This article was based upon episode #15, please watch the complete episode here.
When you are engaged to perform certain work, you must devote your full attention to meeting your client’s demands. You’ll have to devote time and effort to the job, sacrifice some leisure time if need be, and, most importantly, handle your client’s business as if it were your own. No matter how hard you try to work to the best of your ability, you will undoubtedly fail your client if you don’t care what happens to their business.
For example, if the client wants you to market his items, give all you can to get them in front of millions of people. If you don’t care about the product and you want to do what you are told, you won’t be able to exert your maximum effort in looking for alternative ways of creating a new strategy to advertise that product because, in your mind, you know that it is not yours.
So if you are given a task, make sure that you follow Collin Slattery, our sharer for this episode, who devoted himself to his client’s website so that he could give his best performance. However, what makes this a client-horror story is when Collin realized that he cared for the business more than the actual owner. Grab your pen and take down essential lessons from this article, for we are going to unravel how Collin managed to survive his version of a client-horror story.
Collin did a lot of work with small DTC brands back in the day, and this has become his agency’s main agenda. Collin usually does digital marketing, and their company’s specialty is through advertising. In this generation, e‑commerce brands are now becoming popular, and each of them has a lot of different verticals. This is a pretty recent story that happened last year during the early stages of the pandemic.
In April of 2020, Collin met a businessman who wanted help in advertising. Collin was thrilled when the businessman asked for assistance with advertising, so he asked this businessman for an initial meeting to discuss some terms. To avoid confusion, let’s name this businessman, Fred. So Fred and Collin had an online appointment, and right off the bat, Collin already experienced a red flag from Fred. During the meeting, Fred told Collin that he wasn’t happy with the previous agency he worked with and was bad-mouthing them.
1. Be cautious if your client shows their toxic attitude right away
If your potential client shows their toxic attitude immediately, this means that they’re not afraid to disrespect you, and they want you to know that they can disrespect you anytime. Bad-mouthing someone is disrespectful, and it shows that the client didn’t give even little respect or concern to that previous agency. If he did, he could never say something terrible to the agency that could possibly destroy their image and business career. I’m not saying that you should not take the job whenever your potential client shows their toxic attitude on your first meeting, but rather be cautious and aware of the things that you must do.
Fred was bad-mouthing the previous agency that worked for him. Still, because Collin was looking for a client, he disregarded this red flag and understood Fred that maybe this agency did something horrible or upsetting to Fred. Collin continued listening to Fred, and when they decided to discuss the task, Collin noticed that Fred didn’t understand the concept of advertising. Keep in mind that advertising is only one part of a successful marketing system. Advertising is beneficial as it drives traffic to your website, but the product is essential in determining the marketing’s success.
Collin has already worked with lots of brands coming from small clients, and he gives them a lot of suggestions on what they should do, the necessary guidance on things that they should apply, basically help them be more successful. The bottom line is that Collin wants to share his knowledge about advertising and give tips to his clients on what they should do to achieve successful marketing. Unfortunately, Fred was different from Collin’s previous clients. Fred was firm on his belief that advertising works like magic and any product would be famous immediately if you advertised it. Fred added that if the product is still unsuccessful, it’s either the advertiser’s fault or the advertising strategy didn’t work.
Collin was utterly shocked about Fred’s mindset about advertising, so he tried to alter his way of thinking by telling him that sometimes having a bad CRO is the reason why products would still fail even if they were advertised. Fred got tilted and replied that the scenario Collin explained feels like the advertiser is trying to blame the product for the failure of the advertising strategy. When Collin heard this, it became clear to him that Fred was hard to deal with.
Their meeting continued, and their conversation went back to the previous agency that worked for him. Fred said that the prior agency told him that he needed to get his email marketing set up and running better. Fred added that this previous agency even suggested letting him set up Klaviyo, which is an extensive email marketing system for transactional stuff. Fred told him that he was angry at the previous agency because, for him, they “made up” all those things just to cover up their failures, and “blaming” was their final act to redeem their agency.
Collin really wanted the task, so he just agreed to Fred, but in his mind, he knew that the previous agency could possibly be right. It turns out Collin’s thoughts were right. The suggestions of the prior agency must be made. However, their lack of motivation, effort, and initiative to do all those changes was their mistake. Collin accepted Fred’s task and started incorporating a process of moving forward.
