Client Management For Nice People: Jaw-dropping client experiences (and how they changed us.)
Client Horror Stories

Transcription of Sherrilynne Starkie’s episode (That time when you’ve been working your butt off for a project but your client decides to disappear off the face of the earth because he can no longer afford to pay you and everyone else)

Transcription of Sherrilynne Starkie’s episode (That time when you’ve been working your butt off for a project but your client decides to disappear off the face of the earth because he can no longer afford to pay you and everyone else)

This transcription belongs to Episode #41: Sherrylinne Starkie’s horror story no business owner would ever like to go through, unless you’re a guest at the table of Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!

Morgan Friedman:
Hey, everyone! Welcome to the latest episode of Client Horror Stories. I’m very excited to have with me today the one and only Sherrilynne Starkie. 

Did I pronounce your name correctly?

Sherrilynne Starkie: You did indeed.

Morgan Friedman: Gold star. I can retire now. And everyone, since pressed record, when I learned how to pronounce your last name, I learned it was also Ringo Starr’s real last name. Who knew? I’ve already learned something from the podcast, and it didn’t even start. 

So, Sherrilynne, great to have you, and let’s jump right into your story. Tell us about your client horror story. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Okay. Well, I have been in marketing and communications on agency and clients and consulting side for, pushing 30 years. So, I have seen it all, really, as far as client stories. But the one that I was going to share with you today is one that, from a few years ago, I was… I owned my own agency, and I was kind of in the startup phase, but, you know, doing rather well for a small boutique agency.

I was living and working on a little island in the middle of the Irish Sea called the Isle of Man. Now, if you don’t know where that is, I’ll just tell you. It’s a hill in the middle of the island, and when you walk to the top of it, you can see England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland from that hill. So it’s right there. 

Morgan Friedman: I had no idea.

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah, so it’s very dead, dead center in the Irish Sea. Anyways, so it was such a small community. There’s 85,000 people living on that island, and the town that I lived in, which was the capital, Douglas, I think had something like 35,000 people living in that town. And so anyways, I set up this business to do public relations agency services.

And, you know, you can imagine there’s probably not a lot of agencies on an island like that or much call for it. So there was a bit of educating the market and then getting people on board. But I was having a lot of fun, and I was getting some traction, especially in the tech sector, because tech and banking is very big on the island.

And so I was getting some traction, and I got a call from a guy who was setting up a (he was in startup) telecoms company. And he invited me around to have a talk to him about helping him with some marketing and PR. And so over I go to his office, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a tech startup, but it, I mean, it was a beautiful office, there was people milling around, the place smelled like great coffee as soon as you walked in, there was cubes going up left, right, and center. So it was a bustling kind of environment. I was like, “Hey, this looks good.” 

And also… oh yeah, I should also tell you that I was introduced to this person through a very long-term and loyal client of mine. So, they knew each other socially, and he introduced me, and so I went into this relationship with, you know, open arms really. I was just… everything was go. Everything looked great. 

And so, he was launching his new telecommunications service, and I was right there at the very beginning to help him build it out, which could have been a really lucrative contract for me. It didn’t turn out that way. 

Morgan Friedman: Could have been. This is Client Horror Stories so we knew before it starts, something is going to go wrong along the way. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah, yeah. So it all started out really well. First, you know, I would say like five or six months where we had agreed a monthly retainer, and then me and my team, we would deliver services against that retainer, and it was all fine. At the same time, the business was still… my business was growing with other clients than just these tech clients. 

But I had a meeting with my client that made the referral about his business, and he said to me, “Uhm, before we finish, can I ask you a question? And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You know, Mr. so and so I introduced you to,” and I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Has he been paying you?” I said, “Yes, he has been paying me. Why do you ask?” And he said, “Well, you know, because we’re selling some services to them and we haven’t been paid, and we’re starting to get a little bit concerned.”

So the alarm bell should have been going off then and there, but I was getting paid and I said to him, “Oh, I’m sure everything’s fine.” I mean, I’ve been to the office, it’s a going concern. Anyways, so I continued working, continued working, and then, you know, the payments were getting later. They weren’t on time. There was always something, like a reason why things weren’t being held up, like so and so’s out of the office and he needs to sign a check and, you know, “Oh, one of our suppliers has been slow and, you know, we’re having a bit of a cashflow thing. I hope you can just bear with me,” that kind of thing. 

