This transcription belongs to Episode #30, please watch the complete episode here!
Morgan Friedman (Host): Hey everyone. Welcome to the latest story of the latest episode of Client Horror Stories. It’s an episode and a story. Tonight’s episode is a special one for a few reasons.
First, usually, I’m drinking a coffee, but I’m shaking it up tonight having some whiskey, and I’m also, second exciting reason, much, much more exciting than my drink choice, is I have Ari K, with a secret unpronounceable last name, as my honored guest tonight. Before we jump in Ari, do you wanna tell me how to actually pronounce your last name?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes, yes. For those who actually have, you know, Polish tongue, you can certainly say this as well. My name is Ari Krzyzec. I’m pretty sure you know it if you’re Polish, but if you don’t know it, totally cool. You can call me Ari.
Morgan Friedman (Host): All right, so Ari, let’s jump right in. I’m excited to hear about your client horror story tonight for reserves.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes. Oh my goodness. Yes. You know, when you reached out, Morgan, I definitely feel like I need to tell this story, right? Because I don’t want all the other creatives out there, or even agency owners out there, experience the same thing, and we learn from one another, which is great, right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): So, essentially, what happened is that I ended up working on a really fun project. It’s actually a really fun project, to be honest with you. However, you know, we’re gonna get into this detail a bit later, but essentially, it turned sour in the middle of the project. Things just got outta hand, outta control, and at the end of the day, the client isn’t a hundred percent happy.
Me and my team was completely burned out, and we basically lost 30K on that project.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yikes. So, jump to the end, although I knew it had to end badly cause this is client horror stories, but you actually made an interesting comment. I wanna comment about how it went back in the middle, and that’s actually the most painful point for somebody to go back because if you’re starting something and it goes terribly in the beginning, like, like you can end it immediately. The first day was a disaster, okay? There’s no second day, so that’s a funny story, not a client horror story. On the other hand, if things go great until the very end, okay, “We had a great six years working together.” We did great things, but then a nuclear bomb on the last table. We have lots of happy memories and 6 million times before that. But it’s this middle point is the point where it’s mostly painful and we’re all, also, not knowing this story, I’m excited to know the specifics, is in the middle is when you get into the weeds of things, so it makes it, it’s the hardest point to see clearly.
So that’s also where it’s, where like where, cause it’s so hard to remove yourself. Um, so…
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes, I completely a hundred percent agree with you on that one. And the thing is, if I look back now, right, of course, you can do a lot of different things differently now, but back then, I feel like we’re just way too excited for the project, right?
So essentially what happened, the client came to us with this very exciting project, and obviously, me and my team were just really excited to really bring in our own expertise, right? Because that’s what they’re looking for.
Morgan Friedman (Host): What kind of project is it without giving away any identifying factor?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah, yeah, it’s digital project.
Think of, you know, um, things related to a website, things related to application, and things like that, right? So, all things digital essentially. Um, and yeah, I mean, for a lot of us creatives, when clients say, “Hey, we are definitely look up to you guys, the pros and the expert, to help us in this project.” I mean, who wouldn’t want to get excited when client come to you that way?
And we feel like, “Oh yes, we finally get the client who understood our value,” right? What we can bring in to the project. So I think, you know, it was definitely… I feel like that was the moment when I realized I shouldn’t have such ego. Right? But sometimes we do. Sometimes we do and we feel that in our bones and we just let that, um, particular ego rule us in every decision that we make.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So that’s actually an interesting point. I wanna dive into it cause this it’s interesting for a point. First, I wanna observe that so many challenges in client, in working with clients and life, is about fighting your own ego and controlling yourself. And often that just comes with maturity and experience and learning from horror stories like yours.
So the ego fight is interesting. There’s another interesting point about that, which is I thought it was really interesting about how you just got too excited. And I think especially if we’re creative, like you and me, we do something with all our heart and we jump in and we get so excited.
And you know, the old line, like “the higher they fly, the harder fall,” that when you get so excited, it sets you up for failure, which by the way, I wanna point out like in more than 30 episodes, this point hasn’t come out before, so we haven’t even heard the story, and we already have interesting point, so I’m excited, which is getting too emotionally attached and emotional about what you want to, you wanna thinking about it in the shower and coming up with crazy concepts and ideas. That just creates this massive emotional risk that makes it harder to see the situation clearly.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Hmm. You know, you brought up a really good point. Emotionally invested in the project, right? Exactly that, to be honest with you. And, you know, I was really happy with the work that we did, right?