But before that, Collin treated the business like it was his and learned the essential details about the business. Collin asked the digital marketing team of Fred’s company what they were doing for the other areas and how they were approaching it. Collin also requested the details on how the previous agency did with the email marketing. Collin asked if they used Klaviyo, how the email marketing flowed while they were running it, were they doing conversion rate optimization, were they using landing pages, and other more important details to get a better understanding of what they’re doing from an investment standpoint into their business standpoint.
Based on the answers of the digital marketing team of Fred’s company, Collin concluded that they were really treating advertising as an easy way to earn money. Collin didn’t even bother to explain the genuine concept of advertising to Fred and his digital marketing team because he knows that they are incapable of accepting new data into their minds. They are already too fixated on the thought that advertising works like magic that if you tell them the genuine concept of advertising, their brain will not accept that knowledge.
2. Intellectual consistency is okay, but accepting new knowledge and coming to a new conclusion is better.
Have you ever been in a situation where you thought your whole life that the information you have is correct, but it turns out that it was the wrong one after all? From your standpoint, it would be difficult to accept and digest that new information into your mind because the wrong idea was already imprinted in you for so long. It would be best if you let yourself be educated, no matter how strong your beliefs are. When you are in this situation, the best thing to do is do your research first if that new knowledge is reliable and trustworthy. After confirming, accept that new idea and apply it directly to your life.
Going back to the story, Collin continued his work after gathering all the information about the website that he needed. Collin started to set up the website’s advertising and went through their data. When he tried to understand the data, he noticed several problems on the conversion side of the website.
To solve the problem, Collin used Google Analytics and Hot Jar to try and identify the areas where there’s conversion loss. Fred’s website was taking too long to load, and it would take you 10 seconds before you see anything on your monitor. Collin tried to identify the areas where the problem was so that he could address it to Fred and begin improving his website. Even though Collin’s advertising strategy was great, it would not perform particularly well unless they fixed the website and made incredibly aggressive sales.
Collin was treating that website like it was his because he was spending extra time improving the website, even if it was way past his required work hours. Collin wanted Fred and his product to succeed, so he was putting together these large documents full of reports from Google Analytics and Hot Jar so that he could share them with Fred and his team.
In the reports, Collin showed Fred where potential customers are stuck on his website, a comparison of his mobile traffic to his desktop traffic in Google Analytics, and how their website’s bounce rate and the conversion rate was significantly worse than their mobile because of their pages that aren’t optimized for mobile. He gathered all of these reports and told everything to Fred because basically, he is the owner, and owners should be concerned about their website.
There were too many flaws that needed improvements, and Collin already had solutions in mind. He was just waiting for Fred’s reaction and was expecting him to say a line like “do whatever you can to save my website,” or “please fix my website no matter what.” But unexpectedly, Collin received no reaction from Fred. Collin was surprised at how Fred and his team never showed any interest in the website. What’s even more shocking is how Fred replied to Collin. Fred said, “I don’t think it’s a problem with the website. You know we’ve never had a problem with the website. I just don’t think your advertising is very good so here are the things that you need to do to fix your advertising.”
Instead of listening to the digital marketing and advertising expert, Fred neglected the new information he received. He even told Collin that it was all the advertising’s fault. The worst thing was Fred even told Collin what he should do to fix his advertising.
Going back to lesson #2, Fred was too fixated on the thought that advertising works like magic, and when the actual concept of advertising was in front of him, declining the new information. Collin felt offended because he knew there was no problem with his advertising strategy. The website had too many flaws, which was the reason why advertising the product would never work.
3. Clients should treat you like a professional, not his worker.
There is a difference between a professional and a worker. A worker has skills, but the client is in charge of assigning each task. When you are hired to be a worker, you should expect to follow a list of tasks to complete your job. However, when you are hired as a professional, your client lacks knowledge about that job. You are being hired for your expertise, and the client should be listening to what you are saying.
In Collin’s story, he was hired as a professional because Fred wanted help in advertising. However, Fred didn’t treat Collin as a professional. Fred didn’t listen to the expert opinions of Collin, and Fred was even the one who told Collin what to do, even if Collin was the advertising expert. A good client is someone who treats you like a professional and listens to your thoughts.
Collin was upset and discouraged because he treated that website like it was his and wanted it to be successful, but he was more concerned about the website than the actual owner. Collin had no choice but to follow what his client wanted. Fred kept on giving him suggestions and meddling in his work. Fred started to give suggestions on the images that Collin should run on the Facebook ads. Collin just followed everything Fred told him, like not to use this, copy that, don’t post this, and many more. Collin allowed Fred to dictate what to do because he wanted Fred to realize on his own that his ideas were wrong and that his advertising strategy would fail.
