97 Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail
Now when I say ‘your business’, I don’t mean you literally, I mean the business you work for, unless you are the boss, then yes I do mean ‘you’.
Now just as it is true that humans breathe oxygen, so it is true that must business owners have no idea what they’re doing.
Who IS This Guide For?
This guide is for anyone who has been considering starting their own business, or runs their own business, or currently has a boss that drives them f*cking mental.
This guide is for anyone who feels they need to regain their lost sense of self-respect.
I wrote this article while working jobs I didn’t like. As you may be able to tell, there is a significant amount of venom and vitriol that are about to be spewed here.
I have kept all names and business identities confidential to protect the guilty parties, and also to avoid burning any bridges, just in case for some crazy reason one day I need to go crawling back with my tail between my legs.
I’m also writing this as a reminder to myself why I will never, ever (EVER!) have a boss or a manager again in my life who has the power to tell me what to do.
I share my words here with you as a warning – if you’re the employee and you have to deal with this kind of garbage from your manager – I hope my words bring you comfort.
If you are a manager or a boss reading these words – I hope you have the humility to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself whether you’re capable of improvement.
I’m not here to say that all bosses and managers are incompetent louts, but in my experience, most of them are (or maybe I just had a run of rotten luck).
There are great people out there in the world, and I do truly hope you’re one of them (I mean you’re reading this blog afterall, so in my eyes you’re already leagues and bounds above the rest).
This article is specifically designed for anyone who wants to spot danger on the horizon. Typically in our day to day work, we get so caught with our daily tasks or the ‘whirlwind’ as it’s been referred to, that often we lose sight of the grander vision. We can no longer see the forrest for the trees.
We entre a state of fight or flight – our cortisol spikes and we lose the higher functionings of our brain. We get so caught up with trying to meet endless client demands, staffing issues, competency issues, time-suck issues, and just the general chaos of running a business, that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we’re all people.
But in the heat of the moment, when sh*t hits the fan, your manager no longer sees you as a person, suddenly you’re a number, you’re an object designed specifically to fix their problems.
Unpaid overtime suddenly seems like a reasonable idea, constantly shifting priorities and focus suddenly seems like a good idea, have never ending meetings to get ‘in alignment’ suddenly seem like a good idea.
Your manager will wax poetic about how important mental health is, and how you should take care of yourself by doing things like walking and meditating, but then in the very next breath dump a mountain of work on you that is beyond impossible to get done by the deadline – and then is confused and dumbfounded why you feel entitled enough to want to take breaks to go walk and meditate (oh and not to mention wreck your weekend plans without so much as a thank you and raises a stink if you bring up.
This post is for every employee who is sick of their manager, and every manager who’s willing to try being better.
Everything I say, I say with love.
Why Most Businesses Fail
There’s this fabulous book by Michael Gerber called The E-Myth Revisited. It gives a concise reason why most small businesses fail. You should read it.
Most businesses fail, because the owner and/or the managers, have, to be blunt, no f*cking idea what they’re doing.
They love rhetoric and buzzwords related to ‘teamwork’ and ‘mental health’ and ‘we’re all in this together’, yet actually throw you under the bus at every opportunity they can.
My belief (and this is a personal opinion) is that most managers and bosses are power hungry sociopaths, who love to push their employees just to see how far they can go before they crack.
Let’s step into their shoes for a second. It is a strange position to be in, to have power over another person, and an ability to take away their livelihood if they don’t do as you demand.
Most employees are just so grateful to have a job, they could never fathom getting fired and being unemployed. Such a situation would destroy them and their lives. Managers tend to have this mentality of ‘will you be my bi*ch?’.
They want to see how many unreasonable demands they can dump on you, to find out whether you’re desperate enough to keep the job. Like a heat seeking missile, they’re trying to find how desperate you are, or whether you’re putting up a facade.
Power hungry sociopaths smell desperation like a shark smells blood in the water – they go straight for the kill.
Let’s Tell A Story About Matt The Web Designer
To paint the picture here, let’s use Matt as an example. Matt is an excellent web designer. He’s been to school, learned the trade and he’s been successfully building websites for about 5 years now.
Matt does good work, his clients are happy, they rave about how good his work is. He’s professional, creative and delivers his projects on time and on budget. So far so good right?
