This transcription belongs to Episode #39: Anika Jackson’s client horror story with a spicy plot twist that caught both Our Beloved Audience & Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman, off guard. Please watch the complete episode here!
Morgan Friedman (Host): Hey everyone! Welcome to the latest episode of Client Horror Stories. Today’s episode may be a bit slower than usual ’cause I have a cold, so my apologies for sneezing in advance.
Hopefully, you can’t catch it via watching the video. It’s a different type of virus you get through the computer. But I’m excited to have with me, Anika Jackson. Long-awaited episode. Welcome, Anika.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Thank you.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Woo.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): I know. I’m so thrilled to be here. I love your podcast and everything that we go through, right? Has great implications for our learning and other people’s learning as well. So I love hearing other people’s stories about their clients and listening to it, so because then I’m like, “Oh yeah, okay. That’s how I can do something different or I can learn from it.” So I am thrilled to be here and dive in.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. I’m working on building a time travel machine so that my podcast could exist 20 years ago so you could listen to it then and learn everything that should be avoided.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Amazing. Sign me up. Yeah.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Promising technology building is going a bit slowly so don’t hold your breath for that one. So, let’s jump right into this story. I’m excited to hear today’s story.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Thank you. So, there are a few things I should preface. One is I love working with people who are putting positivity and good into the world, have some kind of socially good component, whether it’s on voting rights, social justice, equity, they have an app that has, you know, that’s for profit but has some kind of good component, give-back component.
So I always look for clients who fit that criteria. I also thought that I liked working with people who had multiple businesses going on at the same time. And this is…
Morgan Friedman (Host): I like word thought. It’s a hint of what’s gonna happen in this story, it sounds.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes. Yeah, and there were some red flags. The way that I started working with this person and entity was I was brought into a project they were doing to help them get some extra leverage.
It was a project that was a quick video thing done over social media around the time of the last presidential election. So I said, “Okay,” and brought my team in, and we helped with some influencer marketing and got some other partnerships together. It was a small project. And then they said, “We really like what you did.” So then we started working on another project, and then it developed into working on multiple projects.
The person was…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Multiple projects simultaneously?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Simultaneously, simultaneously for the same person. This person had a book, an album, they had done films, they had a business on the spiritual side of things. They were very involved in the spiritual kind of woo-woo community, that kind of spirituality, manifestation, abundance, that kind of stuff.
And they had a lot of different projects going on at the same time. So, that’s another red flag – time limitations on how much time you can spend with the person working on one project, let alone five.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So actually I think that is a very good red flag that your time if there’s five different things on the same client, you have one-fifth of time for each.
But I think you just hinted at two other red flags that are worth having to… I don’t even know what happens, and we’re already seeing all these red flags. The second red flag is it’s not just your time that’s limited, but it’s your client’s time. We’re like if this spiritual client guru client is working on 20 different things, then the client themselves is gonna have five minutes a week for this, five minutes a week for this, which means that their heart, they’re carrying their attention, isn’t going to any of them. And that to me is always a disaster, a side of disaster.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes, a hundred percent. The other red flag that I should’ve realized was a red flag right away was that, and I’m just gullible. I tend to believe what people tell me, you know, and be empathetic.
And this person said, “Oh, I’ve worked with marketing and PR firms before and they just took all my money, but they didn’t deliver anything at the end of the day.” So if you factor multiple entrepreneurs running many, many things at the same time who don’t have time to deal with a marketing and PR agency telling me that they’ve worked with other agencies and they weren’t happy with their work product, now I know, run far away from those people because they’re not gonna be happy with your work either. You know? Um…
Morgan Friedman (Host): By the way, that’s interesting because I think that’s really an observation and feels like if you have a bad relationship with someone, whatever, bad luck that happens. But when you have bad relationships with 15 different people in a row, then maybe you are just bad at managing relationships and the problem isn’t the other person.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t know if you’ve worked with people in the spiritual community. I’ve worked with multiple of them.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I never have actually.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Reading and listening to podcasts and things on manifestation and abundance and all that stuff. But I’ve also realized I don’t… that doesn’t mean I wanna work with people in that space because they’re often a little… They’re a little flighty sometimes, and They compare themselves to everybody else in the space and what everybody else is doing.
And so it’s, kind of, not as spiritual as you would think. I wanna pull that cover back a little bit. Like any industry, there’s a little bit of infighting. There are… I remember this person was doing a summit, like around one of the solstices with a whole bunch of other people. And then some of the people were, this is the height of the pandemic, were anti-vaxxers, some were pro-vaccine, right?
