8 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When You ‘Sharpen Your Pencils’ And Try To Give A Client A Great Deal After They Nag You For It, So You Condense A 3 Month Campaign Into One Month, But End Up Going Over Budget And Writing-Off 5.5x The Original To Keep The Client Happy.
Don’t you just love the term ‘sharpen your pencils’? Doesn’t it just fill you with such happiness and confidence? Especially when the client says ‘and what can we do here to sharpen our pencils?’.
And the use of the word ‘we’ is fantastic because of course they don’t mean ‘we’ they mean ‘you’ and ‘what can you do to deliver the exact same amount of work, but charge me significantly less money’.
Ah – those are the words that fill you with happiness and joy, right to the core.
So being the good little marketers that we were – we agreed – and we ‘sharpened our pencils’ to further reduce our already skimpy budget (seriously, if this budget was walking around town it would be arrested for indecent exposure – that skimpy).
So we updated our proposal to be significantly less budget, and the client gleefully agreed.
Let’s just say that one thing led to another and we ended up spending 5.5x the original budget. If the original budget was 20 hours, we spent 110 hours delivering the project.
All of which we had to write-off of course, because the client only paid for the original 20 hours. That’s 90 hours of agency time being written off. Yikes.
Why the over-run?
Bad process, bad communication, bad methodology, and effectively ‘making it up as we go’.
But one of the triggers was that the client kept asking us for more. They kept asking for more details, for more strategy for more analysis – all of which they felt perfectly justified by as they felt it was in the proposal, however of course we had a different interpretation of the proposal (funny how that works).
In fact, all of the things the client asked for were justified, the difference was that we allocated say, an hour to do them, and the client was expecting closer to 5 hours worth of work (hence the 5.5x over-run).
And yet we didn’t push back. Because the only thing we wanted was to ‘make the client happy’.
Now I’m all for making the client happy, but there is a difference between making them happy, and letting them bend you over and beat you into submission.
If you as marketers allow yourself to be pushed around, you won’t be very successful for very long – and if you’re not successful in business, then guess what, your clients also won’t be successful. Lose-Lose.
So in the best interest of serving all your clients, you as an agency need to stand tall, firm and proud.
And what makes this story even more heartbreaking?
Not only did we go 5.5x over the initial budget, but I’ll just say it – the campaign was kinda a failure.
The campaign did not deliver particularly exciting results – the client was not happy, and didn’t try very hard to hide it.
And this is what blows me away: not only did we massively overplay ourselves, going way over our budget, but we couldn’t even deliver the goods. At least there was a chance at redemption if the campaign results were stellar.
An utter failure on all fronts. Ouch.
9 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When Your Manager Gives You A Document To Update, And All The Links Are Either Broken, Don’t Work Or Include ‘Https://Https://’
The great thing about hyperlinks is that you can have one centralized project document, and then link out to all the other relevant pieces of information. For example, could include links to the contracts, client background, project scope, client assets, project schedule etc – this is a super easy way to collect and store all of the vital pieces of information relevant to the project.
So a manager gave me a document to work on and update, in which they had included all the ‘useful’ links to each of the relevant pieces of information. In theory, all these links should make my job very easy in ensuring that the document gets fully updated.
However, there was one minor snag: all of the links were sh*t.
All the links were either broken, or didn’t work or were put in completely wrong (doesn’t take a genius to figure out that double ‘HTTPS://HTTPS://’ isn’t exactly going to work).
So then of course I dutifully went in and updated all of the links so that they, you know, worked.
As an isolated incident, this isn’t a big deal. But it speaks to a bigger level of incompetence and of ‘letting the sh*t flow downstream’.
In this case the manager clearly didn’t care much about actually doing good work, and they clearly decided it was not worth their extremely precious time to even bother checking the work they’d done.
Instead, choosing to sit in their ivory tower, and lord over everyone, demanding that their minions clean up all of their mistakes and shortcomings.
Guess what? It’s not going to work out very long. Eventually the minions wake up.
