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Client Horror Stories

The calm before the storm: A story of how things still went sideways even though everything was going well

The calm before the storm: A story of how things still went sideways even though everything was going well

This article was based on episode # 16: Bonnie Rothman’s Lessons On Resilience generously shared for Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman, and, of course, for us here watching. Please watch the complete episode here!


“I just want to tell you we’re not going to be having our team meeting because we’re shutting the business down.” – Bonnie Rothman’s client

Do you remember a time in your life where you felt like everything was going the way you wanted? Like when you fancied going for a swim on the beach, and the sun cooperated and you enjoyed your beach day in the perfect beach weather. Or that time where you planned to go for a road trip and everything went just how you pictured it to go. Sounds amazing, right? 

However, for things to go your way you need a good plan, lengthy preparation, and a little bit of luck. If you plan to go on a road trip and you want things to happen exactly the way you want, you have to plan your route before the day of your trip. You must also prepare alternative routes if ever there’s a problem in your original course. And, of course, book reservations ahead of time to prevent any lodging issues. All these preparations are necessary to achieve the perfect road trip experience. 

But sometimes, even if you already did everything you can to prepare, natural disasters and uncontrollable events will occur to stop you from having your well-deserved getaway. This scenario applies to every aspect of life, and it’s exactly what happened to our sharer for this episode, Bonnie Rothman, in her crazy client-horror story. Her story is a good reminder for everyone that even if things are going well, even if the assurance is strong, even if there is already a clear vision of the goal, there is still a possibility that everything will fall apart.

Bonnie Rothman works in a communication agency, and her job is to do storytelling through public relations. Bonnie already worked with many huge companies and helped them by telling their stories to the public. Bonnie creates a blog post or an article about her client’s background, their products, the success of their company, that could add positive insights to the brand. 

One time, Bonnie worked with the most amazing client she had in her entire business career. This client is the CEO of a very well-funded and idealistic company. Their brand was so promising, and their goal was to provide a home chef delivery service to their customers. The idea was that instead of ordering a meal kit to their customers, they wanted to upgrade their meal delivery services by delivering a real live chef instead of a packed meal. If customers wish to avail of their services, a chef will be on his way to your house, bringing his ingredients and utensils with him. Customers will experience a delicious, high-quality meal coming from a certified chef. 

Bonnie really loved the client’s idea and wanted to work for them and spread their upgraded meal delivery service to the market. The client’s company is located in New York, and the company was doing most of their test-drive near the area. Bonnie was also amazed because the client’s company had a huge staff, a reliable marketing team, and the client was a really cool CEO. Their staff was busy preparing their kitchen in Chelsea, their marketing team was busy contacting high-quality chefs and promoting their brand, and the client was busy managing pretty much all of them. The company did all the necessary preparations and completed everything except that they don’t have a storyteller. 

When the client approached Bonnie, the company had already gone through numerous communication agencies, yet everyone failed to satisfy them. The client was hoping that Bonnie would help them with storytelling and advertising. Bonnie gladly accepted the offer of the client, and she did not fail them. The client even told Bonnie that out of the three communication agencies they had, Bonnie’s company was by far the best storyteller they worked with. 

Bonnie also ensured that her client wouldn’t regret their decision to hire her by showing her best performance. Bonnie would work on messaging and other projects together with her team every single week. Bonnie’s clients were amazed by the reports that Bonnie gave them, and everything was going well. Bonnie also interviewed the locals in New York and was getting valuable data and information. 

In Bonnie’s interview, there was even a part where she knew that almost everyone in New York was not using their ovens anymore. Bonnie got answers from the locals saying they were using their ovens as storage for their shoes and books. Some were using the ovens to store their laundry detergents and house equipment. This means that most people living in New York are buying and ordering their meals. This is useful data for the company because the chances of their upgraded meal delivery getting availed are relatively high. If people usually order food and get tired of eating the same meals repeatedly, they will surely pay for a chef to cook something exciting for a change.

Bonnie did more interviews just to spread the word that there is an upgraded meal delivery coming soon. The client was amazed by the results, but he was looking for something more. The client asked Bonnie and her team what events they should create or what activities to conduct to elevate their brand. Bonnie came up with a brilliant idea of creating an event called “Kitchen sides,” similar to the strategy they did in their company called “Desk sides.” Bonnie explained the concept of Kitchen sides to her client. She explained that the Kitchen sides event is a way to promote their chefs by using artists and influencers. The idea was to contact an influencer or a famous artist and ask them if they would like a chef to go over to their house and cook them delicious meals. 