And so it was really interesting to see how they were working together, and there’s some like jealousy interaction with who’s doing what on what platform and how many people are following them. And I found that to be… I didn’t think that the spiritual world would be like that, but it very much is.
And there is a lot of competition, a lot of, “Oh, well I was doing this for 20 years ago before it got popular and now everybody else is doing it.” “But I was the advisor to Jack Canfield, and I was the advisor to this person, that person. Now look at what they’re doing.” And then the person isn’t there, and so then that’s another red flag.
Well, why aren’t they there? What are they doing or not doing? They haven’t even told you were like that.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Before we get to the story, I love this talk about the red flags. Let’s analyze that one for a moment because I think that’s a good one. It reminds me of 15 years ago, I got really into George Orwell and I read his collected letters and writings.
And I remember he has an essay on Gandhi. And he has this incredible review of Gandhi where he basically argues Gandhi was a fraud. But I always remembered Orwell’s opening line of this Gandhi. He said, “Everyone must be judged innocent until proven guilty, except for self-proclaimed saints who should be judged guilty before proven innocent.”
I think it’s a powerful point because our human instinct is innocent until proven guilty. Like we don’t know what happened. Like we’re not judging you. But when someone goes around saying, “I’m a spiritual guru…”
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes.
Morgan Friedman (Host): “I’m a saint. I’m so holy.” That is such a big red flag. That’s the exact sort of person that you kind of have to assume they’re not a perfect holy person. They’re probably just a human with human DNA. And I think with human DNA, they’re gonna have human flaws. Like how many Instagram followers do I have? Because that’s kind of just what humans think about.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): A hundred percent. I love the way that you framed that with the story about Gandhi because it is those people that we have. Now there’s a difference. I think you have to have self-confidence in who you are, and you have to be authentic in who you are.
But when you’re trying to sell yourself as authentic, but you’re saying all of those things in the same breath and you haven’t really proven, maybe you have some dedicated followers, right? Who will pay for any speech that you’re giving, pay for all your books, do work for you for free, and attend all your classes?
But that’s a small group of people, and other things get you to the next level. And a lot of that, you and I were talking before about, is making sure that there’s a structure in place that, as a client, you know who you are, you know exactly what you wanna do, and that we know that, and that we can easily hear that message from you, we can easily parrot it back to you, and then we can create the key messages to do the work that we do to the different audiences.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally. And also on this self-proclaimed saying, self-proclaimed spiritual gurus judged guilty before proven innocent, another possibly useful observation I wanna make is, in my experience, beyond just working with clients, my experience as a 47-year-old is I find that, more often than not, the people that scream to the world how good they are is like less good than the people who like quietly do things. Like the person who donates a lot of money but puts my name on the building is less likely to have a noble initiative than “I’m gonna donate money anonymously” and so on.
When you have to tell the world, it’s like that also raises red flags. So that casts a shadow on the whole spiritual guru institute for me, having never even worked with that industry before.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Well, and that kind of lead… I mean, we could go off on a whole tangent about this equating to narcissistic behavior, really.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Mm-hmm.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): And people having really inherent self-doubt and insecurity and masking it by being grandiose. There are a lot of examples of that that we talk about.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I guess, who would be attracted to becoming a spiritual guru other than fill in the blanks?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. Yeah.
Morgan Friedman (Host): We’ll get you started in a second. I just wanna conclude this preface. I love this preface by observing that this is actually an important point that hasn’t been covered in a previous episode, where different types of people are attracted to different industries and different roles. So just knowing that your client has this role in this industry just gives you a massive amount of information.
At a simpler level, some industries just have more corruption than other industries, some industries have more money than other industries, and so on. So, even though every individual is different and every situation is different, these patterns are there. So, just identifying these industry-enrolled patterns before you start, like gives you a large head start for identifying problems that you’re likely to run into.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes, a hundred percent. I think one hundred percent like five…
Morgan Friedman (Host): The red flight analysis, I’m like…
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes.
Morgan Friedman (Host): What actually happens? What is this famous story?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah, so what happened is multiple projects plus a nonprofit. Each project had its own brand, its own web needed… Each one needed a logo, a website, a brand identity, PR, and marketing around each specific thing.
Now, you would wonder why somebody who’s doing a million different things doesn’t just tie it all into one brand, right? Like that person is kind of the center of the brand, but there are… Some things felt better under the nonprofit, some things she wanted to brand just as her own stuff, and then this album was with this famous person, producer, blah, blah, blah.