Well Matt has a problem. See Matt bills his time at $150 per hour, however, when Matt gets his paycheck, Matt only gets paid $30 per hour. Matt was okay with this for a while because he knew that he needed experience and to build references, but now that he’s got a solid 5 years of experience under his belt, he’s starting to feel like he’s getting a raw deal.
I mean, Matt is afterall the one who is doing and delivering the work right? Why does Matt’s agency get $120 per hour while Matt only gets $30 – it seems so unfair!
So Matt decides to take action. He saves up money for a few months until he’s got a stack of $30k in savings. Matt lives pretty economically, so with his $2k/month expenses, this should last him a good 15 months. Nicely done Matt.
Matt then leaves his agency and starts his own business: “Matt’s Web Design Inc.”
He buys a new fancy computer so he can have the latest technology, he rents out office space so he can have a legitimate business. He also needs a server to host those websites. He gets stationary, buying business cards, mugs and pads of paper that all proudly proclaim:
“Matt’s Web Design Inc.: Proud Purveyors Of Quality Websites”.
Matt is ecstatic. He spent a bit more money on the computer and the survey and the office and the stationary than he intended to, but now he’s got a real legitimate business.
Matt sets up shop and he’s excited for his first customers to walk in the door. A week goes by. Two weeks. He’d told all his friends and family that he was starting a new web design business and how good he was. Maybe they’ll come by next week.
A month goes by and nothing. In a panic, Matt talks to a friend who says he should start advertising and ‘doing social media’. Matt agrees. But Matt designs websites, he doesn’t about advertising, that was that other department in the agency he didn’t deal much with.
But Matt can’t be stopped, he hires a local marketing agency that claims to be very good at ‘social media’ and Matt hires them. He’s thrilled to be working with them and get the project going, but soon he’s feeling frustrated as there seem to be these endless delays in the project. The end of the month comes and he gets a bill that was way bigger than he’d budgeted for, and his marketing project is still in the shop and is nowhere close to being launched.
Matt is starting to seriously panic now – he’s 2 months into this project, no clients in sight, and he’s nearly burned through his entire $30k savings which were supposed to last him well over a year.
Matt trudges on, hopeful for what’s to come. Luckily, later that month the marketing agency launched the campaign and Matt was so excited when his phone rang that he nearly blew a hole through the ceiling.
Matt picked up the phone and started blabbing about how good his web designs were.
The prospect said they were very keen and interested, but would need to check with their wife firs. Matt agreed. A week later, Matt followed up, but strangely the prospect was no longer answering their phone.
Matt had received other calls through the week of prospects calling to find out his prices and what kind of projects he’d done before.
Matt excitedly told them everything he could, ending with ‘and is there anything more I can help you with? I’m SO happy to answer any questions you have!”.
Matt would follow up and follow up, but nothing seemed to materialize into business.
When the marketing agency asked him how the campaign was going – started complaining about ‘tire kickers’.
Matt was starting to lose his patience and he lost it with his marketing agency – he demanded to know what they’d been doing and why their campaign had been so lousy. Matt had spent thousands of dollars advertising, yet the agency was sending him tire kickers.
Matt kept going for a few months. He tried lowering his prices and even doing web designs completely for free, just to start to get some momentum. He got a few nibbles and even made a few small sales of his heavily discounted prices, but then he had another problem: now that he had clients and projects, he had to deliver on those overly ambitious, yet underpaid projects.
Matt was a hard worker, so he worked around the clock to deliver the best websites that he could. But as Matt was so focused on building websites, he no longer had time to answer the phone and follow up with prospects.
When Matt finished his masterpiece projects and collected his pennies from his clients, Matt suddenly realised that he had no more work lined up, and had to start the whole process over again.
By the end of the first year, Matt was burned out and 3 months behind on his office rent payments. The utilities had threatened to shutoff his internet and his electricity if he didn’t immediately pay all bills owing.
Frustrated, distraught, feeling alone and broken, Matt sees no hope left and throws in the towel. He declares bankruptcy to get his creditors off his back, and managers to find a new job as a web designer. Feeling worthless and like a failure, Matt feels grateful to have another shot at having a job, and feels a great weight lift off his shoulders when he gets that paycheck on Friday.