Anyways, all this to say was that we ended up in court. I let it roll a little too long, and we had quite a few fees rolled out, and so I decided to take it to court. 

Morgan Friedman: So, before we hear what happens from there, some questions. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Okay. 

Morgan Friedman: First question, at what point did you realize it would be a problem? Because like, for example, if someone pays one day past invoice date, whatever, it doesn’t matter.

But if someone pays a year past the invoice date, that’s a huge problem. And as a nice person, even if you hear someone’s having difficulty, you kind of don’t want to be knowing. At what point was it that it, like, crossed the line and that you realized that something bigger is happening?

Sherrilynne Starkie: They stopped taking my calls. Yeah. It was at that point. 

Morgan Friedman: Oh, a twist. There’s a plot twist here. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah, they stopped taking my calls. They stopped responding to me. It was like nobody was home anymore. And so that’s when I was like, “Okay, this is not good.” So, you know, this was my first time owning an agency at this time.

And it was my first time in this kind of position where, you know, in my previous jobs, I would just kick that over to accounts, right? Say we have deadbeat client, you go after them, but this is my first time having to chase for the money myself. So it was a little bit uncomfortable, but I was determined not to go unpaid.

So I kind of did a little research of what you’re supposed to do and sent a couple of sternly worded emails. It was kind of friendly at first, but then kind of like, “Hey, you know, what’s going on? Really need you to get these invoices paid.” Nothing, nothing, nothing from them that I thought, okay.

And, you know, this is back in the day where email was commonplace in business, but it was still not de facto the way it is in business now. So then I thought, “Well, maybe I got to get something in actual pen and ink here.” 

Morgan Friedman: Oh, by the way, as a parenthetical emails are becoming less de facto because apparently, millennials only communicate through chat. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Oh, that’s true. That is true. 

Morgan Friedman: Not the Millennials, the Gen Z, sorry. Gen Z communicate. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah, no, no, you’re right. You’re right. It’s certainly only our generation that relies on, uh… 

Morgan Friedman: Totally, totally.

Sherrilynne Starkie: I feel like something like Slack will replace email at some point, but we’re not there yet.

But anyways, at this time though, you know, it was widely adopted, especially in the tech sector, but there was still that the permanence of ink and paper at the time was still quite important. So I actually wrote out printed letters and print them and brought them to the post office to send them registry post so that someone had to sign for them so that I knew that there was actually a paper trail that I had made this request.

And I think I sent two or three of those, and there was no answer. Oh, okay, so I see what’s going on here. And I think…

Morgan Friedman: As a parenthetical, I want to observe the importance of what you did of creating a paper trail. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes. 

Morgan Friedman: One of the reasons we have this podcast is to teach younger versions of ourselves, like things I wish I knew 15 years ago and 15 years ago, I wish I knew the power of a paper trail because things go wrong all the time, and when things go wrong, if there’s no paper trail, it’s always, he said, she said. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Oh yeah. 

Morgan Friedman: And if you think about it from the eyes of an objective outside observer, from an objective outside observer, it doesn’t have anyone that could judge.

Just says, he said, she said, and they have no, no way to judge. However, If there is a… so you’re at a disadvantage; however, if there’s a paper trial, look at all these emails and letters with these timestamps and dates that I did. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes. Yes. 

Morgan Friedman: Like then it’s massively weighted to your advantage. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes, and you’re right. And that actually came into play when we got into the courts, right, which is why I was doing it this way because I wanted the paper trail and I wanted to say, I wanted to demonstrate. 

Morgan Friedman: You were very sophisticated. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: I wanted to demonstrate that I had tried everything I could that’s reasonable to collect the money’s owing. And so I did do that.

Now, luckily, in the British Isles, I was under the threshold for small claims court. Just under. Just under, which meant it’s different than having to hire a lawyer, and as a startup, I was trying to minimize my costs. And so that’s what I did. I did it in small claims with, of course, that meant a lot of paperwork.  