This book was on this, and she’d been writing it for 10 years. Then the husband was bankrolling, and he’s a producer and, you know, had a big company and sold it and made a lot of money and started working in film. And that’s how they, you know, that’s how they met. So there’s all these other layers.
And essentially what happened is we started working on all the different projects because it wasn’t a do this one project and then start on the next one. All of them needed to be done or were requested to be done at the same time. So we have different people on the team working on this branding, this website, blah, blah blah, bringing in her business manager, her business coaches, her social media team to meetings, which didn’t really…
We didn’t know, okay, who’s really the boss and who are we talking to about each of these things and which part of the work is ours versus theirs in some regards, because it was a lot of leaning on her current experts, the people she’d already had working for her to give their opinion on scopes of work, even though… So it wasn’t… And then she changed her mind often, which isn’t even getting to the real crux of the story.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay. So, to be clear, I just wanna make sure I understand the buildup. I like it still built up. It’s like a movie plot. So she hired you to do some marketing and branding, but because she had this existing team, she was working with you but also consulting with the team. So as a result, she had like a dozen different opinions on every little thing coming in. And that fundamentally creates a lot of confusion.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes, it created a lot, especially if we were meeting with a team and we thought we were meeting with them on one thing and then she really wanted us to talk about something else. And we didn’t know. We’d all get on the call and then we’d all be confused because we were talking about totally different parts of the workflow. Or bringing somebody in, and they redesigned the entire website that we just presented and have already redone.
So, I think the other thing is when somebody has multiple things going on at one time, which I mean, we all do, right? We all have a lot of things. Like you and I, we have businesses, we have podcasts and families.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Um, I teach, you know. We do all these other things that are part of our brands and part of who we are.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): But it also can make it really hard for that person to make a decision and to stick to it and not start thinking, “Oh wait, no. Let’s totally redo this. Let’s redo that,” and have us do 10 iterations of a project.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So this actually brings me to another red flag that is also new because it hadn’t come up in a previous episode but I just realized it in real time listening to this, which is a very powerful red or green flag, is how much someone does or doesn’t delegate.
And what I mean by that is the best clients that I found that have multiple projects say, “Okay, we’re doing six different things, but John is pointsman for this and like he does everything and he just comes to me when he doesn’t know what to do. Consultation, advice. Jane is the point woman on this one and like she makes all the final decisions except I only override in an emergency situation or something.”
When they can delegate but there’s still this supreme power, that’s what works. But it sounds like part of what happened here is she has different teams, but there was never the point person project owner.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Exactly.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And that is another formula for disaster.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): It’s… and some of that is ego-driven, right? Because they want to… and they wanna work with you as the agency owner as well. They don’t just wanna work with your team, but they also want to be not just the supreme power, as you said, which I love the way you phrased that, but they want to be involved in every decision, the most minute decision, which holds up the process.
Now, I have clients now that have a million different projects going on but trust the team to do our work where we don’t even… we were sending stuff for approval. Now we don’t even do that. We just create everything because they trust us and they trust our work. And that is a great relationship. And it’s adding more and more scopes of work all the time.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Right, because they can delegate to you, and you delegate to people when there’s trust on the whole delegation chain.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Then things can go smoothly. This leads me to think. Maybe there’s a way when you start working with a client, like in the first two weeks, to test their delegation abilities in some way, to see like basically in, imagine in the first week, purposely having some confusion or problem or like going to this person or not and then seeing if they like trust the decisions of that person or if they come in and if they’re putting their fingers on it, in order to get a sense very early on, on whether they’re this sort of ego-driven micromanager.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah, because a lot of times, people, you think they’re an ideal client because they live in the space that you are working in, but then you find out that they’re not because some trust the process and they wanna work with you and they understand who they are, and some are like, you didn’t get results fast enough.
And because they are ego driven and they think the first week that they’re working with you, they’re gonna get in Forbes. And they’ve been referred to somebody who did get in Forbes and that person even told them it’s not… It’s a long game. You don’t… I mean, unless it’s something miraculous that you’re doing or something really, really crazy newsworthy, that’s not gonna happen when you’ve just started your brand.
So with this person though… so we’re working on all these different projects. They’re all in different states of being. Some websites are almost complete, and we’re doing some social media work for a couple of the new project accounts. We’re getting her speaking engagements, and we’re trying to get interviews for her, but she’s also on vacation and doing this and doing that and in the studio recording.
