Morgan (Host): Hey, everyone! Welcome to the latest episode of “Client Horror Stories”. I like your waving when I said, “Hey everyone”. You are everyone!
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): I love that today. I hope someone is listening. Hello out there!
Morgan (Host): It is not live yet, but I hope that at least one person will watch it when it does go live, and probably my mom, but today; I am honored to have the one and only Liz Wilcox. I admire how she’s always in character. In marketing, we always say you need branding, positioning, and obsessing over every little aspect. I have never known anyone who does that consistently as you do.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Wow, thank you so much! Yeah, I’m on my third business, and I’ve just realized the more I leaned into being the brand and having the brand, the more people began to recognize me. We talked before we hit record about having fun in business. If you’re going to get clients and be your boss, why not go for it? There is only one life and who knows when it will end, so why not just have fun?
Morgan (Host): Yeah, I love it! Better branding in a better position makes it more fun. Most people don’t do what you’re doing because they’re afraid, but you have fear in your eye, and you just do it.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, definitely!
Morgan (Host): This is a great segue to today’s theme, A client’s horror story, so let’s jump right in. What happened to you?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): It is such a fun story. The biggest takeaway I want people to know is that if something feels funky in your gut, just like facing fear and going for it anyway, your gut will tell you whether or not it is real. There is a fear of being on camera or going on a podcast and talking about this horror story. But it’s just a limiting belief. You might be warned not to do a particular task by your get. That is where I want to start. I felt in my gut something was off the whole time. And by the end, a cartoonish guy on the shoulder says, “I told you not to do that. Money is not everything.”
Morgan (Host): That’s an interesting point! Like facing fear in the eye, many people are afraid to listen to their instincts, especially when there are many zeros in the dollar number. So this is a good lesson in theory. And I think one of the powers of these specific stories is to remind people how powerful your gut can be in knowing what is right and wrong. I think the reason why our gut feels something is because of subtle signals. I’ll always pay attention to those little clues you give me as you tell me the story we’re about to embark on.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, so let’s start with those dollars. The person I used to know when I used to travel the country full time emailed me or messaged me on Facebook. “Hey, Liz, I know you love email. I’ve been working with this client for almost 10 years. We run Facebook ads for them, but I tell them, you know, there’s no point in running ads collecting their email address If they’re not emailing them consistently and if they don’t have an actual strategy behind it like ‘Welcome/Nurture Sequence’. And I know that is where your expertise is. Would you be willing to hop on this project with me to create this new project?” I said, “Oh, my gosh, I love this idea. What do they need?” And he said, “Oh, well, they need a two-year Nurture Sequence and some other things.”
And I thought I should do customer research before I go into this project. It was a huge task to create two years’ worth of content. I won’t get into all these email mumbo jumbo, but there were a lot of technical things that needed to happen first, from a copywriter’s perspective, so I could actually write something that would work for them. That is why I put it in the proposal. I think my initial proposal was around $25,000. They would still make that money if 100 people went through the whole thing and one person bought them. The reason I was low balling was I didn’t know much about that industry, and I had to do a lot of customer research, as I said. However, I think this might be something I want to do, and I might be good at it, so I’ll just take on this project and hopefully knock it out of the park to get those bigger contracts, and maybe even one day get a six-figure contract.
In the end, he said, “Oh my goodness, that is how this client behaves. So for lack of a better word, cheap, they won’t pay that much.” And I’ll be totally honest with you, I won’t give you the name, but basically, they were in the funeral business. Death is a great business because everyone dies, and everybody has to deal with it eventually. As a result, they tried to get out of clients who had purchased their services after the fact, and they were in grieving mode, and they needed to figure something out, and they were working more with people like me and Morgan, who are still alive and pre-planning. And they wanted a two-year sequence for that. It makes sense. Everybody needs a funeral, right?
Morgan (Host): I appreciate how you said people like me and Morgan who are still alive have something in common if you put a heartbeat in them.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah! They needed people still breathing and able to pre-plan their funeral. So I think $25,000 was a really low volume for two years of emails. It was going to take a lot of customer research to keep someone interested for two years. On top of that their content was all about death and its sensitivity. However, he came back, “Liz, my gosh. They won’t spend this much money on email. Do you know how we can shorten this project to simply obtain what we require? And if everything goes well, hopefully, they’ll hire you for the rest as well.
Morgan (Host): That’s interesting! At this point, had you met the client himself or was it only your contributor?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): It was only my buddy yet.