Now, I don’t know about you, but people in PR, we’re not good at detailed paperwork. You know, it’s just not in our nature. We tend to be more creative and big sky thinkers, right? But anyway, so it wasn’t an enjoyable task for me, but I did do it. You had to download these forms from the court’s website, and they were long and you have to be quite precise in how you word and declare what’s owed to you. So I managed to go through all that. And I think you have to print it off, and then you have to take it to a notary or a lawyer for them to review and stamp to say that they looked at it and they thought it was a bona fide claim. 

And that costs money, but not a lot. It’s not the same as hiring a lawyer, but there was a couple of fees involved in that. 

Morgan Friedman: The point is the money, it’s just like the paperwork and hassle you have to go through to do this. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah. And while I’m doing that, right, I’m not billing. These are lost hours to me. These are hours that I’m not billing or not selling my services. So it’s like dead air. It’s dead air for me. So I didn’t really enjoy that part of it. So I did file my claim with the Small Claims Court and turns out I wasn’t the only one. 

Yes, so about the time that I was actually completing my paperwork and getting this suit filed, I guess I… like it was… there was a race of many suppliers getting their ducks in a row about this. So the client filed for bankruptcy protection just at that time. I’m not a lawyer. I don’t really understand the ins and outs of what all that means, but it basically means everything stops while all the beans are counted.

They put all the beans in a pile, and they they divide them up amongst everybody that’s owed money to see where it goes. In most cases, you’re very, very likely to get pennies on the dollar or in the UK, pennies on the pound. So, yeah, yeah. 

And it turns out I was one of the smallest debtors. There’s people that were owed a lot, lot more money than me, and there was absolutely nothing left over to pay me. So all I got for all my trouble was a life experience that I’ve learned from. And, you know, it’s not a mistake that you make twice, especially when you’re consulting your small agency or one- or two-man agency. You learn the warning signs and you learn to circle the wagons earlier. 

That’s one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is when I start hearing this stuff about, “Oh, we want to get you paid, but Sally’s off on vacation and she has to sign off.” You know, I’ve learned just put your pens down. Like the client will understand. The client will understand. If you’re not getting paid… the client doesn’t go to work and not get paid, right? Why should the client execute? 

Morgan Friedman: The client himself would probably stop working if he were in your position. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Exactly. So, I have on occasion since that time just said, “You know what, we’re going to wind up where we are right now, and when you’re ready to get to work again, let’s do it.” And so, um… 

Morgan Friedman: Question. You alluded about two minutes ago that you that you’ve now developed a better sense of smell to notice the signs. Please, I’d love to list, or I’d love to hear a list from you of a couple of the more important, or let’s say less obvious signs that it’s unlikely they’re going to pay soon. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah. Okay. So there’s like… a lot of it is nuance, but a lot of it is like really clear science too.  Sometimes you stop getting your contact that you used to have, like if you’ve got like a standing weekly call with the client, you know, these will start getting canceled. 

You’ll have work in your scope of work that you’re supposed to be carrying out, and they’re putting the anchors on for reasons that, you know, like, maybe don’t make sense to you, that they’re saying, you know, let’s hold off on doing that. And I want to delay this that and you’re, you know, as a business owner that can be concerning because you’re like, “We have a contract that I’m doing this work and I’ve got people here in the shop lined up ready to do it and I’m paying them. 

So I want to get this work done so that I can bill you.” And so that is a, you know, that’s always a sign when they’re, all of a sudden, they’re delaying projects that they had already agreed and that you have a contract in place about. Sometimes, don’t be overly concerned about it all the time because, you know, life gets in the way of projects at times.

So, you know, that’s kind of a normal thing that can happen, but just be aware that it could also be something, a sign of something much bigger. So be aware of that. That’s kind of the more nuanced thing. But getting paid late and really late, like a day or two late… even a day or two late, you got to just kind of think, “Wait, wait, what’s going on here?”

Because although those of us in the creative services, we don’t work so much with accountants and stuff, but accountants are super, super organized. They have everything organized that they know exactly on what day which invoices are getting paid so that it can maximize their cashflow and their profits and stuff. They tend to not be very flexible about that. 

So if you’re all getting paid by the middle of the month and then all of a sudden it’s the third week of the month or pulling into the fourth week of the month, sit up and pay attention. Maybe it’s time to have a conversation with your client about what… is everything going all right over there? Is everything going fine? Start asking them questions about how their business is. 