10 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When Your Manager Demands You Develop A Creative Brief Because The Project ‘can’t Move Forward Without It’, So You Scramble For 2 Hours To Pull It Together, And Then Your Manager Doesn’t Even Look At It, But Asks You Questions That You Could Have Answered Without Putting The Brief Together.
Managers love to say ‘we NEED this’, and ‘this is CRITICAL’, and ‘we CAN’T move forward without this this’ – as a means of getting you to do all sorts of bullsh*t work.
Managers love to feel self important, and it gives them a real power trip to tell people what they should be doing. So when it comes out of a manager’s mouth, it’s clearly (not) important.
So here’s the situation: a client asked us to produce a simple email newsletter for them, which I felt was simple enough, so I assigned it to one of our junior marketers to handle it.
When I mentioned this to my manager, they said flatly ‘did you create a brief?’.
Slightly taken aback, my response was ‘we’ve never, ever, spoken before about creating a creative brief – I’m not sure what you’re looking for’.
So already this is a problem, the manager is asking for something out of the blue, that has never before been part of our standard workflow, just because they ‘had a whim’.
So I asked the manager to clarify what they wanted, and I got to work putting together a creative brief. I spent two hours pulling all the details, because my manager insisted it must be ‘comprehensive’ and ‘include everything’.
So I did.
I gave it to the manager to use, and guess what? They didn’t even look at it.
How do I know? Because all the things that were clearly answered in the brief, the manager messaged me and asked for them – ‘hey what’s the CTA?’, ‘hey what’s the URL to the landing page?’, ‘hey what’s the core product here?’ – yep, all of which was clearly detailed in the ‘creative brief’ that the manager had so urgently demanded, was just straight up ignored.
The manager had been adamant that this was critically important, that I must do it urgently, and then didn’t even bother to use it or read it.
A complete waste of time.
A managerial power trip.
11 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When A Client Only Hires You For 4hrs/Mo, But You Have A 1 Hour 45 Minute Long Meeting With 4 Team Members, Including The CEO To Decide On How To Finish The Report
Let me just rephrase that for a second: the client was paying us for only 4 hours of agency time each month, and we spent nearly 8 company hours on a single meeting to decide how to do a single report.
Oh right – and don’t forget that on top of that we then had to, you know, do the actual work.
There are so many things wrong with this scenario, I’m not even sure where to begin.
The first is obviously that the monthly management fee was too low. 4 hours of agency time is effectively nothing. Unless you have a highly honed and optimized process (which we didn’t), 4 hours will vanish in a flash – it’s basically 1 hour per week.
Obviously every project and every client is different, but I’d recommend at a minimum, every project should include a budget for 12 hours of work each month. If you can’t even bill 12 hours, you’re just pissing in the wind.
I mean even just the admin time to open a new client, set up billing and send/receive invoices is probably going to take 12 hours alone (possibly a slight exaggeration, but you get my point). If you don’t have some padding, you’re going to go over budget on literally every project you do.
And if you always go over budget and have to write off the extras, then you are always losing money. And if you’re always losing money, then your ship is slowly sinking, and you’re precariously moving towards going out of business.
The second thing that is wrong with this situation though, is why the heck does it take 8 hours of company time to have a meeting to decide how to finish a report? Not only is that meeting excessively and dangerously long, but it clearly shows that you have no idea what you’re doing.
There’s no clear understanding of ‘what a report should be’.
This isn’t rocket science. Once you develop a solid reporting template, you should just use it over and over again. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel each time.
I can’t stress this enough – why do people over complicate reporting?
Take the time to do it properly once, AND THEN YOU NEVER HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR TEMPLATE AGAIN.
Maybe once a year review your report template to keep things ‘fresh’ and show your clients that you’re still behind the wheel – but when you need a committee review each and every time you write a report, and exactly the best way to write that report – there is no way that the client will be interested in paying the money that it cost to make that happen.
And if the client isn’t paying for it – then you are.