He hates his new boss who is a control freak and micromanages, but Matt is grateful that he can at least pay his bills again, and is excited that he can finally afford that PS5 so he can play Fortnite.
Matt doesn’t feel happy, in fact he feels pretty dead inside, but at least his girlfriend will stop nagging him, and they can finally afford to take that week vacation through the French vineyards she’s been whining about for the last 2 years. He’ll have to work 6 months before he’s save up enough vacation, but he still excitedly marks the date down on the calendar.
So What Went Wrong? Lessons Learned About Matt The Web Designer
Matt is a loveable guy. However, he made many common mistakes that most business owners make when they’re just starting out on their first entrepreneurial venture.
First – He assumed that web design was the business.
Web design wasn’t the business, having clients pay for web design services was the business. See the difference? It’s subtle but important. Until you have actual paying clients, you don’t have a business, you just have a fantasy.
Second – He assumed that because he had great web design technical skills, that he would also be skilled at running a business.
In the E-Myth, Michale Gerber refers to this as the ‘technician’s addiction’.
This is when a highly skilled technical person thinks they can run a business because they have great technical skills, not understanding that a business is significantly more complicated than that. If you want to be a successful business owner, you’ll need to learn to let go of your technician’s hat, and embrace your business owner’s hat.
As they say, work on your business, not in your business.
Third – He assumed that because ‘he was doing most of the work’, that he was entitled to ‘most of the the pay.
But let’s breakdown his $150 hourly rate, and understand better what that actually looks like:
- $30/hr wages paid to Matt – this is what he sees on his paycheck
- $25/hr to run the office and keep on the lights – overheads
- $15/hr to pay the bosses salary
- $20/hr to pay for computers, servers, licences and softwares
- $20/hr to pay for marketing and branding for the business
- $20/hr to pay for the sales team to close new business
- $20/hr to pay for taxes
This is obviously an oversimplified model, but it makes it clear: much of the money Matt is ‘losing’ goes to supporting the rest of the business, which he relies on more than he realises.
If marketing doesn’t get their cut, there’s no inflow of new leads.
If sales doesn’t get their cut, there’s no leads being turned into paying clients.
If the boss doesn’t get paid, there’s no one to run the show
Etc. etc. etc.
When Matt was an employee he could only see his slice of the pie, and from his perspective it seemed extremely unfair, however once he started running his own business, he would have killed to get that steady paycheck of $30 per hour. See the problem? Matt was blind to the big picture.
And if Matt wanted the full $150 per hour he felt he was owed, he would actually have to do the job of 6 or more people – which he was caught completely off guard, and was not prepared to do.
Fourth – He started a business without a proven concept and paying clients.
This one is a killer. Many aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs, get all excited by an idea, they start thinking they’re just the greatest thing ever, so they jump ship and they start a business, annnnnnnnd…then crickets.
Because they didn’t have a proven concept. They hadn’t actually sold the business idea before. And as it turns out, no one really wanted to buy it anyway.
Fifth – He spent before he earned – and he unnecessarily over-leveraged himself with office space and stationary – all of which was completely unnecessary.
This is a big one. Big with a capital B – and likely ties back into our Societal Programming, and what we think running a business actually means.
Too many business owners think they need to have an office, a professional website and all their stationary and business cards and email footers all nicely together before they can start a business. So they go, spend a gazillion dollars buying all this stuff, and then when the clients don’t show up – Matt was in a panic, because suddenly he had to pay for all this stuff.
There’s a concept from the Lean Startup by Eric Ries, called the MVP – the Minimum Viable Product. This is the smallest possible prototype you can launch to test whether an idea is a success or now.
Now I’m not against having an office (actually no, on second thought, based on how the world is in 2021 and this COVID Pandemic – I’m EXTREMELY against paying for office space – don’t do it – and if you’re considering it, watch this first).
Sixth – he added no additional value to the market – now this is a subtle point that most people miss.
And without sounding like an asshole, this is one of those things people do that is so insanely dumb, but are completely oblivious to.
When he worked for his agency – he was Matt the Web designer, when he started his own business, he was Matt’s Web Designs Inc. In essence, he just took what he was doing for the agency, and then started doing for himself, without adding anything new or additional value to the market place – and in essence just became direct competition with his previous employer, who is more experienced and has more credibility – no, no, no.
So how do you add new value to the marketplace?