Morgan Friedman: A couple of these examples you threw out have a commonality that I think might be useful to our listeners to throw out, which is this. A lot of them are about change in the cadence of your work with the client.

So in any professional relationship, it has a certain cadence, whether it’s you talk once every two weeks on average or whether it’s the type of client that when you send an email, they always respond in an hour, or another client, they always respond in an email in a day, or another client always answers their phone, or another client never answers their phone. With any client being human, humans have different rhythms and cadence and prioritizations, and in your healthy work relationship, you will have that certain cadence.

But when that cadence suddenly changes, like maybe it’s the communication gets much slower, for example, that’s a sign that something’s wrong. But it’s not even necessarily changing it slower. It could change in lots of ways, for example, if it changes much faster, oh, suddenly massive pressure. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Then it’s like something big is happening. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. I’ve seen it that way as well as you describe it, where all of a sudden it’s like, it’s a five alarm fire. Everything’s got to be done by this week. And, and you’re like, it makes no sense. Why does it all have to be done this week?

And yeah, they might know that something’s happening, that the ax is going to fall or something, and that they’re trying to get unloaded. 

Morgan Friedman: I just recorded an episode of Not Yet Live,  two recordings ago, with someone whose story was basically projects you’ve got a massive urgency and prioritization, and then it was like a multimillion dollars, huge project.

And then that company just completely vanished and it, and they learned afterwards that basically they kicked it into high gear because it was like their last ditch attempt to try to get something off the ground to make some money, which is why that super high prioritization and super overcommunication and super intensity is actually a risk, which is interesting because it could go both ways. It could be interchanged, which is why I think it’s useful to think about it as a change of cadence as a risk side.

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes. And there’s one thing that I do as much as possible. I can’t do it 100% of the time because life isn’t like that. But whenever I can, I’ll get the client to agree that even before I do a single stroke of work, I’m issuing that invoice. Issue it at the beginning of the month. Make it due for the last day of the month so that on the last day that you bill that client, the payment is due that way it’s not hanging on for another 60 days or 30 days after that.

It’s a really good way to make sure that you get paid for what you’re actually doing and you’re not carrying the load when things go wrong. 

Morgan Friedman: Sherrilynne, I try in every episode to get at least one new idea out there, which gets hard after these episodes, but we usually do. And I think this is the new idea, which is almost everyone sends an invoice at the first of the month or when the work is done.

I know a lot of people, including a bunch of people I’ve interviewed previously on this podcast, that invoice before and to pay before. And then they say you have to pay me before the work starts, but that’s harder in real life. But I never heard your version of issue the invoice before and with the due date on the first, and that’s actually a very elegant compromise between the two extremes. I actually think I’m going to start stealing that myself. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Okay. I’m glad to share that with you. Well, clients think it’s fair because it is. That way, you know, on the day that you complete your work, you’re getting paid just like everybody else. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal and say, “Oh, thanks for the meal. I’ll pay you in two weeks when I get paid.” Right? You don’t. You pay for your meal when you’ve finished your meal. So I feel like that’s a good analogy.

But I do know what you’re talking about this, you know, getting payments up front. And in my recent past, five years ago, I went out as an independent consultant again, but previous to that, I was working in a larger agency, and I failed to coach my staff in these watching the warning signs or, you know, you just get busy and sometimes you talk shorthand. So there was a tech client there that came in, and I knew it was a startup and I was like, “Hmmm, this guy self-funded.” I’m a little bit worried about selling him this big program. I don’t think he’s going to be able to pay it.  I’m worried. Let’s get the money up front.

And so I just told the person who was handling this business, “Get the money up front. Make sure you get that invoice out and it’s paid before we start any work.” So he didn’t really understand because he’s creative. He didn’t really understand that I actually meant have a check in your hand, bank it, and then if it clears, we’ll work. And so you can guess what happened there, right? 

A lot of work started happening, and again, it was an urgent situation because the guy was on his last legs for this business idea and he was trying to get some momentum going very, very quickly. And we got left. We we caught a cold, as they say in the business, on that one. Definitely. 