Collin continued doing what Fred wanted, and when the results came, their advertising failed again. Collin was ready to rub it on their face and then tell them they should do his strategy to cope with their liabilities. But to Collin’s surprise, Fred blamed everything on him. Collin’s plan backfired, and he was the one being blamed because he was the one doing it.
4. If your professional judgment is ignored, learn to say no.
Collin made the mistake of following what Fred wanted just to let them realize that it was wrong. If your client acts like a know-it-all and starts to do things independently, you as a professional are obliged to stop them, especially when your name and career are on the line. As a professional and an expert at that line of work, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell your clients that they are wrong. If they still decline your suggestions, try to let them understand differently again. Collin failed to do this, and now, Fred blamed him for having bad advertising skills.
However, being frank and saying no is only applicable to some situations. There are real scenarios where you aren’t in a position to say no. Saying no to a client is a risk, and you should be ready to lose a client when you say no to them. For example, in Collin’s case, after all the reports and documents Collin prepared, Fred still thinks that it was the advertising’s fault and proceeds to tell Collin what he should do to improve his work.
At that point, Collin already knew that Fred had a lot of pride, and he wouldn’t accept that he was wrong. If Collin said “no” during that conversation and argued his professional judgment, Fred might have told Collin, “Okay, I’ll find someone else who will.” Collin was desperate for clients, so he didn’t take the risk and proceeded to follow what Fred wanted.
5. If you can’t say no, secure an agreement saying you are not responsible for whatever happens next.
Whenever you are in a situation where you can’t say no to your client, even if you know that their ideas would fail, you have to come to an agreement that you are not liable for what will happen after. Also, make sure to state on the agreement that you already gave the best solution for the problem and your client still neglected it.
This is really helpful, especially when your client files a lawsuit against you. Fred blamed Collin for what happened, and Collin had no defense against that. He had no proof that Fred was the one who told him what to do and on the contract that he signed. The contract stated that Collin would work on advertising Fred’s product. If Fred sues Collin and asks him to pay for the failure on the advertising part of his website, Collin couldn’t defend himself by saying that it was all Fred’s idea because, on the contract, it was his job. Having this kind of agreement will not only save you in court, but it will also make your client have second thoughts.
Again, in Collin’s story, Fred would have second thoughts on his idea if Collin pursued that agreement. Fred knows Collin’s idea is more reliable than his and if he sees that agreement stating that Collin had already given his idea and Fred neglected it, whatever happens next is not Collin’s fault.
Fred was really unhappy because the advertising failed, and Collin received many angry phone calls saying that he wouldn’t receive any payment. Fred won’t pay Collin anymore, and Collin couldn’t do anything about it. Collin had enough, and he also wanted to leave that toxic client. He didn’t pursue a lawsuit, and he didn’t bother with the payment anymore.
The story ended there, and Collin realized that clients must respect his professional judgment, time, and opinions. The hard way. If you ever want to hire someone for their expertise, you must make sure that you respect them and treat them like you are indebted to them. Imagine hiring an expert to help you with advertising, and yet you don’t listen to what they say, you don’t respect their opinions, and you don’t respect their time and schedule. That’s the highest disrespect you can ever give to someone.
Also, if you are hired for your professional expertise, make sure you set clear boundaries with your client. This was one of Collin’s crucial mistakes, and if he stood up and told Fred to respect his boundaries, Fred wouldn’t have disrespected Collin that easily.
Going back to the story, Collin lets Fred dictate everything way too much. From the time Collin needs to work up to the engagements that Collin needs to do. Collin was too willing, and Fred exposed this vulnerability by taking advantage of Collin. Instead of Collin setting the appropriate boundaries, he was blinded by the desperate need to have clients, and he just did what Fred wanted. Collin wouldn’t have to answer Fred’s email on a Saturday and expect him to get the job done by Sunday.
Being kind and helpful is genuinely amazing, but if you meet a toxic person, they will see your kindness as a weakness and not a wonderful virtue. If you allow people to walk all over you, your story won’t end well. I hope you learned a lot from Collin’s story and applied it to your everyday business life. Also, make sure to be wary of the major red flags that you noticed in the story so that you won’t become the next sharer of next week’s client-horror story.
This article was based upon episode #15, please watch the complete episode here.