So we haven’t really even started the PR work. And then all of a sudden, everything halts. And at this point, this is another red flag. One of my team members was acting as her personal assistant because she needed that, and that person quit after that because they needed… it was so intense and then they came back later.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Ooh. But wait, hold on. Wait. Is your firm doing marketing, branding, and personal assistance?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes, and she was also trying to get me to hire other people who worked on other parts of her stuff in marketing and branding as employees on my team, even though they’re not people I knew or had vetted.
So there are 20 million red flags all over this project, but I was like, “Okay, this is good. This is right during the pan[demic]. Yeah.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So, question. So one, yeah, it’s a huge red flag, but it’s like taking employees of yours and using ’em for like personal assistance because they’re like super far out of bounds for a marketing services contract.
But what I’m wondering is if there are so many red flags here, when did you first notice it? If you had noticed red flags when you started, you wouldn’t have liked it because like before, whatever you’re building up to before that, did you start sensing something was wrong?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yes, definitely started sensing something was wrong, but she was also our biggest client at the time, My firm started during the pandemic, and I had virtual employees, and I wanted to make sure they were fully employed because I paid them as employees.
So, I saw this as an opportunity to show all the different things that my team could do, and the money was good and getting better. So it was like, okay, this is a, you know, I have a viable company. She’s doing stuff that we believe in. She was also referred by somebody I trusted, and that was… I mean, that was the big part of it was that if it hadn’t been somebody bringing her to us, I don’t know that I probably would’ve stopped it sooner because I would’ve… but it was somebody I trust really like deeply.
So I was like, okay, this is gonna be a good client and we’re gonna keep on doing a lot of work and this will be a temp… the personal assistant stuff will be temporary. And, but then she started, again, she asked me to hire people as employees who were her people, just so that they could be under my company, even though they weren’t people I knew or had vetted and didn’t want to hire full-time.
So it started getting very weird and then missing meetings, and then all of a sudden the contract just stopped without notice. And I was told by the person who introduced me to her originally because he was kind of helping with some business management for her and…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Wait, when you say the contract just stopped, do you mean they canceled it? Do you mean they ghosted or what?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): She ghosted. She said we’re gonna stop doing services. She said it was because she wasn’t happy with us. She wasn’t… I think she wasn’t… she didn’t feel like she was getting enough of my time. She also was doing a million projects and was very scattered.
But what I really found out, and this is what’s unique about this story, and I had seen a little bit of this because we ran her social media accounts, and if… words of advice, if you have your Instagram and your Facebook business page connected and you don’t turn off the thing that lets your Facebook accounts see all of your messages on Instagram, whoever’s managing your accounts might see things they don’t wanna see because they can see all of your messages with anybody on Instagram.
So I saw a couple of things and I was like, “Ooh, what is this?” I’m just going to ignore this. I don’t know what this is. Turns out she was having an emotional affair that got risque, a virtual affair with somebody who was obviously not her husband, and that person then turned around and was blackmailing her.
Morgan Friedman (Host): No.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): And that is the real reason that she stopped because she was… her husband cut her off from her budgets to do any work on any of her projects. And they brought in…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Wait, she was having a virtual affair with someone via chatting on Instagram.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Sending pictures to each other, messaging, maybe some phone calls. They might’ve met up. I didn’t get that far into it.
Morgan Friedman (Host): This might be the first R-rated episode of Client Horror Stories. But then the husband… did the husband catch her or?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): The husband found out because she was being blackmailed. So they brought in some like former military people to figure out where this guy was and get… yeah. They brought in all these people. This is all that I heard after the fact because we really… I said our quality of work is excellent.
Like we have been meeting all the deadlines, we’ve done… we’ve bent over backwards to show our value. And so for me, I was like, what went wrong? What’s going on? And then to find out that that was really what happened.
Um, you know, I don’t know that it made me feel better because I probably should have cut off working with her a lot sooner, but I was like, “Ooh, that’s juicy.” I’d never experienced that. And I haven’t experienced that ever in my 20-something-year career, and I haven’t experienced it since then.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay, so I have a whole bunch of clarifications, lessons, and comments, but first, what lessons analysis do you have before I jump in and run with it? Because this is exciting.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Um, wow, so many. And I will say there’s one other client who we were helping manage social media and one of my team members said, “Yeah this person is DMing people. Oh, I wanna support you. Do you have an OnlyFans?” And that person was also married, and I was like, “Ooh, they probably don’t know that we can see everything that they’re writing to people.”
So, that’s a thing that every client who has anybody managing socials be aware of, right? First of all. If you send a message, anybody logging into your account can see anything that you’re sending out via direct message. Period. Um, well, how many red flags? I think we’ve had 20 red flags and multiple projects.