Morgan Friedman: Wait, I never heard that phrase before. What does it mean to catch a cold in this context? 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Catch a cold means like your’re left holding the bag, like you’re paying the bills and there’s no recourse because even though there was a contract in place, the guy doesn’t have any money. You can’t get money out of us. You know, you can’t get blood out of the stone, and you can’t get money out of somebody that doesn’t have any. So, yeah. 

Morgan Friedman: So I have a question. The warning signs that you pointed out are really good, but they’re all warning signs that are late in the game. Are there any signs you saw in the, like, in the original story, that in the very beginning, that only now, afterwards, do you realize, “Ah, this is a risk factor,” or this is weird, or did it all look super kosher in the beginning?

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah. So I guess that’s kind of like just life skills that I’ve built up when I… The two stories that I just related to you, I think, are a good comparison because the first guy, the guy in the Isle of Man, it was referred from a very favorable client that I had a really good relationship with. I went in there. 

He had a big bricks and mortar thing going on. It was kind of my first rodeo in this kind of situation. So I didn’t see any of the signs that… I didn’t ask the questions. I didn’t say, how are you funded? Where’s the money coming from? What are your revenue projections? 

Morgan Friedman: That’s a good question to ask because it’s important to know where did the client’s money come from for you to have an understanding about these sorts of risk factors.

Sherrilynne Starkie: And it can be rude to ask, right? Like people feel it’s rude. You don’t ask people about their money. So… 

Morgan Friedman: Brits feel like it’s weird. It’s rude. I’m from New York where everyone asks each other about money all the time. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Okay. Fair enough.  But I have learned and that’s why for the second example I gave, I was just like, “make sure that money’s paid and in the bank.”

That wasn’t my first rodeo. I’d been there before. Unfortunately, my prophecy came out to pay. Luckily, I didn’t own that agency. It was somebody else who caught the cold on that one. 

Morgan Friedman: So, on the first story there, based just on what you said, there’s certain clues that, in retrospect, that now with years more experience, we can recognize that you couldn’t then.

So going only off of what you told me, you said that this guy was starting… It was like telecommunications or something startup. So I think it’s important to call out what you hinted at in the other story, like it’s a startup and like startups, by definition, are just fundamentally riskier.

So yeah, or like, anything that just started with no strings as opposed to, “Hey, you get a contract for Coca-Cola,” like they’re going to pay. There’s no risk to you. There are other problems because Coca-Cola gets to deal with procurement, so they may pay you in like two years in a disaster, and it’s a whole other set of disasters, but in some form, the check is going to come through.

So the startup in this is a risk factor. You said something else. I almost interrupted you when you were just starting your story, but I’m not feeling more chatty, so I didn’t interrupt them, but I’ll bring it back now, which is you call attention to like how nice the office is. And here’s a pattern that I’ve noticed in business and clients and probably more broadly in life, which is the more perfect something seems on the surface, the more they’re actually hiding the problems.

And like in my life experience, everything has its problems, like there are always issues, but when things look perfect, that means there’s something lurking underneath, which is why seeing offices where everything is sparkly, sparkly, shining, clean, like no office is actually that sparkly, sparkly, shining, clean, like off the piles of paper just going in and out, this, like they’re bustling with activity.

Things being too nice and too clean to me feel like a risk factor and as a parenthetical, it’s the same about people as well I’ve noticed, like when someone is just like, it’s every note too perfectly and it’s too right, if you think it’s too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Sherrilynne Starkie: It usually is, yeah, that’s for sure. The funny thing about this first example I gave in the Isle of Man, so because it’s an island, you know, society is quite constrained, and people do have trouble, but they have to carry on, right? They have to carry on in business. And so this chap that was the CEO of this company, you know, he’s gone on to pursue a career in IT and telecommunications in the island, that he lives on the island, and that’s where his home is. And so I have run into him.

Morgan Friedman: I guess in an Island of 85,000 people in the same industry, you’re going to run into him a lot, probably. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: That’s right, run into him. 

Morgan Friedman: Whatever happened to this chap, I love your Britishisms. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Oh, thank you.  I did live there for a long time, and I’m married to a Brit. So that’s why I kind of still use those, even though I’ve been back in Canada for 10 years now. But anyway, yeah, so, I mean one thing that was a big deal there and I kind of feel like after COVID, we’re going to go back there to this, but you know, the kind of charity gala thing was very, very big in the Isle of Man, and there was a gala every week for this charity or that charity. 