I mean the first question to ask is what problems are business owners facing right that moment? Is there a need for another generic ‘web design guy’? Probably not.
So one option would be to Niche. Perhaps there’s a specific industry that has highly specific needs when it comes to web design – say for example that Lawyers need higher levels of security and anonymity for their site users, but no other web designers on the market could reliably offer this service – Matt could have started a web design firm specializing specifically in highly secure sites for lawyers.
Or let’s say that organizations that work with autistic kids need higher levels of accessibility for their sites – Matt could specialize in highly accessible sites and work directly with the autism industry.
See how specialization and niching helps Matt to immediately stand out in a highly competitive market place?
And just in case you’re thinking it, dropping your prices is not a point of differentiation – that’s just you offering low prices.
Seventh – He completely underestimated the role of sales & marketing
This one makes me smile, because it’s so predictable, it’s almost comical.
Most people in technical roles believe the world revolves around them. They believe that as the ones ‘doing the work’, that they are the business.
Reminds me to Louis XIV saying: “I am the state”.
Now I’d like to share a quick story to help illustrate this point, and show I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.
Back around 2010, I started working my first Engineering jobs as a co-op student. Work was good and I enjoyed what I was doing (for a few years, until suddenly I didn’t).
But there was something that never made any sense to me. The office that we worked in was slightly unusual. It was built in the basement of a shopping mall, and there were two floors: the engineers and technical staff were in the basement. And the sales team and executives were on the upper floor.
This confused and puzzled me. After All – aren’t we (the Engineers) the ones who actually do the work around here? We’re the ones in the trenches, delivering client deliverables, writing reports, and making this business hum – shouldn’t we be on the top floor? I mean, afterall, if we didn’t ‘Engineer’ here, there would be no business, right?
I didn’t have my eyes opened until years later when I started working in sales and marketing myself, and suddenly the world started to make sense.
A couple of things: First, technical staff are replaceable. I know the truth is harsh, but someone had to say it.
For the most part, all technical staff are the exact same – after all you graduated from a class of like 500 or a thousand people – all of which studied the exact same things and learned the same skills – there’s nothing really that distinguishes you.
Now you could argue that certain schools have more prestige than others, or that A+ students are more valuable than C- students, and there could be some truth to that – so we can agree there might be a certain scale of ‘betterness’, however there is virtually nothing ‘unique’ about each technical graduate.
YOU ALL WENT TO THE SAME SCHOOL, TAKING THE SAME CLASSES AND LEARNED THE SAME THINGS (ahem).
I don’t mean to yell, but this is an important point. Why? Because it means you’re replaceable. If all you learned were technical skills, the company can easily replace you with someone else if you start making unreasonable demands (say, asking for more money)
And this is a point that technical staff need to drill into their heads and understand about the world: unless they go and do something unique (say combine 2-3 different skill sets together in a way that no one else does, a la Tim Ferris), or grow the balls to start selling – they are entirely, and 100% replaceable.
Our parents and society lied to us about university – they told us if we went we would be guaranteed high paying jobs for life – but all university gave us was a piece of paper that thousands of other people in our year also got – making us all identical – and if we’re identical – we’re replaceable.
Seth Godin further reinforces this point in his book The Linchpin – where he asks the pointed question – are you indispensable?
The last point here without belabouring this point too much is that technical skills don’t make a business (as much as we dream and fantasize that they should), but sales makes the business.
Until a client pays us cold, hard cash (or whatever the crypto equivalent is these days) – we don’t have business. Let me say it again, because it is that important:
Until a client pays us money, we don’t have a business, we have a fantasy and in I.O.U.
Now, I do have to mention that there are alternative ways to monetize and make money without selling directly – which I get into in this article here on monetization.
However, alternative methods aside, if you run a serviced based business and you’re relying on paying clients to fund your venture – then you NEED to have paying clients.
And how do you get paying clients? Sales & Marketing. But most technical people (and this includes me too), are terrified of making sales.
Literally terrified, it is the last thing they want to do. So they hide behind their technical skills, in the hopes that they’ll be good enough and impressive enough that a client would sign up and buy.
And that can work to a degree – however, if you want your business to be actually profitable, you need to be aggressive with your sales and marketing – to ensure you’ve always got a fresh stream of new and excited prospects turning into paying clients.