Um, the fact that she mentioned she’d hired other people and told us the sob stories about why they didn’t work out and how they stole from her, how she spent so much money with them on marketing and PR and didn’t get anything out of it, because that’s the same narrative she’s gonna say about us, right?
We did all this work, thousands of dollars of work every month working on all these things. And then she cut them all off. And so we never finished any of the projects. Maybe we finished the logos and some branding, but we didn’t finish the websites. Um, trying to use my team as personal assistants, trying to get us to hire people who are part of her team when that’s not how we work. Just really…
I mean, I don’t know if I can use explicit language, but basically…
Morgan Friedman (Host): You can. I don’t care.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Uh, treating us like, like I was her bitch and my team members were her minions, right? Um, so many other red flags, but I’ll stop there.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So, yeah. I wanna dive into a bit this explosive X-rated situation because I think there are a few super important and fun points that come from you.
So I think one important point is I think especially when you’re a young professional, as a young marketer or in any profession, you have this image that people, that you, your team, your employees, your colleagues, and also your clients come to work as professionals and you kind of like leave your humanness aside and like we’re all robots focusing on the goal.
But what actually happens is because we’re human, guess what? Humans, sometimes humans have affairs, sometimes, you know, humans get into complex emotional situations. Sometimes humans take advantage of other humans by doing things like blackmailing. And it’s actually, it’s been a powerful lesson for me to learn over the years.
And sometimes I have to remember, because sometimes I think, why are they doing this? Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. They should be doing this much more optimal thing. But really, there’s just some emotional situation that’s happening. And it’s so easy to forget that, especially with big, important clients like that. They’re human too.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. Yeah, everybody’s human. And that’s something I think people forget when they’re looking at… even, I mean, I teach grad school at USC in the PR department, and my students call me professor. They have a certain respect they have. There’s a cachet behind that, but I’m just a person.
Maybe a person with a lot more experience with this, you and I are the same age, and I’ve done… I’ve made all the mistakes that they’re gonna make. You know, I’ve had high highs for my career and low lows for my career and have a lot of experience I can share with them. But they’re ultimately gonna go through some of it themselves.
But they also have to remember that anybody they interact with as a client or as somebody they’re working with is just a person just like them and will come to work in a bad mood because of whatever happened at home or because they didn’t get enough sleep or their kid was crying all night.
Whatever it is. Um, yeah. And so we have to give each other some grace and think about our human frailty, but also not put people on a pedestal and just think, “Oh, because they’re the client, they’re the boss,” and…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Exactly. So I think that’s one important lesson from her having a fair and blackmail on that.
That’s one. Here’s another important lesson I think comes from this, that… Here’s a pattern I found. Working and in life, I found people who I think are… I’m gonna use a bad word now. People who are assholes kind of just blame all problems on other people, but like nice people I found tend to blame all problems on themselves.
So what happens to a lot of nice people and good people that have started agencies and other professional services work when things go wrong, when clients get angry, when clients fire them, when there are wars, when they’re ghosts, there’s this very natural instinct, “oh my God, what did I do? Was our work enough? Good enough? No. Remember that time when we made that mistake,” or “no, we didn’t respond fast enough” Where a lot of good people wanna blame themselves.
And what’s one of the really powerful things about this story is this unequivocal, crystal-clear example that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Whether your work was amazing or terrible has nothing to do with her having an affair and getting blackmailed.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): No. But we’re still gonna get blamed for it because she doesn’t want to admit to us what really happened, and this is… but you… what you just said resonates with me so deeply because that is always the case.
You start doing, and not with this client but with other clients who negotiated at a lower rate because, “Oh, I’m starting out as an entrepreneur. I don’t have a lot of money to spend,” and then they stop paying because I have to invest in my business in this other business, and so I can’t pay you the rest of your retainer.
And then they just ghost or you don’t get them the feature and Forbes in the first week of working together. So then they say, “Oh, we’re done with our contract.” yeah, there are all these things that you have to navigate, but you’re right, Morgan, they’re just assholes.
They’re just people we don’t really wanna work with anyway. So we should move them off of our docket right now. And then that opens up space to work with people who are more well-intentioned and who are gonna be ideal clients.
Morgan Friedman (Host): A thousand percent where I think it’s powerful to learn the skill of when to blame yourself and when not to blame yourself, because the more assholes out there blame others too much and themselves not enough, while they’re nicer people play by the tells too and assholes not enough. And what’s good about this is it’s such a good example of like it’s 1000% on them.