And everybody came out to them and so yes, I was actually like physically running into this guy. It’s funny, you’re like very polite to each other in company, right?  He’s like, oh, “Hello. So nice to see you. I see you’re doing well. Good for you.” Because… 

Morgan Friedman: You’re far nicer than me. You’re clearly not a New Yorker, by the way. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes. Well, the thing is he didn’t actually break the law. That’s the thing that’s kind of smart because he didn’t pay his bills, he bought the goods and services in good faith, and he didn’t pay his bills, but he did what was required by the law in going into bankruptcy and winding down the company and paying his creditors.

And you know, I do believe that everybody deserves a second chance in life, and so he did deserve to go on and build his career. But it still means that he didn’t pay me. And were connected on LinkedIn, and I could see his career growing and he’s now like a senior advisor to the government on, you know, infrastructure and IT and stuff like that. And I’ve said, “I wonder if anybody over there knows he doesn’t pay his bills or that he’s left people in the community holding in the bag.”

But I feel reticent about saying anything because he did comply with the laws, not like he broke any laws or anything like that, so… 

Morgan Friedman: Question and two comments. Your’re friends on LinkedIn. How hypocritical? Is he sort of like inspirational, be honest, be good, helping people guy like 80, like 98% of people on LinkedIn are?

Sherrilynne Starkie: He mostly just brags about his accomplishments. But you know something I just remembered? I was actually a newspaper columnist in the Isle of Man, in the national paper there, and it was called the Isle of Man Examiner, and I wrote a weekly column, and I wrote one about working with startups, and without naming him, used him as an example of what not to do when you’re working with startups.

And he contacted me after the fact and he said, “I recognize myself in that story,” and he offered to pay me. And I said, “Great.” And then he didn’t. 

Morgan Friedman: No. Oh, my goodness.  First, I want to say, I think it’s great, this, like, retelling story brought back this distant memory locked in your head. It’s also hysterical that he recognizes all small towns and it’s also even more hysterical that he offered to pay and didn’t follow through. Of course, he didn’t follow through. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Of course he didn’t follow through. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. A client from hell, a client nightmare.

Morgan Friedman: So, a couple of things on that and then we’ll wrap up. This is a good story. I want to dig in for a few minutes to conclude on to like  him recreating himself as a charity guy and this like LinkedIn. It makes a really important point that  you don’t really know anyone’s backstory and you don’t really know anyone’s motives. 

I think those are very important points because you see on LinkedIn and Instagram and people you meet at charity galas, everyone, “I wanna help the people,” right,  do good when really a huge, huge portion of these people, in my experience, over 90% are actually scoundrels of some sorts of different levels. Not everyone is equally as bad. 

Some only a little bit scoundrels, some huge scoundrels, a lot of people in the middle. But  I think it’s increasingly important to be able to separate the BS-y perfect public appearance from the backstories you don’t know, which is often scoundrel-like activity.

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah. You really, really do need to do your due diligence before you extend anybody credit and the benefit of the doubt, especially in the social media world, because it’s very easy to put up a persona that is quite different from who you really are. 

Morgan Friedman: Yeah. I agree. I think it’s an interesting question. How do you detect if someone is a bullshitter on social media and like, how do you do this sort of due diligence? It’s actually hard. I have a few shorthands that I use, which in fact, one of them is actually an interesting variation of the point I was making a little while ago about it, when things are too perfect, I’m like, what’s the problem?

I think there’s a social media version of that,  which is when people’s online presences are like so perfect, when they’re like angry on like all the, where they have all the right opinions,  every single opinion of theirs is a correct opinion. They’re angry about all the things you’re supposed to be angry about, and they’re not angry about the things they’re not supposed to be angry.

When someone is like, like a caricature of this sort of type, because what happens is no one is the exact caricature of this type. Like, because people are human and individual and different, you’re always like weird or different in some way. So when people are too, “I’m exactly like this, I support the cause, I support the cause, I support the cause,” then I always think like they’re actually really hiding something about their lives.