And our team, before we get to that middle part, was honestly seen as the great collaborator, but because we felt like, “Okay, the client is leaning on us to bring more ideas in and, you know, just really trying to engage more.” And we tried to put in so much value into the project, and we forgot that, technically, this is already out of scope.
But yeah, again, talking about your ego, right? Your ego is like, “No, no, let’s just run with this because I know they’re gonna love it. They’re gonna love it, and they’re gonna just like, so over the moon with us. It’s gonna be great.”
Morgan Friedman (Host): I see. So, I like our backwards telling story. Usually people are like, A happened, but then B. It’s more fun.
It’s kinda like one of those movies that begins in medias res and you have to figure it out. So, you were engaged to do this creative work and a digital project, and you and your team were so excited and you didn’t even realize that this scope creep, really creeped up. And you say, “Oh, here’s another idea. Here’s more and more and more and more” until you’re going, like, massively overboard. But at first, it was fun because you were doing that at first because you were so excited and love accommodating it. So at first it wasn’t a problem, but at what point did all the excitement and the extra time and work did, at what point, or what happened that made a click saying, “Uhoh, we’re too emotionally invested”?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Oh my God. Ooh, that’s painful, morgan . But, um…
Morgan Friedman (Host): We only get a good story when you go onto the end. This is gonna be a therapy session. I have my whiskey already .
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I wish I got a cocktail right now. But, um, you know, I started realizing that it has become such a big scope creep when they start giving us more screens to work on, right? Or more pages to work on. Because in the beginning, it was clear, X amount of pages, right? But then it become almost 10x of pages.
Morgan Friedman (Host): 10x? So originally, like the original budget and plan was to use a made up number of something like 30 pages on the site and it ended up being something like 300 pages.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): It’s actually half of that, so it started off as 15 and then it snowballed into…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Snowballed to 150. Okay. Okay. That’s, uh, right, so that’s like more than an extra hundred pages, which designers know, like, a lot of work and categories goes into each and every page.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes, yes. And that’s not even to, you know, start, um, considering the other screens, right? When you work with all things digital, especially on the web, you gotta think about all the other previews for devices like tablet and mobile.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That’s right. And often they’re like loud screens. They don’t even think about it. No one thinks, “oh, we need a screen for the forgot password.”
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah. Yeah. So it was like, at that point, I was like, “Hmm, what have we gotten ourself into?” Right? Like, I mean, , it’s really good work, and I almost felt like this is gonna be a great portfolio for us. But on the other hand, we’re like, how do we tell them that this is completely out of scope? Because it wasn’t fully defined in the beginning.
So, I can talk about takeaways at the end later, but here’s the thing about creating any sort of service or even like, you know, agreement with your client, right? Have a clear agreement that dictates what is the engagement gonna be all about. Without that, it’s gonna be so easy for a client to just like, “Hey, I thought about this as,” or, “Hey, here, some, another example.”
What can you do with it?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay. So that’s interesting advice, and a lot of people recommend that, and what I found is that the challenge with that, in real life, is a few things. One, and it all comes back down to human nature, our nature and the client’s nature where often, clients will say, “oh, no, no, just do this one little thing, this one little thing, this one little thing.”
And sometimes it’s malicious, sometimes they’re sophisticated while take advantage of the young newbie, but other times, it’s more like out of naivete or ignorance, and they don’t even realize, “No. The password, the password screen, just use a template. It’ll take 10 seconds” and what they don’t realize is 10 seconds add up and then on our side, even if the contract says, you know, only 15 pages and it’s written and signed in blood, because you get so into it, we ourselves think, “oh no. I want it to succeed. I’ll just do the password forgotten page. We’ll take 10 more seconds.” And we forget that one page leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, which, so I think the challenge often isn’t what does the exact contract say, but how you go about finessing it as a situation progresses.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): That’s true. And I think this is also gonna come with experience, comes with age as well, right? I think the first few times you do it, you’re gonna be like, “oh, it’s okay. Let’s be flexible.” I’ve done that in the past as well. But when you then finally realize one big thing that happened in your client and project relationship, like any of the horror stories that you have heard from, you know, Morgan’s podcast, then you finally realize, “I can’t do this anymore. I gotta be strict about it.” It’s not because we don’t wanna be, you know, a good human, but it’s honestly because our time worked specific amount of money for us, right? So if we actually are not respecting our own time, then who will? So I have learned that the hard way, and I honestly have to use, you know, time tracking to make sure that I have X amount of hours for this project.
