It can be scary to turn down client work when the rent is due.
But in over eight years of business, there is not ONE single time that I ignored a red flag and accepted a project because we “needed the money” that I didn’t end up hating myself seven times over by the time it was done. Usually, neither we nor the client end up happy.
This is why, even though we prefer to conduct 95% of a project via email once it gets going, we insist on chatting with potential new clients on the phone before issuing a proposal.
The initial consultation for any type of high-service relationship is an opportunity for both vendor and client to get to know each other, to determine whether the potential client’s needs and the personalities involved on BOTH sides are a good fit. Everyone wants to do their best to assure a successful working relationship, and there are a lot of tangible and intangible factors that can lead to that.
While occasionally my filters fail and I make a poor choice (and on the flip side, I’m sure sometimes I’ve turned away what might have been an amazing project and relationship), there are certain situations and attitudes that I have learned to watch out for.
“My business is on the edge of failure and I don’t really have any money to spend. I need you to give me ironclad guarantees that this will work.”
If a client is literally handing you his last dollar and praying that you will work some magic to save him, your project is doomed to failure.
There will be unrealistic expectations in terms of both the amount of time it takes to complete the work, and the amount of time it takes for the work to yield results.
The client’s anxiety and stress levels are already through the roof, which means they only have ONE frayed nerve left with which to deal with the communication, time, effort and unpredictability involved with a large creative project.
It can be tempting, especially if you are an empathic and compassionate person, to try to give this person the moon for five bucks, and do it in two weeks or less.
Resist that urge. The old saw, “no good deed goes unpunished” applies double here. It’s sad, but true.
If you can make low or no-cost suggestions involving the client’s own elbow grease to help them bail out their sinking boat, by all means do that. But don’t climb in it with them. You’ll just end up getting soaked.
“My last consultant totally ripped me off and I just fired him.” (And so did the one before that, and the one before that…)
This is a tough one. The online marketing space is absolutely FULL of charlatans who will take unsuspecting business owners’ money in exchange for nothing but a lot of technical sounding terms and acronyms, while making exaggerated promises.
Therefore, it’s utterly realistic to believe that your potential client has indeed fallen victim to one of these people, and now it’s your opportunity to save them.
Not once…not even ONE time since 2008 have I worked with a client like this who did not end up turning on US like a rabid dog, sooner or later.
Often the trust isn’t there at the beginning, and no matter how hard you work to establish it, you’re starting out in a hole.
Sometimes you find out that the client is the problem – they’re difficult or nigh impossible to communicate with and make understand what you need in order to help them succeed, or exactly what it is you’re doing for them, or why it’s going to take as long as it takes. Only in retrospect will you start to grok what the previous consultant must have been up against, and rather than vilifying them in your mind like you did at the beginning of the relationship, you start to feel an odd sort of kinship with them.
If your potential client seems to have been a serial victim? Watch out. It’s strong odds that YOU are the next “perpetrator.”
“We like that you are a woman-owned business.”
Oy. This is a sensitive one, and I’m not sure how to address this without coming across in a way that offends….SOMEBODY. We ARE a woman-owned business.
For a while, Rowboat Media was just ONE woman – me. I did EVERYTHING, from soup to nuts.
But for some reason, ANY project we have taken on where this comment got made up front has ended up lacking focus, going over the amount of hours budgeted, etc.
It also kind of grates on me – I’ve been in male-dominated technology professions my whole career, and I want to know our little agency was chosen on its MERITS, not the chromosomal makeup of its principals.
I can’t offer anything remotely empirical on this except to say that a potential client who makes this a priority usually ends up not being a personality fit for our team. So on the list it stays.
“I’m not really sure what business area I want to focus on.”
Whoa. Stop right there. Let the horse catch up with and pass the cart.
This is the type of client who will run you through 27 complete do-overs in the design stage while they run through 27 business ideas in their head. At least, you HOPE it all happens in design, and not after you get to development.
While we offer coaching and consulting services and are happy to help clients choose a focus, we cannot design for a moving target. Not on budget, and not on time.
Just as you shouldn’t back your car out of a parking space to go “somewhere” without knowing where that is, you can’t arrive at the destination of a properly targeted online hub for your client’s business if they don’t have clarity on their business goals.
“I don’t CARE that my house is on fire, I’m hiring you to work on the landscaping.”
Part of what you are selling as a design and marketing agency is your experience and ability to triage for a client so they can stop the worst of the bleeding first.
If I visit a potential client’s existing website and it is full of broken graphics, not mobile responsive, and/or pulls up a blank screen on a phone, THAT is the fire. That is where funds, time and energy need to be prioritized, STAT.
If you point out obvious fires and your potential client insists on ignoring them because they are chanting a mantra like they’ve been hypnotized, “but I want SEO/a social media campaign/a skywriter with my website address,” run.
They have already proven that they aren’t listening to you, and this is NOT going to get any better.
And you don’t want to do a lot of work pointing prospects to such a conversion-killing nightmare and having them think that YOU thought that was a good idea to do, do you? You have your own reputation as a professional to consider. And the results will be as expected, which means your client won’t be happy either, even though you did exactly what they insisted you do.
“Thanks but no thanks” provokes a nasty response.
If a potential client gets nasty upon being told very politely that you feel the two of you aren’t a good fit and wished well in finding the proper vendor for a successful project, all they are doing is confirming your courage in making the decision to turn them down. Instant confirmation rocks, especially when you weren’t 100% sure at the beginning if you were walking away from good money.