Paying clients are the lifeblood of your business, and if you don’t have them, you don’t have a business.
Eighth – Matt Didn’t Learn Sales & Marketing For Himself
Now maybe as a digital marketer I’m slightly biased here, but I’ve started to believe that marketing is a fundamental life skill, no matter what you do in your life.
Just as our forefathers of old believed that hunting was a fundamental life skill, marketing is the modern day hunting (it is a strange analogy – but in a non-murdery way, marketing shares a lot of similarities with hunting).
Matt didn’t know anything about marketing and he didn’t want to know anything about marketing, meaning that he ended up outsourcing everything.
And while I’m a big believer in hiring professionals and outsourcing any work that is not your core work, marketing is one of those fields where I believe you gotta get your hands dirty. Why?
Because while marketing agencies might now the latest trends and technologies, and tips and tricks – however – nobody knows your business better than you do, and more importantly, nobody cares about your business as much as you do.
And while this isn’t meant to be a rant against marketing agencies (I cover that here in my post about all marketers being liars), it is intended to help wake you up.
Most marketing agencies are excellent at taking your money, but many aren’t so excellent at delivering the results they promised (oopsies!).
Marketing is complicated, and you at least need to learn the basics. Because here’s the truth as best as I can put it:
Marketing is complicated and requires a lot of trial and error. It takes time to figure out exactly what works for your business and what people respond to. And this means you have to be ready to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail – over and over and over again – and if you’re working with a marketing agency, they’re likely just to eat through your entire marketing budget, before you’ve even found success yet.
So here’s the trade off – yeah if you do your own marketing, chances are it will be a little bit slower and a little bit clunkier – and that’s fine, but what you save in management fees you can put into your ad spend budget.
The more ad spend you have, the better you can test, modify and adjust your campaigns. The problem with most marketing agencies is that they eat through you entire budget with their management fees, and suddenly you have no money left to actually run your campaign (this may surprise you, but Google and Facebook are extremely happy to take all of you money).
Now talking about sales and marketing could end up being a very long a complicated post – and I’ll likely be producing another post dedicated just to that topic – however, let’s just keep it simple here and say that you’ve got to learn sales & marketing (at least the basics) before you ever consider starting your own business.
In fact, if you wanted to do things properly – you would even start your sales and marketing BEFORE you leave your job.
Imagine this for a second – you’re thinking of quitting your job at the end of the month, but before you do, your run a quick Facebook Lead Ad Campaign, over a 2 week period you get 20 inquiries and 5 that are actually eager to pay you money. You accept their money and you work your evenings and weekends to deliver great work
Cool – now you’ve just tested and proven your concept – not only are you able to advertise your services, but you’ve developed a pipeline of new prospects, and proven that clients will actually pay money for your work.
Too many people believe that ‘if they build it, they will come’, only to find out that nobody comes.
Ninth – Matt Didn’t Outsource
Now this is a complicated topic without a clear simple answer, however it is important to discuss nonetheless.
I understand that when you’re starting a new business you likely won’t have the funds to hire on new staff (important: never hire employees, only hire part-time contractors – this saves you all sorts of legal headaches and financial battles) – but you will need to as soon as you can.
I mean even sites like Fiverr and Upwork count as outsourcing, and likey you can hire someone to get the job done for cheaper and less time than it would take you to do it.
Anything that doesn’t require your expert knowledge should immediately be outsourced: bookkeeping, video editing, blog editing, and general admin of the business. Get rid of it – get someone else doing it to free up your time.
And if you’re serious about running a web design business – you should also be hiring talented web designers and developers to run the technical work for you.
Remember – Matt started his business to free himself from the shackles of having a job, but if he just keeps doing the same technical work he was doing before, then all he’s done is shackled himself to a new (hopefully fancier) desk.
As Michael Gerber from the E-Myth reiterates – the goal here is work on your business, not in your business.
This means setting up the infrastructure and processes so that it can keep running with or without you. Remember, Matt has a beach in Thailand he needs to be chilling on.
Tenth – Matt Sounds Exactly Like Everyone Else
Remember Matt’s business name and slogan?
“Matt’s Web Design Inc.: Proud Purveyors Of Quality Websites”.
I had so much fun writing that because it honestly made me want to puke.