If that goes beyond it, it’s not my problem, right? It’s gonna be communicated directly to the client and it’s gonna be their choice whether or not we gonna keep going or if we gonna stop?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay. So I have… this is interesting, so I have two comments on that. First, I have one friend who’s obsessive about time tracking.
Brian, if you’re watching this, and he time tracks everything in his life. Nothing to do with client work, even like household. He knows how long he goes to the gym, and he’s been doing it for like 15 years. And it’s interesting if you time. Like, usually people time track when it’s hourly billing, but if it’s not hourly billing, people usually don’t.
Well, what’s interesting about your insight and Brian’s as well is even if you’re not building the plan hourly, even if it’s a fixed price, you have to do it for yourself. Are you putting 20 hours, 40 hours, or a hundred hours? And it’s often very easy to lose track of not. “I think I’ve been doing it 20 hours, but really 60 hours have gone by” cause you don’t realize that all the 15 minutes add up.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah, but there’s also the difference between whether it’s like an hourly project rate or is it like the value-based pricing, right? It’s definitely a little bit trickier to track value-based pricing with your project because you technically don’t need x amount of hours to track.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Even if it’s my brainstorm over whiskey, if it’s hourly-based, you have to track your hours. If it’s value-based, you don’t track your hours. But it’s interesting to think, you know, you should track it just for yourself because maybe even if the client is only paying based on the value or the results, but it’s a very different internal analysis for yourself or for your business, whether in reality, no matter how you’re getting paid, whether you spend 40 or 140 hours on it.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes, you brought a really good point in there, and I would honestly suggest anybody who do the value-based pricing to also track that time, right? Again, it’s for your personal purposes, but also for your internal purposes. And if you do actually have employees under you with any of the value-based pricing for your projects, then you also need to track how much resources you are spending internally.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yes, totally. Yeah, so I think this is good advice by the way, and I love episodes where there’s new advice that hasn’t come. Time tracking. Time tracking for like non-time based projects hasn’t come up before, so I’m happy. All listeners, excellent advice.
Another thought inspired by what you’re saying is, actually, I completely forgot what wanted to say, so I’ll have some more whiskey. So maybe I’ll remember in five minutes. But, uh, or maybe after more whiskey, I’ll forget even more.
So let’s get back to the story. So you had 15 pages. It snowballed into a 150 pages. At what point, like when you told the client that, “Hey, we’ve done 10x more,” how did that conversation go and what happened?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah. You know, when we finally feel like this is it, right? We, we can’t add more, and I don’t think we can simply because our dev team then won’t be able to execute it when it goes to code because the original agreement was to get the very, you know, MVP level of features to be out. And while the majority of these can still be considered MVP, there’s just a lot of like different added features within those MVP that we ended up implementing into the design.
So, we ended up talking to them and really just explaining what we think should be the next step, right? Which is we gotta go to code, like now. We can’t delay this anymore. We can’t tweak on this, we can’t make more changes to this. We gotta go to code. And I think it took probably a couple more weeks until they finally are okay with that.
But at that point, honestly, I was, from the design point of view and my team in the design, we’re just done, right? I just wanna ship this to codes. And then when our dev team finally takes it from our design handoff, they was like very upset to be honest, because it was like, “this is not gonna be done in three or four months.”
Yeah, it was like quite a complex feature for the MVP.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I see. So, not only had the pages gotten in 10x more, but the underlying assumption of the pages made the code so much more complex. So that threw out the the developer’s timetable as well.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes. Oh my goodness. Yes. The plan that we originally have was to actually get everything done probably like about five to six months, right?
From strategy, and then what you’re framing, and then design, and then prototyping, and then development, and then demo, and then launch. All of those were supposed to be done between five to six months. It ended up going more than one year. Obviously, everybody was not happy.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yikes. Okay, so I remembered what I was going to say about five minutes ago, and it actually ties in to this exact last point of it taking much longer and everyone being kind of uhappy. So we’re talking about how do you tell the client when things are going bad and we’re saying, “oh, a lot of people use the strategy of making sure the contract is rock solid and says business into it.
And I was saying a moment ago, my instant take on that is no matter what the legal contract says, just humans, it’s on both sides. It’s hard to say that, and it’s hard, and the client often, just often unwittingly, annoyingly, he is like, “oh, they said this and this.” Here’s how I do it.
There are two things that I do that really helped me solve that problem. This is… you might do the same. Also, listeners. It’s younger versions of me. I hope you find this. I wish someone had told all these 15 years ago. First is to use a high school debate term. I signpost. You know, signposting in high school debate is like, “I have six points I wanna make.”