Morgan (Host): In my opinion, having other people in the middle is a risk factor because it often goes wrong. Do you remember the children’s game of telephone? How well could he read the other person’s needs? Doesn’t it make them fundamentally riskier?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, I agree with Morgan. Oh my gosh, in hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t take on the project. The money wasn’t worth it because I felt like I didn’t have that friend anymore. You got a spoiler. As far as I know, nothing nasty happened, now I’m spoiling the story, but it just didn’t work out. As a result, I feel awkward with my buddy, and now he’s never asked me to do any other projects with him.
Morgan (Host): This is interesting! Having a friend in the middle creates a relationship risk. However, even with that, I believe it basically makes any client project much more difficult because if you can communicate with the customer directly if you can strengthen your argument, you could explain you can understand him better, rather than having to describe everything. There will be a lot of time, effort, and money wasted if John tells Jane tells Jake who tells the client, who then responds with the details to John who tells Jane, and who informs you. Looking back, it will be difficult for me to predict where the story will go but you could have asked, “Could I speak directly with the client at the first point to figure out what needs to be done?”
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, thanks for that advice! I’m writing that advice down.
Morgan (Host): Now you just need a time machine to go back.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): 100% right. As a result, by the time you sign the contract, two years turns into one year turns into some customer research. For instance, scrubbing the list, and getting rid of people who haven’t engaged. So I get on the phone, and finally, they signed the contract. I sent over a project calendar we got on our very first call. And these clients didn’t know anything about email. They just trusted my friends so much. He had been hammering them for so many years about wasting all this money on Facebook ads. So, it was supposed to be a 40-minute call, but it turned into almost two hours because they had so many questions about the process. And so, even though they had already paid me, I had been chatting to my friend about the project for the past 30 days and trying to convince them yet more of its importance. They already signed the deal, as you may know. What on earth was happening, and why?
Morgan (Host): There is also another risk factor we need to keep in mind, which is that even after people have signed and paid, they are still doubting the value, and they aren’t fully bought in, so that’s another Yellow Flag we need to look out for in our younger selves.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, I got off the call and honestly, I was tired. It felt like I completed a master’s degree or Ph.D., where you have to present your thesis and everyone asks you questions, and you have to support what you said. I was presenting my framework, and it was exhausting. And I was very confused. Those people must trust my friend, because they just signed a big contract, according to the friend. So I started working on the first deliverable and I turned it in. They were still very confused. So I had one point of contact. Already we’re behind on the timeline because she said she needed to send it to the other point of contact, so I gave them maybe 36 hours to say yea or nay. What do you like, what do you dislike?
And finally, I got it back. I was already a week behind. I was supposed to be getting on the phone with some of their customers. That was yet another reaction. These people were grieving, after all, because it was a funeral. But I had to do some form of research because if I didn’t know who their people were, I couldn’t write for them. I don’t mean to toot my horn, but tell me all day about you, but if I just speak to one person compared to simply reading your emails or something like that, I am confident that this will be ten to twenty times more beneficial. That’s just one-on-one copywriting. Finally, after three weeks, I received approval for the email I sent asking for phone calls from certain individuals. So that was a Red Flag, not a Yellow Flag. They were choosing this 300-word email, after all. I must not say this or that. I was pushing back as well. Given that this was a sensitive subject.
In addition, I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t possible, but you should be aware that if you communicate as “Dear Ms. Wilcox” the Internet gods will mark it as spam. So I was continuously trying to explain that they can’t put dear as the very first word in the email if they wished this to go into the inbox. This is what they hired me for. It is my full-time job to study what goes into spam and what goes into the inbox. If you put “Dear Mrs. Wilcox”. They wouldn’t see it. I won’t be able to get on the phone with them. So finally, we had something formal, and semi-formal, and I went into their email service provider. If you’ve ever sent a mass email, that’s just where people collect their email addresses so they can send mass emails, such as that. It was like trying to play and connect the dots and somebody forgot to number the dots. And, there was no support, and they told me that the system was not very user-friendly. But, even though I consider myself a pro, I wasn’t able to figure that system out.
I accidentally sent it to people whom I shouldn’t have sent. This lady, I don’t know where she got my phone number. She called me saying how I messed things up. And it was just a re-engagement email asking someone to hit reply. This was the funeral business. Tell me what you think about this. It was just asking, “In your life, what do you want to be remembered by? Hit reply!” The lady was freaking out that it got sent to everyone. The only bad thing that would happen from the email was that they would get more replies than you expected. I don’t think anyone would think that’s insensitive to ask. So about a week later, she called me up saying that was one of the best emails, and they got a lot of responses and leads. And it was supposed to only be sent out to the people who weren’t opening. So, I thought the tide was turning. I thought they saw Liz Wilcox’s light.