And I think your comment actually goes to a third lesson from this which is, in ugly situations, you’re always going to be blamed. Like no matter what. As they pay you $1, things go wrong, even because they’re having cyber sex with someone and getting blackmailed, you got their dollar, so you’ll be blamed.
So I think part of the reason why you’re getting paid is because it is that risk of accepting the blame. It just comes with the territory.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And I think, yeah. Okay. I think those are the main lessons I can extract out of the… actually, maybe a final one is I can’t get over the blackmail aspect of this because blackmail’s the sort of thing that you hear about in the movies and you may get a newspaper article about, but you don’t really hear about it in real life.
So on top of it, there’s this other lesson of like, wow. There are actually bad people pretending to have cyber sex, whatever, just to put you in a compromised position. Your own, your own information security is always worth worrying or…
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah, I can’t even imagine doing that, having an affair with somebody over Instagram, Facebook, or any of that stuff. I know people do it all the time. Most people I don’t think do it to get, and then turn out getting blackmailed, but even that act, I… like, how does that make sense?
I guess if you’re lonely or if you are insecure and somebody else is giving you attention that you don’t feel like you’re getting somewhere else, but that’s, you know, that’s not my issue. It’s not my problem. Don’t put that into my company.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah and I think this was the first lesson. And by the way, you and I were chatting before this episode. We were talking about separating your personal life and your professional life. But you make the point that when you’re sharing the same Facebook Messenger or Instagram account, it kind of makes that impossible.
Like, you just have friends on… I have friends I chat with on Facebook, so if someone else had access to my Facebook, they’re going to see my chats. And if I put the chats in there, then I’m either the idiot or the naive one.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. Well, and it’s… for somebody like me, I work with clients on a very deep level. Usually, like, I’m really invested. I’m not their agency. Myself and my team are part of their team, and so I do take it very personally when somebody doesn’t wanna work with me or they don’t have the budget or this or that sometimes.
When I merged my company with another firm, I saw that exact thing happen where my clients were like, “We don’t know who this other firm is.” I realized I was tokenized and I lost my biggest clients because they said, “Oh, we’d rather not work with them. We wanna work with you.”
And it, like, shook me because these are people I’ve been working with for multiple years, you know, really invested in their projects, my whole team was invested, but because I made a change that I thought would be more positive for everybody and bring more resources to the table for my clients, it actually backfired.
So that was something that I had to watch out for. And then, of course, I left that firm and restarted my own agency, and guess what? Everybody came back because they liked working with me and they knew I understood them and they knew that I was invested in their projects. And it’s turning out great this time around. But that’s another thing you have to think about the personalization. And I feel like business is getting more and more personal, especially after the pandemic.
Everybody’s working from home. You hear about quiet quitting. You have the great resignation. People want to have authentic relationships, whether they’re in the workforce at home or doing whatever other activity. And I know I wanna show up the same way with my clients that I show up. So I wanna work with clients who hold my ideals.
Not every agency can do that. Not every brand strategist can do that, right? But that’s kind of the space that I’ve decided to live in.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I like that space you’re in. I think one of the challenges of that space is scaling, like caring scales really badly. Easy for me to care about this one person. I can also pretty easily care about these five, maybe 10 people.
It’s a little bit harder to care about people 11 to 20. And then, you know, by the time you get to person number a thousand, you don’t really care about person number a thousand as compared to person number three.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): True, true.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And by the way, what’s interesting about your observation, about wanting to keep it personal, is because we wanna keep it personal, but we also want to grow and we want bigger clients and we wanna hire more people.
Part of the challenge of the game of growing any professional services agency is how you grow while retaining that personal human level you have when you’re just five people in a garage.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. And that can be difficult. My approach this time around is different. Last time around, it was people I cared for and then also just got more clients in the door.
Low growth, quick growth strategy. This time around, it’s slow growth with a few key clients who are going from five-figure to six-figure plus clients bringing in other people in their industries and then, you know, just growing in a different way that is… I can’t share everything right now ’cause there’s a lot of stuff in the works, but it’s all… there is a growth strategy in play where I’m going to essentially be CEO of a private equity company marketing division.
They’re buying up marketing firms, and because of who they are and the way that they’re doing it and the kinds of companies they’re buying, it still fits with my brand and my values but has that growth that we’re talking about. So it’s a little bit of a different play, and it still leaves room for me to grow that part of the business and their businesses but then also have my own business where maybe we have three to four key clients and my… but it, you know, that feeds my whole team because the amount of just what their retainers are and the work that we’re doing for those clients.