The first point is this. The second point is this just, and over like a six months project, I’ll be like, “okay, with this many hours or this much time, or this much budget, like we’ve used this much.” And just getting into the rhythm of just giving these sorts, even if it’s an informal update of saying, “Hey, we’ve allocated 200 hours to the project, and so far we’ve said 20, which is 10%, and we’re about 10% done. So everything’s looking good.” Even with those one sentence emails where it’s positive from the very beginning, doing that with those simple positive ones in the beginning makes it really, really easy. You do that every two weeks, then six weeks in being like, “Hey guys, it’s all okay, but there’s a little yellow flag cause we’re a little bit over.” so that way, when you do the red flag, when it starts going bad, everyone’s already emotionally prepared. So that’s one strategy.
The other strategy I use for… Now I really wanna only do bigger projects, but long ago, I would do this only with the bigger projects. It just never makes it to really small projects. But something to do with my clients now and formally with my big clients is once a month, we have an informal meeting. Usually I do it over alcohol. Now, in the pandemic era, I usually do a virtual drink cause having a drink changes how people think.
So you can be more open and I’ll have a one month informal check-in. “Hey, we’re in both sides. Hey. We’ve been working together 30 days now. We’re having a drink informally, off the record. It’s not being recorded. I’d love to get what you guys think of the team and where you think we can improve. And I wanna let you know just how we’re feeling.” And just doing that helps solidify the relationship, but on top of that, the informality and the regularity of that is a way where you can actually back channel and message these sorts of things to like “some of the guys on my team are starting to get frustrated because they’re expecting this much and we’re already past that.”
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah. That’s a good tip. Wow. Thanks.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And feel free to adopt it. And you need to start doing virtual whiskeys.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): You’ll do virtual whiskey. I’ll do virtual cocktails.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That sounds fun. Um, okay. So this project went massively over. When it was going massively over, you told them.
And getting from what you told them or my interpretation is that at first, they kind of just expected the world for their flat fee. And so they were taken aback, but at some point they just realized that you guys were basically emotionally done.
So the big question, did they end up paying you everything? Did they pay you anymore? What happened?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Oh, this is where that heartbreak’s coming in.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Oh, no. Oh no. What happened next?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): All right, so…
Morgan Friedman (Host): I need a drink. I need a drink to prepare.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Well, you got you more. Go grab more drinks, Morgan, because it’s gonna be good, mainly because, you know, that residual invoice, right? We tend to send out before we do final handoff to our clients. And with this project being super late, so beyond the deadline that we originally included in the contract and everything and we got pressured a lot from the client. To be honest, everybody in my team are, at that point, really, really stressed out and completely burnt out from that project.
And the client decided: “No, I’m not gonna pay a full fee.”
Morgan Friedman (Host): Wow.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah. And I was like, even though we deliver everything and beyond, with the exception on late delivery, right, after all of that work, they said, “Nope, according to the contract, you guys didn’t finish on time.” So rather than having it to be, you know, taken to court and all that legal stuff, I was like, “okay, fine. What can you pay?”
So the residual, the other 50% that we should have gotten was only paid what? Maybe, I don’t know, maybe 20% out of that. I was like…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Wow.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): It left such a bad taste in our mouth and I was like, “you know what? We are not gonna do this particular approach ever again. We are going to level up our process and we will never, ever go away from a very specific structure when accepting a new project.”
Morgan Friedman (Host): So, tell us about the new structure that you implemented to help minimize this sort of risk in the future, oh wise.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Okay. Before I share the structure, here are three things that we basically got from this experience.
Number one, there’s lack of communication. It wasn’t clear in the beginning what the client truly wanted, and we just feel like, “oh, I think I know what you mean. Is this it? How about this? What about this one?” You’re giving them more ideas for them to consume, and then when they get back to you, it ended up becoming as this dictation. “All right, now you guys gave me ideas. Can we do all of this?” So that was, in my opinion…
Morgan Friedman (Host): So let’s talk about the challenge. So you’re right, this is a huge problem. The challenge with this is this initial part of figuring out what they actually want. In the creative consulting world, it’s often called the discovery phase that it’s so essential and it’s hard and it takes time, but clients never wanna pay for it because it’s not like you get an eventual webpage. It’s just figuring out all these abstract things. So the challenge is This thing takes time and is important and avoids problems, but they don’t wanna pay for it.
