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Growing your agency: Turning away difficult clients

Community Manager
# 1
Community Manager

In the early days of starting your agency, money is time. You have a business to build, and you don't want to waste time on anything that will get in the way.

Enter the difficult client, who at best is a daily annoyance whom you need to learn to manage, and at worst is a complete time and energy suck. They expect you to devote every waking minute to their needs, they message you at all hours of the nights about non-urgent details, they challenge you on every piece of advice you give them. When you step back and look at the situation, you realize you're spending more time on this one client than anything else, and other matters require your attention: other clients, your staff, and your business as a whole.

Can you really afford to be choosy with clients as you're getting off the ground and building your client list? Some may say yes, because if you're time-strapped and stressed out, you're not going to be a very successful business owner. This is the crucial period where you need to be alert and on your toes so that you can make good decisions that drive business and maintain a happy and motivated team.

How would you handle a relationship with a difficult client in the early days of growing your agency? Vote for answer A or B in the comments and provide an explanation for your choice.

A. Suck it up. You have to start somewhere.
B. End the relationship. Not worth the money.

3 Expert replyverified_user

Re: Growing your agency: Turning away difficult clients

Badged Google Partner
# 2
Badged Google Partner
Having experienced both, B all the way.

I learned the hard way about valuing your time and services too low, to try and attract business. I'm 23, have completely nuked my personal finances for the foreseeable future working with clients I should have said no to, but "needed the money" or "needed the connection." Enter 6 month contractual nightmare, or a client that expects X, Y, Z when they are only paying X, and threaten to "destroy your business's reputation." Money is time, and wasting time on people who aren't committed to your work, or expect you to design brochures as well as deploy a new shopping campaign...

In applying these lessons learned over the years, I've got a healthy bottom line, great team, and I'm not afraid to say no to a potential client if it looks too risky, or they are unprepared to take their online marketing presence seriously.

My advice to anyone starting up: don't target the guy you went to high school with and opened up a food truck. Grab a Grants client for in-kind sponsorship, cash if they have it, or pro gratis if you're passionate about their mission, and get experience in managing a decent monthly budget. Once you're comfortable, confident in your skillset, and have Partners certifications in your back pocket, go pursue clients that are already advertising, as they probably understand the benefits of setting aside income to generate new business. Or you may get lucky, that non-profit may refer several folks your way.

Re: Growing your agency: Turning away difficult clients

Top Contributor
# 3
Top Contributor
I choose B, enter Win Win relationships only, early on or later. Just as your client is not working for free, you shouldn't either. Especially in the beginning. Don't set up for failure, setup for success or don't do it at all. You offer expertise, not just an opinion. Don't discount your services to zero, if you want to be useful, but also valued and respected.

Julia Muller,
AdWords Top Contributor | Community Profile | Twitter | Philly Marketing Labs
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Re: Growing your agency: Turning away difficult clients

Badged Google Partner
# 4
Badged Google Partner
Just like your clients qualify an agency, the agency has to qualify the client. Have some really crazy client stories to back this up.

Great subject matter Alex!

Re: Growing your agency: Turning away difficult clients

Top Contributor
# 5
Top Contributor

What a great conundrum to experience.

 

Why? Well, it means you have a client, and that is what you need to build your agency... and gain experience.

 

Since experience is gained (should I say earned) through the trials of work, I would say to a newer, smaller agency to hang in there and learn to deal with this type of client (Client 1). It will prove to strengthen them ( the entire agency) for the journey ahead. Track everything, remain professional... and vigilant.

 

However, once the agency started to onbaord new clients (client 2), I would suggest they rework the relationship of the difficult client to allow more time to be dedicated to the new ones. Apply all that earned experience to the new client(s). They should then use the experiences from client 1 and client 2 to onboard client 3, which will be closer to their ideal client. It might take a dozen more clients to perfect a system that truly dials in the ideal client upfront in the relationship (which is what experience brings). It will only take longer to perfect a onboarding system by having a cut & run mentality. Stay strong and stay persistent. It should be the last resort to end the relationship... but one you are ready to do.

 

Personally, I think all but 1% of clients can be trained (as they train us, lol), and having the determination to find the right balance for each relationship is key to staying strong in this industry. Each client is a person, and each person is unique. The cut & run mentality seems far too easy to me and I like a challenge. Train yourself to be a warrior able to withstand some pressure. 

 

With that said, I think the relationship is structured in the beginning and that requires interviewing the client as the client interviews the agency. You have to set the course you want to travel and you have to allow the client the ability to understand that course before the journey begins. Pay attention in your first meeting. Look around and listen to how the prospect works with their team. Listen to what the new prospect is asking of you and ascertain the rhyme and reasoning. Go to the first meeting with zero expectations and not focused on the excitement or need of onboarding a client. You're hunting a tiger in the wilderness and the tiger is hunting you, too. 

 

You have heard the saying to never go grocery shopping hungry... learn the saying that says no job has to be taken, only the right job for me. 

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Re: Growing your agency: Turning away difficult clients

[ Edited ]
Badged Google Partner
# 6
Badged Google Partner

B not worth the time and energy. Just like what some of the folks here already stated. Qualify your clients and pick Win, Win relationships. One question to ask yourself is: "Do I want to be a cog in someones machine or do I want to be the Machine?"