Morgan (Host): I want to know when she called you back, did she apologize for being wrong? Because I think people’s willingness to apologize is a good mark for how healthy the engagement would be.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): She was nice. She didn’t apologize directly, but she said something like you know what you’re talking about. I believe she was starting to realize it. You know, some people are just so hard to let go of. And even though the company had been expanding for 20 to 30 years, the team size was still quite tiny. Maybe five employees were involved. And so, since there was such a steep learning curve, they didn’t know what I was trying to start. Since the project was virtually complete, I was trying to be understanding of it. Let’s move forward toward the project’s conclusion.
I was almost finished writing a one-year sequence, and I had done consumer research, so I knew what their true desires were in terms of what they wanted to provide. They hired a brand-new marketing manager. It was excellent news. This person was my age, in their 30s, and extremely cooperative because they knew what modern marketing looked like, whom they should try to reach out to, and they needed me for everything. As I was explaining, they responded, “Oh, yeah, totally 100% 100%.” For me, this was fantastic news. I wrote down the sequence and gave it to her. It was somewhat similar, and I believe that since she had just begun her job, she wanted to do well and was making an effort to mirror their actions. because there were two weeks to complete the project. They claimed that it will take them at least three weeks to review those emails.
She would ask me, again and again, to hop on the call. I also had no boundaries at that time so the response was therefore yes. And it was like, you know, dissecting each word that was said. Oh, I see what you mean so and so. It is adamant that we use dear. They were so determined to use Dear Mr. Dear Mrs. It was strange since, in my opinion, you can be formal without actually dressing it up as a letter. And the last time I spoke to this client, I spoke to the marketing manager. I told them that I was going on vacation. At that point, the project was supposed to be finished, but I promised to give them two more weeks to wrap things up. I am aware that things take time.
And the project’s initial launch had taken a few weeks, so I thought, “Okay, that’s fine.”I was on vacation when I last spoke to her. I was in the midst of the woods jogging. I then received a text. Hey, I need to talk to you,” so I called her while jogging through the forest. She said, “Wow, you sound out of breath.” “Yes, I told you I was on vacation”, I said. “Just now, I went for a morning jog”. And she said, “Oh, sorry, I won’t keep you for long.” She sounded totally happy and enthusiastic about what was happening. And then I never heard from them again after that. I reached out to see if they had any queries but nothing.
Morgan (Host): In that eight seconds, what did she want to tell you that was so urgent? Was that something minor?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): I think it was about their software the one with connected dots without the numbers. They upgraded their software, but it still couldn’t do the capacity, so she was asking me a technical question.
Morgan (Host): So it wasn’t about that relationship. It was just a normal business call, and then she ghosted you after that?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah! The part of the project was that I would put everything into the software for them. The software wasn’t capable of doing everything I had created, and I spent two months trying to get them off this one software and start over. With the new software, they would be able to build up emails, credit scores, deliverability, etc. It’s like they were in a bad relationship with the software for five years and couldn’t break up with it. They were constantly trying to figure out how it would work. So that was their relationship with this software. Then they ended up just upgrading to the other extension of the software. It still couldn’t do everything that we wanted. So I was trying to explain that on the call.
Morgan (Host): So, she called you to ask just one of the technical things about the software but then just ghosted you?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, so I’ve had a call or an e-mail with my buddy and I said, “Hey, this is what I think is still missing from the actual setup. I’ve done everything. I’ve sent over videos explaining it, and I’ve spoken to the marketing manager, but there’s just something missing. But if they want to do what this project was set to do, we need to figure it out.” He said okay and then just never heard from him again. And for me, it was such a nightmare. I just dropped it because there was nothing I could say or do I felt to make them move off that software.
I had the impression that they agreed with Liz’s plan to do one thing at that moment. She didn’t do it. They felt ticked off. Also, they didn’t like the emails, I had written. Every time, they came back and said, “This is wrong. Why does this exist? It’s not important”. And that was a separate issue. I didn’t even mention there were always five members. Every single document I gave over contained all five of the people. Everybody had an opinion, some of which differ. Ultimately, I just have to keep repeating, “If this is your purpose, then this is what needs to be included.”