So, is there a way that your process solves for that?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Oh, yes, yes.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Let’s go.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I should have done this a long time ago, but hey, we finally learned, right? We’ve finally learned that we should definitely charge for discovery and strategy. That’s important. So you know, these days, unless it’s a retainer program or project that we have without a client, any new custom project, everything starts with discovery and strategy with us because we need to figure out how much work, what are the scope.
We don’t let the client define these scopes because it will always go beyond what they think they need. Right? So, the big step that I would recommend everyone to do, especially if you deliver a lot of creative work, right? Don’t rely from just the brief. Also have a discovery session with them to really fully understand where are they going with this particular campaign or this particular design work, digital work, whatever that might be. What do they see for their future from this project?
Morgan Friedman (Host): That makes sense.
I’ve had a challenge of wanting people to pay for discovery and not being able to or not wanting to. I wish I had the right way how to convince people, how to convince a client, to pay for it. I don’t know the right strategy for that. Some techniques that I have used that have been successful is basically, I only work with people that I like, and if I like you, I’ll have whiskey and I’ll brainstorm with you. And I’m a brainstorm idea machine. So I kind of enjoy doing it. So I’ll do all that for free. But what I make clear over a few sessions, and it’s also the same at which is not so brainstorming ideas, but it’s also a way to get to know each other, but I make super clear artifacts, documentation, the actual plan. All that only comes once an engagement actually starts.
Otherwise, it’s like them just seeing that I’m a smart guy with lots of ideas to do that, but the real value is taking these ideas, turning them into artifacts, and then the artifacts, you or someone else turn them into action.
So, I’ll say it differently. 10 years ago, I didn’t appreciate the power of artifacts as much as I appreciate it today.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah. It’s interesting how you use the word artifacts. For us, it’s pretty much the same thing, right? You’re crafting this action plan, basically, for them, you’re trying to really pinpoint what are the goals for the business, where do they wanna go? How can they get there?
That’s the biggest important thing that we realized was missing from this horror story that I was telling you because we were just running with our guts, both us and the client. We didn’t see it clearly. Where are we going with this? What’s the plan? So, until you really have that plan, you’re gonna go back to this loophole over and over again and get yourself in the same experience that’s gonna just keep you getting brought out.
And the one thing that I start doing, Morgan, I know you talked about getting them with the booze and talk to them and do brainstorming and everything. I feel, I really, honestly, at this point, I’m really tired of people taking advantage of how kind we are, right? And at one point, honestly, me and my husband, because we’re in the business together, we’re just like, “you know what? That’s it. We are done being nice.”
Well, we still are nice, but I just feel like it’s time for us to really put that tag for us in terms of like, “if you want to work with us, here’s what needs to happen. We’ll be more than happy to share all of our brilliant ideas out of the box, you know, solutions or whatnot. But you can’t have them for free.”
And I think many people have this misconception that, “yeah, creatives can give us a lot of ideas, and they can only, you know, charge us with whatever that they truly create.” It’s like, “no, our thinking is literally the brain of our creativity.” Without that, you might just get like a very cheap-looking brochure or maybe like a good enough any, you know, collateral design or whatnot.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): That’s not what you want. You want something that can truly embody your brand, your business, and can truly create the conversion you need to hit your ROI.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So that’s interesting. My approach is slightly different, which by the way, not worse, not better. Not worse. Everyone has a different approach at all also as part of growing as a professional.
You need to find not the right thing to do, but the right thing for you because everyone has different personalities and so on. For me, I wanna live in a world where people will pay me for my thinking and my brilliance that I’m not sure that world exists, but what the world that I have found exists is the world where I can come up with brilliant ideas, embody them in artifacts, documents, plans, school docs, meeting notes. Here is this lists of risk factors analysis. These things that we can talk about informally, but then codify in a formal way, and it’s the codification, the turning into an artifact, is what I found convinces people to pay. Even if the codification, the artifact, it’s kind of the same thing we were talking about.
Like it’s, it’s hard to get people to pay for a conversation, but but it’s much easier when it’s documented, codified, in some format.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Mm-hmm. , I agree a hundred percent agree with you on that.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay, so three lessons. The first one is about making sure there’s a clear contract and clear expectations and all the details, and they had a whole interesting analysis of that.
What’s your second one?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I think basically the first one is the lack of communication, right? And the second one is that lack of expectation. I think it almost sounds similar to communication, except what’s really tricky about expectation is that it has to come from both sides.