I want to share a short story here to reveal an important truth:
Back in 2020, I started a self-inflicted journey to hell: researching whether or not I could specialize in marketing to Lawyers.
My skin crawls and I get goosebumps right now even just thinking about it….
I’m not sure which god I need to thank for diverting me off that course, because it could have ruined my life (and I had another intrepid adventure with dentists, but that’s a story for another day).
As I was doing my research, studied dozens, if not hundreds of websites for lawyers. I was looking for patterns about what they were doing right, and what I might be able to offer in terms of improvement.
I didn’t want to call them up and say “hey I’m Arthur, I do marketing, wouldya like to hire me?”. Puke.
I wanted to be in a position where when we spoke I could say something like “hey I was taking a look over your website, I really like what you did here and here with x, y, z, but I noticed a couple issues here which could be causing problems and hurting your sales – my recommendation would be to update x, y, z to be a, b, c and as a result you could expect see l, m, n, o p”.
See the difference? I’m positioning myself as an expert who already knows more about their business and their website than they do, and I’m already coming to the table with recommendations of what to fix, how I would fix it, and what the potential impacts would be.
This shows I know my stuff, and helps them to visualize the improved end result, instead of just focusing on the expenditure of money.
But I digress – as I was scanning these hundreds of websites, I started to notice a pattern: they all sucked.
Or to be more specific: they all looked and read the exact same. With a few rare exceptions, every, single, lawyer’s website looked like a carbon copy of the others – with only the name and logo changed.
They all spoke the same language, offered the same services, and gave the same promises of ‘quality’ and ‘competitive rates’.
I hate to break it to you, but if everyone has the same competitive rates, they’re not exactly competitive are they?
But more important than cost, was the messaging. There was literally nothing to distinguish one from the other. Every website read something like:
“McAllister, Mackelworth & Partners, Professional Corporation, LLP”
With a tagline something like:
“Trusted Lawyers, Professional Approach”
Seriously, go look up a few lawyer websites in your hometown right now – how many look exactly like that?
They all do.
And that’s why I had so much fun writing Matt’s business title and tagline:
“Matt’s Web Design Inc.: Proud Purveyors Of Quality Websites”.
Because that is what every new aspiring business owner does, they slap their name on their business (okay my website is ArthurTutt.com, so I admit I’m guilty of this too), then they say something extremely generic that offers them no distinction from anyone else.
So how do you distinguish yourself?
- Niche – work in a very specific industry or sub-industry
- Specialize – become the leading expert in one particular technology or process
- Guarantee – offer a direct guarantee of what you can offer (or full money back if you don’t)
Here’s the important thing to remember about guarantees – I know most business owners turn their nose up at them, but here’s something important for you to remember: clients aren’t paying you to do work, clients are paying you to deliver results. Period. End of story.
It doesn’t matter if you spent 73 hours designing the perfect website – if the site sucks, if it’s slow, if it doesn’t perform, if the SEO is no good – and nobody comes to visit the site and the client’s business doesn’t grow – then it was all a waste of time and money as far as I’m concerned.
Clients pay you to deliver results, and if you’re not delivering those results, then you shouldn’t be paid as far as I’m concerned.
If you are a true master of your craft, you should have no problem or fear offering an iron-fisted, gold-standard guarantee.
Besides, the upside is it means you can charge more money, because if you succeed, you’ve proven your worth, and if you don’t succeed, there’s no risk to the client.
Imagine for a second you were an SEO company. Most SEO companies refuse to offer a guarantee (because they have no idea what they’re actually doing).
But imagine an SEO company said: “look, if you work with us for 6 months we guarantee 500 more organic visitors to your site, but if you work with us for 12 months we guarantee 5,000 new visitors to your site, and over 24 months we guarantee 50,000 new visitors to your site – we know that SEO takes time, but we also want you to know that we are dedicated to your success, and if you don’t succeed, then you don’t have to pay us a penny”.
This does a few things – first it takes the risk and the fear off the client – they know they’ll receive the promised benefit or they get all their money back – but more importantly – it puts the onus on the service provider to actually deliver.
One more point – and this is a subtle but important distinction – it also means that the service provider has more control over the entire process.