Bonnie was certain that influencers and artists would accept their offer because the proposal was unique. They would get free high-quality food and won’t have to think of new content for their vlogs or posts. The client was intrigued and asked what the results of this event were. Bonnie replied that Kitchen sides would give their brand and services publicity and fame. 

Bonnie also told her client that Allison Williams, an artist in the HBO series titled “Girls,” is the first artist they will negotiate. The client was satisfied and agreed to this proposal, and Bonnie immediately executed the plan for the event. She contacted the agent of Allison Williams and explained their proposal. Everything was going great, and Allison Williams’ agent was ready to sign their agreement. 

Bonnie received a weekly call from her client and told her some very wonderful news. The client was so excited and told Bonnie that everything was going great and they were already expanding their company to Chicago and Los Angeles. Bonnie’s client added that he already has a team of reliable marketers in Chicago and Los Angeles. Bonnie congratulated her client, and she was more motivated to help the company. She promised her client that she would charge into other markets, advertise their brand, secure opportunities from celebrities, and make everything work for them. 

Bonnie was faithful to her word and started working for another whole week. After that busy week, Bonnie called for a team meeting to discuss what they would be doing next week. Approximately 10 minutes before the team meeting started, Bonnie received a call from her client saying, “I just want to tell you we’re not going to be having our team meeting because we’re shutting the business down.” Everybody in the room was stunned by the news because they could not think of any reason why the client would end such a well-planned and promising idea. 

Bonnie couldn’t do anything but accept the devastating news. However, she was still uneasy because she wanted to know why the company didn’t pursue the idea. She did her research and found something that could have been the reason for the termination of their project. This was the first mistake that Bonnie seemed to overlook because she was too caught up in the moment.

Due diligence

I don’t know how often I’ve mentioned this lesson, but one of Bonnie’s client-horror story’s crucial lessons is to observe due diligence. While Bonnie was doing her research that she should have done way before she accepted the job, she found out that her client, the company’s CEO, was working with investors and that the budget was coming from them all along. Also, before the client looked for a communication agency, the investors already told Bonnie’s client that their business wasn’t making money fast enough. The investors already invested a massive amount of money and the “chef” idea was still not prepared to be publicly announced in the market. 

If Bonnie had done some due diligence right before accepting her client’s offer, she would have known that there is a possibility that the investors would stop funding to support the project. Bonnie also assumed that the investors thought that the business would generate lesser income. 

For the investors, the idea was great. But maintaining high-quality chefs and ingredients is expensive. They will have no choice but to increase the price for the customers whenever they want to avail of their chef service. If that’s the case, there would be a possibility that people won’t avail of their services even if the idea is fantastic and unique.

Set your emotions aside

When you are still having an agreement with your client, always remember to set your emotions aside. Even though Bonnie has a lot of experience working with huge companies, she was too excited to work with the client because of how excellent his company was. She forgot to keep her composure and agreed immediately after knowing the task. She failed to review her client’s background and the forthcoming issues that might happen once the company pushed through with the project. One of which is that maintaining professional chefs is expensive, and their price is not customer-friendly because they are giving a professional chef to do home service.

The worst things could still happen even if everything is well planned.

The main highlight of this story is that no matter how much you planned for a project and prepared everything, there are really uncontrolled circumstances that will occur that might ruin everything. Bonnie gave the best performance she could offer and prepared everything to satisfy her client. Bonnie and her team had an amazing game plan, and they already thought of what they were going to do next. No one expected termination to happen, so everyone really felt disappointed and blindsided. 

Going back to the story, Bonnie and her team were shocked after hearing that sudden news from their client. Bonnie knew her client wasn’t a liar. He was smart, so she was certain that her client also didn’t expect that to happen. In fact, if the client were just stalling and making his final efforts to redeem himself, he wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of expanding their project to Chicago and Los Angeles. 

Bonnie was even amazed by how smart her client was because by telling Bonnie that they were expanding in Chicago, this implies that the client wanted Bonnie and her team to build a timeline, figure out what the landscapes are in the markets in Chicago, and check if what they successfully did in New York is acceptable in Chicago. But she could not do anything anymore but accept and move on. That sudden ending was the end of Bonnie’s client-horror story.

Bonnie’s story was short yet fully packed with lessons. Many lessons need to be pointed out, and we couldn’t really determine yet from the beginning if they were really a lesson because everything seemed to be okay. For example, one of the lessons in Bonnie’s story is not to put all of your efforts and hopes into one client. 