When the client reviewing your contracts or your proposal, whatnot, those are coming from you as the creative, right? Whereas from the client, they don’t really voice out their own expectation of you. So, I think in order for you to have a really good relationship between you and the client, as well as creating a successful project, having both understanding of what is it that we expect, so now we actually include that language into our contract.
So we do have a couple lines that basically says we do not accept any, you know, BS language or, you know, very mean behavior towards us or our team member, right? So we gotta put that in there. And also we include a language where we specifically say that client input is definitely crucial to the project. However, it’s not a hundred percent necessary. So basically, what we’re saying there is that we value their input, but if they feel that they are relying a lot on our own knowledge and expertise, we’re okay to just like lead with that and suggest them what we would think best for their project. So there’s like this flexibility.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I have to send clients a, sort of, expectations dock, and it includes these sorts of points. One expectation I always put into my expectations dock, which I’ll suggest in case you don’t do it, is communication hours. Just make sure it’s clear that at 3:00 AM on a Saturday night, unless the house is burning down, you’re not around.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah, that’s a good call. Thank you for mentioning that. You know, for us, we have a few set systems to include those particular language. We don’t include that language in our contract or even on our onboarding. Actually yes, we do on our onboarding documents. So, that’s that one. But there’s also this separate setups where we include our work hours in our, email signature.
If you don’t have already, include that in the bottom of your email.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about putting it in your email signature until right now.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes. Yeah, it definitely helps. And the thing is, I encourage everybody to do this simply because it’s not just for your clients, but it’s also for you.
So think about it. If you have written down your work hours and you are gonna commit, it’s like, “I’m gonna work for X hour to X hour.” You told your clients that, and you should embody that yourself too, because you need to have time for yourself, for you to do anything else outside of work, just to be creative and, you know, get that juices of creativity flowing in your head.
But another thing… yeah, go ahead.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Before your other thing, I just wanna say, I didn’t put it down, but I really like it. I like putting your work hours in the email and I really like your insight that you do that not for the client, not primarily for the clients, but for yourself because if it’s at the footer of every single email you send out, it’s this subconscious psychological reinforcement to you yourself that after 6:00 PM or whatever, go do something else. I like that.
And well, and as a parenthetical, is I’m a little bit obsessed with the project management tool, Basecamp. I’m a total fanboy. Yeah, so it’s like project management. You can bring clients in, track it, and everything else, but it’s subtle feature that Basecamp has is on their app and their website.
They let you configure to turn off notifications in non-work hours. And you can define work hours because you know, usually, clients send tickets or requests through the system at whatever hour they want, but you configure it. So even if they send you 20 requests in the middle of the night, you don’t get a notification or see it until 9 am tomorrow morning.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes. Ooh, I like that feature. I didn’t even know that they have that. That’s neat.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Basecamp just made every subtle decision and they have a lot of these Easter egg hidden little features. I definitely took it out.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Okay. I was gonna say something else. Ooh. Um, speaking of, you know, other things that we also said, aside for our own system, is to not have client have direct access to our personal phone number, right?
So we have a dedicated line just for the business. So yes, they can call that within our business hours and somebody will pick up. Either it’s me or my husband. But beyond that, it’s not gonna go to our personal phone or even texting and things like that. We’re definitely not a big fan of texting.
If anything, send it via email properly or we have a specific email for taking support or tickets like you mentioned earlier as well. Just separating these out is gonna help you a lot because your mind will be already burdened with so many different things. Right? But when you have things structured like you mentioned earlier, using Basecamp for your project management system, it’s very helpful.
Or if you have a lot of like ticketing support and stuff like that, I would also recommend taking a look at your FreshDesk or even like, I think Zendesk too. So that’s another way to sort of split your inbox so that you are not bombarded with just like a lot of the client information.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. Um, yeah, I like these tools.
These tools are important and it’s interesting that often with managing clients to avoid problems, often, there isn’t one big thing to do. It’s this process, this tool, being strict about this, being strict about this, being strict about this. All those add up. And on the one hand, it’s annoying cause you just need to be on top of all these variables.
But what’s good about that is it’s often hard to be really strict on this one thing. But if you’re just a bit stricter on this, a bit stricter on this, a bit stricter on this, then all of that adds up together.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I agree. Yeah, completely. And are you ready for my last tip?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Let’s do it. Ok. I’m gonna take a swig for it.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): All right, so the last one will be to avoid having lack of system, right? We already talked a little bit about a few different ways where you can include your work hours or have like specific language and everything. But I’m mainly talking about a process that you would follow step by step and then stick with that particular step.