Last point here – unless this is a critical project for a strategic client, why is the CEO getting involved with basic reporting? I know that CEO’s have a magic touch and can offer a lot of help and insight on a project – but can we all agree that this is not the best use of time for a CEO?
The CEO has big clients to ‘woo’, not waste time with little fish in a tiny pond.
I’m just thinking of the company here and the bigger picture. If the CEO is required to get involved in such trivial matters, then what happens when something serious comes up?
12 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When Your Marketers Are More Concerned About Their Fragile Egos Than About Actual Clients’ Success.
Now in fairness, this is an issue in literally every industry, but I find it especially prevalent in marketing and creative industries.
See there’s a bit of a conflict of interest going on. Yes a marketer wants you to have a successful campaign, but the marketer also wants to be able to brag about how big and amazing the campaign was to beef up their portfolio and resume.
It doesn’t impress people when you say ‘yeah we used a few stock photos and generated some leads’. They want fireworks! They want drama – they want a Titanic scale marketing project, with massive budgets and celebrity endorsements – that’s the kind of stuff you can brag about.
But what happens when your client is not a Titanic, but rather is a metaphorical Ugly Duckling? It’s not really much you can brag about.
My belief however is that if you nurture that ‘Ugly Duckling’, and do things really simply, but highly effective, that duckling will eventually blossom into a giant magnificent swan.
Because here’s the reality that most marketers seem to forget: When it comes to marketing, every client has an unlimited budget, assuming you can deliver results (and they have the capacity to keep scaling).
Think about it – if you paid a dollar in marketing, and you got $5 back – why wouldn’t you just keep doing that over and over again?
This is why my first order of business is to ensure that the client is successful and profitable, as quickly as possible. Because the sooner that they’re profitable, the sooner they’re likely to expand their budgets.
But most marketers put their egos first.
Many marketers dream of managing big fancy marketing campaigns that really puff up their resume, when maybe the client just needs a super simple and low-budget solution.
But no – they want big fancy video marketing campaigns, with processes, and storyboarding, and revisions, and more revisions and outlines, and focus groups, and props, and studies and revisions and more video and more storyboarding, and fancy cameras and inexplicably starring Ryan Reynolds.
When all the client needed was like a 30 second video of them with a smartphone just laying out the basics.
And here’s why this is a problem: I view marketing as a building process. You start simple, get results, build a little more, get results, and keep growing from there.
But when your goal is to make something overly complicated right out of the gate, there’s a very good chance that it will be, a) expensive, b) go over-budget, c) take a long time to produce, and d) will lose massive amounts of money, and e) all of the above
And how do you think the client feels after wasting massive amounts of time and money and not seeing any tangible results? Yeah, not good.
That is one unhappy client you’ve now got on your hands.
Simply because your ego is too sensitive, and you couldn’t just do a simple project to deliver simple results that your client would actually love. Instead you tried to play a superhero to try to impress your boss, your insta following or win some marketing award.
Fragile egos always lose. The market is not interested in your delicate ego. The market wants results.
Last thought here: I believe part of the problem is that many marketers do not have the empathy to treat their clients’ money like their own money. If you view your client like an ATM and that you can just take them to the bank, you’re going to have a rude awakening when everything goes south.
It is truly amazing how good of an ad campaign you can run with a few free stock photos, a few lines of copy that resonate deeply with the end customer and a simple lead capture system. It honestly doesn’t have to be that hard or complicated.
13 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When Every Conversation You Have With Your Manager, Feels Like You’re Walking Into A Trap.
Day to day, you feel like you work hard.
You’re attentive and you help out. You’re easy to get along with, you’re a team player – you’re there to make the whole thing work.
You enjoy your work, you’re enjoying your day and everything feels like sunshine and roses.
You have a conversation with the manager and everything falls apart. Like a sledgehammer, it hits you.