Morgan (Host): Technical question; Did they ever pay you the final invoice or not?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yes, they paid. So this is a cautionary tale. If I didn’t have my business set up the way I did, I probably wouldn’t have been paid. I always get paid upfront. So before I even started the project, before I even got on the call with them, I was paid $2,000. Afterward, I think that adds up to another two or $3,000 per month, and I always get paid first, then the 30 days begin. So for me, I always get paid upfront. I have a stomach. I have a child who has a stomach. So we need to get paid. I always do that first.
Morgan (Host): I understand! That’s a good lesson for everyone. I want to take a step back now that we know the ending arc and what happened. I think one of the lessons from here is that this type of client is impossible to satisfy, and it’s always better not to even start. The interesting question is, what were the signs that indicated that we would never satisfy them, so we should not even enter that pool?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Number one, they were just so confused right off the bat. It felt like my buddy had convinced them of this, but they still weren’t ready. It was like when your mom, at the edge of the pool shouted, “Come on, jump in, jump in”. Suddenly, water is in your mouth, and you’re choked, and you wonder, “Why did I listen to that lady?” You jumped in because she was cheering you on, saying that you’ll be able to do it. She’s crazy. Then for me, if you watch a snippet of this video, you’ll see a lot of the branding we talked about, but even if you just Google my name, you’ll be able to see who I am as a marketer, just my personality.
Talking to funeral business professionals who typically interact with grieving individuals, there was just a disconnect from the beginning. In their mind, I was too young, too fresh, and too out of touch with their industry. Even though they wanted to talk to people in the pre-planning stage, they were stuck on our people thinking this was too sensitive for us to show any personality. I guess you can see that there was a big disconnect from the beginning. You probably won’t ever make your client happy if you are fundamentally different from them.
Morgan (Host): It’s a good point where I would like to split it into two different points because I believe our listeners would have trouble separating them. First of all, there’s the stylistic point where you have to pick up someone who matches your style. Suppose you want to write a book, but you hire an amazing writer who is a hip hop artist and writes in that style, but your book is academic history, and no matter how amazing that style is if it doesn’t resonate with you and what you’re looking for, then it is less likely to work out.
But there’s a point completely separate from the style. There is the matter of work style; it appears that you are the let’s just get it done type. I’m getting my hands dirty. I’ll make it happen. While being with them, five persons appeared to be on the committee. They would start by talking about it. They would go back and forth from there and never make a decision. And those two styles are dissimilar. Working for a team with members who have different working styles is difficult.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, I agree! I don’t know what my buddy was thinking. He must have believed in me Thank you for that, my friend! As far as the happy ending goes, I don’t know what happened. Why did they not contact me? I reached out and said, “If you need anything else, please let me know. I want this project to succeed.” Despite any creative differences, I always want people to walk away feeling good about Liz. But I am also on their email list. I get their emails; their emails are not exactly the way I wrote them, but they’re very much in the style that I wrote. Some of the subjects are different, but they are trying different things. So I hope it works for them. I should reach out and see how it’s working because I know they are using my emails. I’m sure at the end of the day, they thought, “Well, we paid money. This is what we got. Let’s just try it because we’re not doing anything.” But I love what you just said about the styles.
Morgan (Host): Like the work style and the personality style?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, the personality styles. So, Morgan and I have of mutual love for Will Smith, and in November of 2021, Will Smith launched his memoir/autobiography. It’s called “Will”.
Morgan (Host): Wait, on what date was it?
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): It was Nov 4th.
Morgan (Host): It was on Nov 9th at 11 am.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, I’m a huge fan. So I don’t know when people are listening to this. You know, I could have said a few months ago, but this could be 2025 by now.
Morgan (Host): I was joking. I was just expecting you to be waiting online all night long.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Oh, I was! So I bought tickets to go see him. He did a four or five-city tour, one stop in each city. I didn’t get the front row, but I got second-row center-stage tickets. I won’t tell you how much they cost. But I bought two of them. So I could sit by myself.
Morgan (Host): So you spent all the money from the funeral business just like that!
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Exactly! So anyway, he launched his book. Although he isn’t an author, the book sounds like him based on interviews and stuff that he’s done. But his co-author is Mark Manson. If you don’t know who that is…
Morgan (Host): I know Mark Manson Yeah, that’s historical.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, so he wrote the “Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F.U.C.K”. Morgan said his mom was listening, so I am not going to say it.
Morgan (Host): Hi mom!