Earlier we touched on having a discovery or strategy before having to work on the actual execution part of your project. So, thinking back now, I should have had that always in the beginning, right? And now we do, but then what do we need after that? So having written down your own process in the way that you feel will be the most valuable for your clients, but also it’s going to give you the most flexibility in order to control the project, what would that be?
So for us, it looks like this. We have the client coming in to us, right? And then if everything is all good to go and they’re ready to go to work with us, we will start with discovery and strategy from there. Like you mentioned earlier, Morgan, you would create this architect, um, no. What did you say earlier?
Is it architect or plan, something?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Artifact.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Artifact. Oh my god. Something.
Morgan Friedman (Host): You know, it’s like when they excavate the pyramids and if they find it in buildings and you have artifact of a civilization, like everything is words and most of what we do disappears in vanishes. The people are long, the papers are gone, but from these ancient civilizations we have, “oh, here’s this bowl that survived.” You know? Here’s this tablet that’s inscribed. And those are the artifacts of ancient civilizations. And I think it’s useful to think about creating artifacts in that same sort of way. My engagement will finish. I’ll be gone doing something else, having fun, and well drinks are brilliant ideas.
What stays around and what I think is valuable is the artifact. Here’s the risk analysis, the plan, and these very specific, clear, and strong documents.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes. And I was actually gonna touch on that exactly. So thank you for clarifying that.
So, going back, so you have that discovery and strategy, and you ended up just with this particular solid plan, essentially, that you’re gonna share with your clients and walk through it with them to be on the same page. This is what we found out. These are the options that we can do for your business.
Right? So we typically would share like three options, you know, small, medium, or large options, right? And depending on how fast they wanna go, how much investment they have to pour into that project, they would pick one out of that three projects, I mean project option, sorry. So, from there, then we will do the actual project.
So depending on small, medium, or large choice that they have, we will do them, and we have the control over what’s gonna go in there because everything is already laid out into plan, right? So, we will use the plan as our main guide to execute the project. Now, the thing is about any project, really, there’s always gonna be some changes or there’s gonna be like something that you ended up finding out that you didn’t find out previously, and that is okay.
However, though, you still need to control how big of the size of that change, right? You don’t wanna go back to those burnout faces and experience anymore, but at least you know how to be flexible enough, consistently on being flexible enough, not overflexible, to be able to communicate it with the client and also get on the same page if it needs to be bigger than what it’s supposed to be.
You’re gonna have to talk about extra budget, right? And there’s gonna have to be an agreement between the two before you execute those particular adjustments. And then, yeah, from there, I feel like whenever we do this specific process, everything runs smoothly, to be honest with you.
So, knock on wood, this is gonna be our big guide to help us avoid anymore burnout in the future.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, I think this is good. It’s similar to how I approach things and how I do things. So, of course, I like it. I’ll add that one of the challenge that I think as companies mature, it’s natural to have more more processes, and something that I like to do is we even have our Basecamp, we even have like a weekly question, what processes, how to ask everyone on the team, what processes have you improved every week.
By the way, Basecamp also lets you ask everyone a question at any regular rhythm. And for like these interesting thought-provoking ones, it can be useful where I’ve always focused on improving our processes. And it challenges often companies. I’ve seen far too many companies say, “oh yeah. We do discovery, then we turn that into the plan, then we execute, then we measure the results, then we share the results,” and what happens is over time, people change. The way you do things change.
It becomes more sophisticated. “Oh no, it’s actually not this linear list. It’s actually cyclical. Cause once you get data, you wanna go back.” But everyone kind of just like sticks with their old process and their old process diagrams or doesn’t train the new people in thinking about it. Or new people are trained just by reading documents, but whoever really learned anything by reading a document?
So the process theory is great, and a lot of the challenges is making it smooth in the details of real life.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yeah, and you also brought a really good point there around when the business mature, things change, right? Yes. Things need to be, adapt to a new situation or new processes, and things like that, but I also feel like at least you have the bare bone of the process, right?
As long as you have that, you can go and run with it in the next 5 or even to 10 years and slowly adapting it bit by bit because as you start growing your company, maybe the scope of work will change most of the time. Or maybe, honestly, there are new methodology that you need to adapt to the project or your own process.
So I think there’s definitely a lot more room for improvement, and I think we always need to stay flexible for that, but to still have like the bare bone of what is your process that you need to hone in, that’s I think still very critical.