Everything is wrong, everything is bad, nothing was done well enough and there’s a lot of ‘you should have known better’ and ‘why didn’t you take more initiative on this’ and ‘this is my job’, and ‘we already discussed this, why is this even still a question’, and ‘I don’t have time to keep repeating myself’, and ‘we need to share the accountability here, I can’t do everything myself’, and ‘but this is my job, I do this, you do what I tell you to do’ and ‘I really need you to step up and take more initiative’.
Suddenly, your world collapses – it feels like you just walked into a trap.
Having a conversation with the manager should not feel like a prison sentence.
I’ve talked before about open lines of communication – you should feel like you’re able to have fruitful and productive conversations with the manager.
Why does this happen?
Because the manager is insecure. The manager can’t stand the thought of you having any power or autonomy, and they feel the need to beat you down into submission.
They need you to know that they’re the boss, because they are terrified that you might ever rise up against them, or god-forbid – leave.
So what’s the manager’s coping strategy? That everything you do is wrong.
They need to find a way that everything you do is wrong, too slow, not good enough quality.
It’s not enough. They need you to know that you are not enough. They need to crush your self-esteem, so you grovel and plead for forgiveness and to get their approval.
They need you to know that they’ve got you in their web. And just like a fly, you are helpless and powerless.
When the manager insists that every conversation with them be a trap, get the hell out of there. Seriously, get the hell out as quickly as you can.
They have no business being a manager, and you have no business letting them have any power or authority over you.
14 – Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When Your Manager Is Away Sick So You Step Up To Lead The Team Through A Meeting, And You Have One Of The Most Productive Team Meetings You’ve Ever Had, And Then Your Manager Tears You To Shreds.
We had a weekly team meeting that was rarely productive, as it was mostly filled with the manager condescendingly berating all of us for all of the work we didn’t get done (of course conveniently ignoring all the amazing work we did get done).
One week the manager was sick so I stepped up to lead.
In my calm and helpful leadership style, I took the team through the meeting – we covered all the important things we needed to cover, and gave some clear action items for each team member to take in the following week.
Overall, a very successful meeting if I do say so myself.
I was feeling good.
I was feeling real good.
I remember thinking to myself “see, that wasn’t so hard – why does the manager have to make it so overly complicated and painful!”
Mission accomplished right?
Well, of course, my good mood wasn’t to last long. When the manager returned, they asked me about the meeting. I walked them through all the important things we’d accomplished. My sense of pride was apparently unfortunately leaking through, as they felt compelled to sh*t all over my good mood.
When I told the manager about some of the things we’d accomplished, they said ‘but we talked about that two weeks ago – I’m the one who brought it up with the team, I’m the one that told the team they needed to fix it, that wasn’t new for you, you already knew about it, why is this only coming up now…you should have already known, and that’s not what that meeting is for anyway. You were supposed to cover X, Y, Z, why wasn’t that clear to you?’.
Seriously, shoot me now.
I helped us to lead the team through one of the most fruitful and productive meetings our team had ever had – we all came together in a supportive and helpful manor, and developed a clear plan of attack forward.
Clearly my initiative and leadership was a clear affront to the manager, who felt it somehow threatened their power.
They made it very clear that the issues we had discussed in our meeting – they had already brought forward to the team two weeks earlier – great – except they never took action on it – so clearly the instructions and direction sucked.
Don’t blame me if you can’t properly lead the team.
Remember – it is your job to not only be the boss and tell people what to do – but you also need to explain things in a way that is clear and makes sense to people.
If your instructions are unclear, convoluted or don’t make any sense and people aren’t doing what you expected them to be doing – then obviously your management style isn’t working.
You’re not being effective!
Your job is to make sure things get done, and you’re clearly not doing a very good job at that – and yet you blame me.
Managers forget this – but a big part of their job is making sure their communication style is effective – people need to properly understand what exactly is being asked of them.
If things are getting lost in translation OR if there is just too much other work that has also suddenly been assigned as pressing and urgent – then don’t be surprised when tasks don’t get done.
If your solution is just to get mad at your employees every time something slips a little bit – then guess what – they’re not going to be sticking around very long.
Have fun cleaning up the mess.