As a creative media company with minimal bureaucratic bandwidth, knowing when to fire your client is as important to running your business as is the creation of superior products and services. And when I say fire, I mean, yes, fire! Now, you don’t have to be rude, nor do you need to be ultra confrontational, but sometimes, let’s face it, after you have offered some kindly prods followed by direct warnings, some clients have got to go!
Now I know you’re thinking, “But the client is always right,” right? Hogwash! An uninformed client can entangle your business in a way that eats up your time, leads to mediocre deliverables, and in the long term can hurt your reputation. Creativity and conceptualization are skills, just like medicine or finance. In every field, including media, there are experts and non experts. You don’t need meddlers. No one would interfere with a surgeon or offer advice to a pilot, particularly when the plane is in the air. Once he’s in the terminal, that’s fine, but during the process you need to shut the noise down.
Another might argue that very successful clients or companies know better. After all they are successful, no? Well, no. Success does not translate across fields, especially in the world of creativity. Yes, there are a few renaissance types who cross areas of expertise, but from my 20 years of experience, the most successful, as Socrates said, know what they don’t know. And, if you did not know something they did not, why are you in the room? You’re not a therapist. And they’re probably not Leonardo da Vinci.
Now if you are a little green at this business game, I want to offer a list of early warning signs for clients you need to avoid so that you will not have to eventually fire them. My list has not been perfected and I’m sure others can add their own tips. After all, the best outcome is to catch the signs early and slip away unscathed before any agreements are made or contracts are signed!
Here are seven red flags:
• Clients who share with you that they were originally going to enter into a creative field of some kind, but chose their present career instead.
• Clients who begin by telling you the last creative media job they did was executed by a niece or nephew on their iPad, or anyone under 18 years old with a device.
• Scientists or academics. They have different brain hardware.
• Clients who open with, “We have very little money for media, but …”
• Clients who make decisions as a group or committee or ask for the opinions of friends and family. Avoid them at all costs!
• Clients who desire to write their own scripts or who frequently participate in the creative process.
• Lawyers. Too much paperwork.
Now, just to reiterate, any or all of these people can still work out as clients if they are willing to let you take the lead. However, some are a little slick and know they need you, but like vacuum cleaner salesmen, will wait until they are in the door before trying to take over. The best way to ensure a clear understanding is to simply state up front that once you have learned about their companies and agreed on a plan, they will need to get out of your hair, at least until you can deliver a product at a level that they would understand.
And NEVER EVER deliver a rough version!
If you are already deep into one of these clients, you will need an exit strategy. Much like flight attendants tell passengers to locate the emergency exits on a plane before takeoff, you will need to come up with an escape plan from your troublesome client in advance. You can be polite and let them know that you will recommend another resource to replace you, but that does not work either because, the handoff will take as much time as trying to get the work done with their interference. Also, why punish someone else with the client?
So again, it is best to identify the trouble early (on the phone would be best), then gracefully bow out before you are frustrated and find yourself alone and mumbling a lot of profanities.
My final piece of advice is to make sure there is an account executive on your side. There should be someone other than yourself who can track the process, send summaries, and be there to fine tune communication. You’ll have a clearer mind and also the documentation to justify any needed firing.
Business is hard enough and knowing how to fire your clients is the key lesson to keep the work flowing.
— Robert Orlando
Robert Orlando is president and director of Nexus Media, a Nassau Street-based media company. (U.S. 1, July 13, 2016.) He is also a public speaker. Orlando’s latest film, Silence Patton, is planned to premiere in Princeton this November. For more information, visit www.silencepatton.com.
Nexus Media, 20 Nassau Street, Suite 103, Princeton 08542. 609-430-8286.www.nexusmediasite.com.