Morgan Friedman (Host): By the way, I strongly agree with that. The way I would phrase that same point or that same point of Morgan language is a little bit of process goes a long way. Like, even if there’s just four, kind of, general steps is like light years that you’re 80% there. Light years ahead of you and me 15 years ago where we’re kind of just saying, “Ah, okay, I think this is ready now. I can do this.”
And I think it’s hard for a lot of people to accept kind like just barely-good-enough processes or barely-good-enough documents, but it gets you so far.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I agree. Yeah, man, this, I wish I have all this so far, right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Uh, so I think for your next project, you should invent a time machine. Invent a time machine, then show this podcast to you yourself 10 years earlier and I’ll show it to myself.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Oh, yeah. That will be so helpful to be honest with you. But hey, we all learn from our mistakes and then share with others for their benefit, right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): And the whole goal of the podcast is to share these sorts of lessons of younger versions of ourselves. Cause I think for you and me today, it’s obvious a little bit of process goes a long way. But you and me, a decade ago, it was not obvious in any way whatsoever. “Yeah, you know. Just go and tweak these campaigns, change this, change this,” and you think you can wing it.
And just adding that such a structure and a lot of you and just getting this in writing and this and the informal check-ins. These really little things really turn a client horror story into magic.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I like that. Oh, I like that.
Morgan Friedman (Host): As a great way to end the podcast, any final thoughts or wisdom you wanna share in addition to all your awesome wisdom tonight?
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Yes. You know, I’ve taken for granted business operation, design operation, development, operation, anything related with operation. You should go out there and get some resources around this, especially if you’re still on the early stage because like what we already touched on this, a little process, bit by bit, goes along the way, and the sooner you get these resources, the easier your life’s going to be down the road.
When you see, you know, crazy clients coming your way, you know what to do. Um, or when you see like scope creep happening, you know what to do. So, don’t wait.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, excellent wisdom. To do a small comment on that and then a wrap-up comment on that, my small comment is process is also a good defensive mechanism. The client says, “Hey, why don’t you just do this?” You say, “no. Our policy is that we do da da, no, we follow this process.” So it’s kind of like, “Nah, it’s not my fault. I wanna do more for you, but this is the process.”
So it’s also this powerful defense mechanism. The other point is, I think it’s interesting, Steve Jobs. The most valuable company in the world, Steve Jobs built it. Genius. And then, after he died or disappeared or whatever story you believe happened to him, who took over? Tim Cook, the COO, the head of operations, and I think it’s an important metaphor that CEO took over and not Johnny Ive, not the designer, not the cool kids, the boring person that figured out every little detail that makes it work like an oiled machine.
Because to make something run awesomely, it’s all about operations and, especially creatives like you and me are like, “no, the hard part is the creative stuff.” You just get someone to put gas in the engine and it works, and sadly, it’s possibly even we couldn’t make the argument that the gas engines, the engineers run the world, and “Oh yeah.” We’re like, “we’re just in creators with some crowns that thrust some nice pictures.”
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I like that. You know what I also like about what you just said, I know after I was gonna wrap up of course, but the policies, you mentioned policies, right?
Because it is so true. These policies are going to be your defensive mechanism. They protect you from any other weird requests coming from your clients. “Hey, can I call you in a middle of the night?” It’s like, “no, you can’t. My policies clearly state that you cannot do that,” right? Um, so thank you for mentioning that.
That completely slipped my mind and it’s a great advice.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. I’m happy to remind you and all listeners. And, of course, as much as I love these things, we need to be careful of taking them to the extreme, and this is how bureaucracies happen. What are bureaucracies? “If not, oh, I’m happy to work with you. Here’s my thousand-page manual with every little policy,” and that’s when actually things become like sclerotic and really slow. So, too much policies and processes is actually what kills companies, and the challenge of every growing company is to find the right balance.
And like we were saying before, the right balance often emanates from the founders and who they are. Some people are just more like this, some like that. Some people are naturally more structured like that. Some are wilder like that. And every company needs to find this balance that works for them.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I agree. Thank you, Morgan.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And on that note, it’s been great talking to you, getting to know you. A surprising large amount of wisdom that hasn’t come out in previous episodes that’s come out tonight. So…
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): I’m glad!
Morgan Friedman (Host): I’m happy to talk to a philosopher like yourself.
Ari Krzyzec (Interviewee): Thank you so much for having me. This has been so much fun.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And thank you everyone who made it to the end. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and you drank as much whiskey as I did.
This transcription belongs to Episode #30, please watch the complete episode here!