So that’s kind of what I’m looking at now and then how do I extend my own brand because we’re all brands, and we all have, like, you have your podcast, I have a podcast. I’m like, what? What else can I do? How can I repackage this material? Okay, I’ve been on video. I see it on my website with the transcripts, I have the episodes, I have, you know…
Morgan Friedman (Host): You know your marketing.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): I could create a book out of the content, and the best lessons from each guest.
So there are several things that I can do there that will also still let me live in that space I love like connecting with other people and talking about branding and marketing and PR but in a different way. So I’m totally getting us off on a tangent, but…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Oh, I organize this podcast to encourage the tangents and part of the objective of being human and having human relationships is seeing where the conversation goes.
I think this challenge of scaling care is actually one of the origins of a lot of client horror stories because, like a very common pattern, I’ve seen in agencies, marketing agencies, law firms, everything where you have a few competent people, and then how do most firms grow? The way most firms grow is you have the awesome, genius, amazing partners do great work, and then they hire just like a lot less competent but very cheap people under them.
So then, when the firm is really small, the amazing principals do all the work. But then as the principals get busy, they just have the levels below them do more and more and more of the work just ’cause the principals don’t have time anymore, but the level down isn’t nearly as good as them unless the quality suffers.
So clients go from getting the A team to the B team to the C team, and it’s such a common pattern I’ve seen in the professional services world which is why this podcast is about client horror stories and oh, clients acting crazy. But if we think about it from the opposite point of view, from clients, oh my God, I’ve hired terrible professionals.
I would actually say the number one reason why clients get terrible professionals is because they hire firms that have followed this playbook, where the principles are amazing, but for every level you go down, there are just massive decreases in quality which leaves the clients very unsatisfied.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. And it also hurts us as business owners not just because clients are then unhappy but because a lot of times when we hire, we see certain… we see samples of work and we do the interview and we do our due diligence, but that still doesn’t tell the whole story. And a lot of times, I’ve hired people that met my brand values, that I looked over their work, it looked great, and then they got in, “Oh wait, they actually don’t know as much as they said they do.”
They actually… maybe they kind of worked for this brand, but not to the… not how they presented it to me. Uh, and then, yeah, when we hire those people, whether it’s on purpose or as a mistake because then that affects our work quality and then that affects our clients negatively and that affects our brand reputations. So…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally. So, we’ve hit so many good points here. To wrap that and conclude, I wanna wrap back to the story. So the client ghosted you, and you discovered that the risky text has led to blackmail. Did anything happen after that? Did you hear from them again? Did the client disappear? Do you know how would… what happened to the blackmail? Did they pay the blackmail?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): That’s a good question. I actually don’t know. All I know is that then they were trying to get all of the files from our Google Drive, and we’d sent everything over. We sent up wrap-up reports for everything we were doing and sent whatever we had.
So whoever they were working with next, if they were, could take it over. And then, of course, that’s a client who’s scattered and doesn’t remember where anything is and asks us a million times for the same things. My whole team had to sign NDAs about the work we did, even though that person’s never actually…
Since not working with us has not put out any of the stuff that we’re working on. So I think they all like…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Oh, wait. We know the reason because the next marketing firm she hired was a complete disaster and a terrible firm. The firm after that was also another terrible firm. And the firm after that also didn’t know what they were doing.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Exactly. I think this got put on a very short leash, and I’d hear, like, negative things, blaming me, and then I’d hear, “Oh, tell her hello if you talk to her” from the person who connected me to the client. So, there was also some Jekyll and Hyde behavior, which I think was based on their own insecurities and their own hangups and situations. And again, easier to blame other people.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That’s actually interesting because I would’ve interpreted that slightly differently, which is when I hear someone blaming their problems on this terrible person, and then days, weeks later saying, “Oh, say hi to Morgan for me,” like my interpretation is that they’re acting in either one or both of those cases.
And what I found more often than not, people are acting in the business blaming case. Like often it’s the case that they really like me or they, really like you and that’s it. But they think that in order to manage their firm and preserve their reputations, they could only do that by making you look bad. As a result, they have to say these words. In their mind, they have to say these words to make you look bad, even though they don’t really harbor any negative feelings against you.
And what’s interesting about that is this is a lesson that, by the way, this is also like the first time I mentioned this or realized this lesson, in an episode. I always like to get new lessons in episodes the first time. But this is actually a painful lesson. It’s taken me to learn, which is like I’m gonna make the same point or reframe it, which is 20 years ago when people said bad things about me I would just take it really personally.