So I also look for these cracks in people’s social media presence and why I think some would see social cracks in your social media presence is a bad thing. Oh, it’s inconsistent. You know, marketers want to be consistent. I actually interpret it the opposite way. No, no, no, no. This shows like their humanity, that they’re a real person and not an actor.

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes, yes, you’re so right about that. That is something to think about.  If somebody is on social media and you’re never seeing a picture of them and their kids, they’re never complaining about the weather, you know, they’re never cracking a joke about a local political scandal or something, you gotta kinda wonder.

Is there any there there? What’s behind the curtains? What’s going on? So I think, you know, in practical terms for due diligence, I have had clients ask me for my banking information so that they can have confidence that I  am a bona fide agency able to serve their businesses. And like, why can’t we ask that kind of stuff of our clients? 

Morgan Friedman: Wait, wait, wait. What sort of banking information? They ask to like see a bank statement? 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, certainly. If I’m working for a large government organization, for example, they want to see that you’re liquid and that you’re… 

Morgan Friedman: Wow. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: And yeah, yeah…

Morgan Friedman: I never heard of hiring a professional and like being asked to see their bank statement. That’s incredible. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Well, yeah, if you want to get in on these procurement processes in the Canadian government, you got to prove that you’re liquid and that you’re a bona fide organization for sure. And then, you know, I feel like why shouldn’t we ask our clients for something like that? Or references.

I always get clients asking me for references, like prospective clients and, you know, the best clients are the ones that actually check them because they actually care. So, ask your clients for references. What happened to your former agency? Who was doing this before me? What happened to them? Where did they go? Why aren’t they here anymore? That’s a very good question to ask. 

Morgan Friedman: And by the way, because usually clients don’t expect the question of what happened to your previous agency, it catches them off guard. So like, every time I ask that question, they always answer honestly, and it actually reveals exactly how they think. And more often than not, the problem is actually they’re being unreasonable. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Oh, yes. I think it’s very telling how a client will speak of their past agency and if they are denigrating or disrespectful or if they’re sharing information improperly that you think that shouldn’t be shared. And you know, if they do it to them, they’ll do it to you.

Morgan Friedman: I’ll point out on a personal level. I learned this lesson about 15 years ago, not in regards to previous agencies, but in regards to previous girlfriends, which is the metaphor applies perfectly, which is the people that complain, “Oh, this ex was terrible this way, that was terrible that way.” 

The exes who dated a nonstop string of terrible guys or girls, regardless of gender of their choice, usually, okay, if you dated 20 nightmare guys, is the problem all 20 were nightmares? Or is the problem, hmm? You do something to encourage that. You’re attracted to that. You choose that. You let them do that. Maybe you actually enjoy it. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yeah. Well, I’ve been in the agency life long enough to know that if a client, if an agency, isn’t… you know, an agency-client relationship is symbiotic, just like any relationship. So if the agency isn’t able to please the client or deliver what the client expects, there’s responsibility on both sides about that, there always is. There’s a responsibility on both sides. 

So like either your goalposts are moving, right? Like your expectations have shifted from where you started out or you’re not paying them enough and they’re trying to, you know, you’re squeezing your agency. You’re trying to get too much, you know, more than they could possibly give you within this financial framework and you’re disappointed, and then they’re frustrated. You have to have a full and honest and frequently have a full and honest conversation with your clients about your arrangements and your payments and your brief and your relationship in general. 

That’s how you build long term relationships, right? I’ve got clients that I’ve been working with from day one when I went out on my own five years ago. We talk every week and no subjects are taboo. We talk about it all. 

Morgan Friedman: Those are the best sort of clients because it builds a trusted intimacy, so you become a sort of conciliator to them. 

Sherrilynne Starkie: Yes, for sure.

Morgan Friedman: We got so many great lessons from this and I’m definitely going to start sending my invoices on the first of the month with a net 30.  Great idea and a lot of other really, really useful insights. 

Sherrilynne, thank you so much for coming. It was great. Everyone who is watching, thank you for making it to the end, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed talking as well.

Sherrilynne Starkie: It was a great, fun, and very good conversation. 

Morgan Friedman: Thank you and bye bye everyone.


This transcription belongs to Episode #41, please watch the complete episode here!