Don’t put your hopes on and give all of your efforts to one client.

We were amazed by how Bonnie satisfied her client, right? Before hearing the ending of the story, Bonnie gave everything to her client, which is a good thing. Giving your very best to your client is a must because they already entrusted you with the job the minute they hired you. 

But because of the ending, this became a noteworthy lesson. Bonnie was too engrossed over the project and tended to give all her attention to that one client. They did not bother to look for another client during that time, even if their company could still work for one or two more clients. Bonnie couldn’t stop herself from jumping to conclusions and was overthinking the next step, which blinded her of the possible negative outcomes that might have happened. 

It is good to give your whole effort to a client, but you can’t provide all of your attention to one client because you will become vulnerable once that client is gone. In Bonnie’s case, she became vulnerable after losing that client because she didn’t entertain anyone during those months. 

If possible, learn how to read the situation and be aware of your client’s thoughts.

This is not related to Bonnie’s client-horror story, but Bonnie shared another story back when she was working with another startup founder during our interview. Bonnie told me that this client hired her to fix his story because it felt all over the place. The common thing about people who are just beginning to develop their startup is that they cannot determine what story they should announce to the public. 

Bonnie added that this client had significant funding and many supporters, so helping him wasn’t hard for Bonnie. Her client owns a workplace development company that gives people middle-income jobs like factory floor workers, robot repairs, auto mechanics, and many more. The client’s company offers virtual reality training to those who want to have the company’s specific services. 

Bonnie again was amazed by the brilliant concept of this client, but she didn’t forget to do due diligence this time. Bonnie researched the client’s background, and it turns out that the client had plenty of successful projects in the area of ed-tech. This assured Bonnie that her client’s vision was achievable. 

Before Bonnie started working, she told her client the communication plan that she created. However, Bonnie noticed that her client kept on pushing back and had lost confidence in his idea. To regain her client’s confidence, Bonnie told him that the communication materials were all set and ready to go. She added a little pressure by saying that they need to act now and spread the story with the locals first to move up and spread the story nationally. Bonnie suggested it to her client, hoping to regain his confidence, but the opposite thing happened. Her client told him, “I don’t even know if this is going to work.” 

It turned out that Bonnie’s client was already having second thoughts about his idea because no one told him that it was great. If only Bonnie knew that he was having doubts, she could have told her client that she was amazed by his idea and that his visions were clear as a crystal. Bonnie thought that her client would back down after having those second thoughts, but it turns out that it was just a “founder flounder.” 

Bonnie had a lot of experience dealing with developing companies, and most of her clients experienced “founder flounder.” Founder flounder is when a client loses their confidence even if everything is okay. It is like buying a gift for someone. When you buy a gift for someone, you are certain that the person who will receive that gift will like it. But moments before you finally give that gift, you will have second thoughts saying, “Is he really gonna love this gift?” or “Is this gift enough or should I have gone for that other one?” 

Even if you already thought hard before buying the gift, you will still have second thoughts. Going back to the story, it turned out that Bonnie’s client was just experiencing “founder flounder” because everything went back to normal right after that conversation. However, it really delayed his success because it took him two months to regain his confidence. After two months, the client got more funding and, fortunately, had his story well established. The result was that his company became one of the fastest and most innovative companies during that year. 

But still, if Bonnie knew what was on his client’s mind, who knows what would happen in those two months that they were delayed. Bonnie was also a communication counselor, so she should have reached out to this client and asked his thoughts about the project. 

Going back to the story, I asked Bonnie what her final realizations were. Bonnie answered that no matter what happens, always tell your team that you did a great job. This is true especially to her situation because they didn’t actually do anything wrong to the client. They served their client well and even gave their maximum effort, so telling them that they did a great job was their right. 

Bonnie also said to always build a good client relationship. Trust is vital when you have a client, and make sure to do everything to earn their trust. Constantly give them new ideas, propose a new strategy, and show them that you care for the project so that you can gain their confidence as well. 

Lastly, Bonnie shared to always be an excellent partner to your client, no matter what happens. Bonnie didn’t get mad for what the client did and accepted everything calmly. What matters most to her is that she didn’t fail to satisfy her client and that you can walk away knowing that you held up your end of the agreement.  

My interview with Bonnie ended with those statements, and I believe we get to learn a lot of lessons from Bonnie’s client-horror story. Make sure that you remember everything and apply it to your business life, or you might just become my next sharer for next week’s client-horror story.


This article was based on episode # 16: Bonnie Rothman’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!