Or like even if in a fight. If in a fight, you’re dadadadada, I’m like, “Oh my God. I didn’t live up to their expectations. I worked so hard. I tried, I didn’t do it,” and I took it really, really personally. But now I realize, we said, 10 or 15 minutes ago, “Oh, maybe they’re having affairs, the problems are their own, nothing to do with us,” but now it’s even stronger.
I’m making an even stronger version of that, which is maybe when they’re getting angry at me, it’s really just them acting because what actually matters are the other people in the room or the virtual room, like their employees, their employees. They wanna show they’re the boss. They wanna show they can make a decision. They wanna show that they didn’t make a mistake. So they have to take on that role and say it to me, even if it’s nothing personal. They really like me. And three days later, they wanna go get a beer with me.
So it’s less Jekyll and Hyde and more you have to wear different hats. And they think they should wear that right hat even if I would’ve thought it’s the thing that I… they should wear a purple hat.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Right, right. Yeah. The six hats. So love that reference. Yeah. Um, yeah, that’s very powerful and it’s a good reminder to us, but I think it also makes me reflect. I think you and I are both people who are in the nicer space than the not-nice space.
You know? We try to be people of our word and conscientious, and I’d rather own up to my mistakes and show that I’m fallible and that I’m human because I feel like that creates more trust, whether it’s with a team member, employee, a student, or a potential client, and just say, “you know what? Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t get this report to you on XYZ time.”
Or “Oh, oops, we didn’t deliver this,” or whatever it is that needs to be done. Or “Oh, I forgot to send you your homework assignment that we went over in class last week until today,” which actually just did happen. But yeah, I think why not be genuine and authentic in what you do in the workplace?
Morgan Friedman (Host): It’s work inside the workplace and out as an adult. It’s hard to own your own fuckups. Yeah, it’s just hard to own your own mistakes, and not just that. I think most human beings are brought up in a culture where you’re looked down on by admitting or saying bad things. And like in my own firm, this is something I try hard to fix.
So, for example, what I do on my own is every week we ask on the online platform that, we work through Basecamp, we ask everyone the weekly question is, what is a mistake you made this week? And like, they share a mistake you made this week and everyone has to answer it every week.
And guess what? I lead by example, and I just start saying, “Oh my God. I made this big mistake like this” By me leading with the example and having everyone answer that from day one of working with me, it’s like my little way of creating a culture saying, “It’s so much better to make a mistake and own it than to try to convince the world that someone else is to blame for your mistake.”
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): A hundred percent. Yeah. I love that. I love Basecamp and the question prompts it has too.
Morgan Friedman (Host): It’s a question I have to find in their question prompts. And everyone puts in really boring questions. Like, they’re classic use cases are like, what did you work on this week?
But I use that as an opportunity to build the sort of culture, that I think is healthy to build on teams.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. Absolutely.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I’m a Basecamp addict. Wow. And this is a fantastic episode. Started from a deep dive into all these red flags before this story.
Then we went to this good but short story that had this surprise twisted end. But then that led us to try to understand these sorts of interesting issues about being a professional and human and culture building. I like it. Any final words you wanna add as we wrap up our episode?
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): No, not really. As you know, on my podcast, I usually ask people for a quote or phrase, and I have one that I always keep in my head that helps me, and it’s to be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. So, that’s it.
I just always try to come from a place of kindness in my actions, even when I’m dealing with clients, even when they’re nightmare clients, when they’re client horror stories, and know that I’m still going to stand up and be a good person. And in the end, that’s gonna be a better spot for me and bring me more business. It’ll help me attract the clients that I wanna work with.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I’m happy that in your quote, you used the word kind and not the word nice because I think there’s a subtle difference, which is I think nice is more about the appearance of not hurting anyone’s feelings or offending them. But I think kindness is more about doing the right thing that is in their best, most helpful interest.
And I think the action of being kind is so much more important than the appearance of being nice. So I’m really happy that you choose to say be kind when possible. It’s always possible. And not be nice when possible. It’s always possible.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yeah. Now that’s, you know, there’s a southern expression, bless her heart or bless your heart.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yes, yes.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): That does not mean bless you. So, that is being nice without really being nice. So I’d much rather be kind because kindness also means that you’re gonna say things that you might have to have hard conversations, but you can still do it kindly.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally. Thank you, Annika, for coming. This was such a fun conversation, more than I expected, and I think I got so into it, I didn’t sneeze or cough once.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Yay!
Morgan Friedman (Host): It’s a respite from these last days of sneezing nonstop. And everyone who’s made it to the end, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and to be continued.
Anika Jackson (Interviewee): Awesome.
This transcription belongs to Episode #39, please watch the complete episode here!