might be shared. This can all be detailed in your client-service agreement.

For some clients with complex tax- or estate-planning issues, Levitt says, you might involve other experts such as accountants or lawyers. In these cases, make sure the client is aware of other professionals involved in their accounts.

“Outline in the beginning if it’s a team approach,” she says, “so the client isn’t surprised.”

5. Make the introductions
Personally introduce each client to the members of your team they can turn to if they have certain questions, Levitt says. This helps relieve you of having to field calls that can be handled by your assistant or associate.

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