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Hi Mom! Will Smith has never cursed in any of his raps, and when he does, he sounds very edgy and off-brand. As I read the book, the only time I felt like Will didn’t write this part was when the F word appeared. My first thought was that there seems to be a disconnect. I’m sure he does cuss in his real life. He’s almost 50 years old. I’m sure he uses the F word from time to time. And it felt so off-brand even when I went to see him, he came out on stage, and I saw him with Mark Manson. That was his special guest that night.
So they talked about creating the book. Then he came out and said, “This is my coauthor Mark. I can’t even name his book.” But he ended up using the F word a few times later. And in real life, it felt so off-brand to especially for someone like me who has grown up with him. I remember being a little girl and my mom listening to ‘Homebase’ cassette, in the Ford Mustang. This is so true in so many ways, and when you lean into your brand or whatever type of client work you would like to do, if there is a disconnect, it would be very apparent.
Morgan (Host): By the way on the subject of my mom listening, I was introduced to Will Smith by my mom because way back then or before he got into music, he was in this movie that my mom loved, “Six Degrees of Separation”.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, I love that movie!
Morgan (Host): Yeah, and he was super young when he played the college kid is like one of the first things and my mom’s in theaters, so that’s how I was introduced to Will Smith. Somehow I remember the two sides of the Kandinsky as my first memories of Will Smith. And maybe the reason why it sticks with me is that it’s all about an unsophisticated guy who can act as if he’s sophisticated. And sometimes I feel like that’s my whole life.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): I’m so glad you brought that movie because he talked about that movie. That was his first movie.
Morgan (Host): Oh, was that his first movie? I didn’t know that! It makes sense!
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): He had done three albums before that and was in the Fresh Prince. So this is perfect for what we were discussing, like your brand, your style, and what you want to be known for. Since he tells one, I forget his manager’s name, but he had him since he was 18. And he said to him, “I want to be a movie star. Find me a movie role.” And a guy came over to his house and offered him to be in a gangster named, Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag for $10 million. It was a violent movie. Will Smith at this time was like 20 or 21. He became famous very early in life. He got his first Grammy the same year he graduated high school. So he was very young and thought $10 million was his ticket to Hollywood.
But his manager pushed him away by saying, “This is not who you are. If you do a movie like this, people will associate you with a thug. You cannot become a successful movie star by doing this.” So he advised him to just wait. So he declined $10 million. Morgan and I discussed earlier that sometimes money isn’t everything. You need to stay true to who you are, the people you want to work with, and how you want to be seen. So then he got offered, “Six Degrees of Separation”. And he said in the book that he got paid $300,000 for that movie. Suddenly, he was associated with those giant names because there were very famous actors in the film. And that was what set his career off.
Morgan (Host): In other words, he will be associated with the sophisticated set and targets intellectuals are one of intellectuals, which is the exact opposite of branding thugs.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yes, 100%. So, his manager was right. It was not going to make him the biggest movie star. It was just going to make him look like some stereotypical thug that had been stereotyped over and over again. He was never gonna get to that level. That’s great for our conversation because sometimes you just need to eat and take work, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Getting to know yourself and aligning yourself with the right people is important as you lean into the kind of work you want to do, and the types of clients you want to work with.
Morgan (Host): It is a very fun and very appropriate way to end today’s podcast. It’s funny how small decisions, like whether to accept the funeral client, can have a significant impact on how I want to be known by specific groups of individuals. Do I take on the client, where they only eat or say something and we write it but they don’t respond? Do I want to be remembered as the person who only expects things to go that way? I liked our crystallization of the two. There is the personality type fit and then there is the work style fit. And I believe it’s crucial for every professional to stress the importance of having a work style, a personality style, and a style that your clients can relate to. And if you’re a committee person, have fun and go all out with it; the committee mentality doesn’t work with other people. Will Smith embodies all of this as well, but you revealed the back-story, which I never knew.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): I’m glad you learned something new. I love Will Smith. I’m full of trivia. If you guys have any more questions, just hit me up on social media. I’m more than happy to give you most of the story and my own if you’re interested.
Morgan (Host): I think I need to learn from Will Smith.
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): I’ve been following him pretty much my entire life, and he inspires me a lot.
Morgan (Host): I think that is great! And when most of the questions do come, I know who to ask. Everyone, Thank you for listening or watching! And Liz, to be continued!
Liz Wilcox (interviewee): Yeah, thank you so much!
This transcription belongs to Episode #28, please watch the complete episode here!