Think about it – if the service provider is guaranteeing the work, it also means they need to have iron-fisted control over the process. The client is not in a position to demand certain things, because it could mess up the process and hurt the service providers chances of meeting their obligations around the guarantee.
This is where the service provider must make it clear up front that they own the process, and that while the client’s input is welcome, they won’t be able to accommodate his every request.
The client has two options: he can shut up and accept the guarantee, or, if he wants to meddle in the affairs of the service provider, then they can no longer offer the guarantee – the decision is up to the client.
Clients LOVE to meddle in things they have zero understanding. They love to completely destroy your processes and your flow – simply because ‘they’re the client’.
It’s a power trip. Clients love the fact that they have money and they love to dangle that power over you like a f*cking carrot.
Are you going to try to take a bite?
Eleventh – Matt Didn’t Bootstrap It
He didn’t keep his expenses in line with his revenue.
Again, I’m not sure why this one makes me smile so much that most business owners completely trip this up. I’m not sadistic I swear…
But here’s the thing, and I need to did a little in Societal Programming here. We’ve all been brainwashed to believe what a “professional business” really looks like.
A professional business has an office, and office chairs, and a coffee machine, and a receptionist. A professional business has business cards and brochures and company magazines. A professional business has stationary with official letterhead. A professional business has a professional looking website.
And this is where many aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs get it completely wrong – they focus all of their efforts on the professional image of the business, before they’ve even proven that it’s a good business model.
We believe that if we build they will come, but the truth is we need to make them come before we build it.
I mean, what good are business cards if nobody gives a flying f*ck about your business!
I am a firm believer in bootstrapping.
I mean just look at me as an example – do I have the worlds flashiest website? Absolutely not – but it was a free template! In fact, I’ll be the first to admit it’s pretty god damn hideous. So what? To me the content is more important than the image.
I paid about $15 to buy my domain, and I pay about $30/month for hosting. And other than paying for an internet connection, that is pretty much the extent of my business expenses to run this blog. Thirty bucks a month for my entire online empire. Not bad right?
It costs me nothing to write a million helpful words, but it might cost me tens of thousands of dollars to make a pretty website – see the difference?
But here’s the best part – after writing my million words, I can then step back and ask myself – “hey, hows this thing actually going?”. And if I find that I’m getting a few hundred thousand visitors to my site, and making a few $k per month in advertising – cool! – I’ve PROVEN the concept that it works.
I’m in no way against investing money in your business, and making it look as professional as you can BUT to only do so after you have cash flow and an income to actually finance it.
Other than investing in the few basic essentials needed to get up and running, I believe that any business owner who invests thousands of dollars in their business without a proven business model, is an absolute moron, and they deserve the trainwreck of failure coming their way.
Last point on this before I beat it to death. Spending money before you earn is a sign of fear and insecurity.
Think about it – if you need to have business cards to feel like you’re a business owner – you’re not a business owner, you’re just putting out the image of a business owner.
Twelfth – Matt Wasted Time ‘Doing Social Media’
I’m not sure where this idea came from, but it is cancerous and you need to cut it out as quickly as you can.
Now before there’s any misunderstanding, I am in fact a big fan of Mr. Gary Vee, and I agree with much of what he talks about. In fact, this whole blog was created from his inspiration.
However, social media is a double edged sword, and most people need to stay the hell away from it.
Yes, the positive of social media is you can reach potentially thousands or millions (or billions) of people – you can grow your brand and grow your business.
However, it can also be a massive time suck. Literally, social media has the potential to completely destroy your day. Between the time it takes to come up with clever posts, write funny captions, do some graphic design, post your post, respond to comments, follow up with prospects, engage in Facebook groups, check back on your posts performance, write new posts – it’s an endless hamster wheel.
And guess what? Once you put all that effort into writing your post, after your initial surge of interest and traffic – it dies a gruesome death. Once a social media post is done, it’s done (unless you’re one of the rare exceptions that went viral, but you can’t build a business off rare exceptions – we call that gambling).
So then you might be wondering: “but Arthur, you write a blog, isn’t that basically like doing social media posts?”. And you’re right in that they’re both about putting out content – but here’s the key difference – I’m playing the search engine game.
My goal here is to get content ranking on GOOGLE so that for months, years, or even decades, people will still be finding and reading my content because it is that good and amazing.
See the difference? Building a successful blog is about investing in an asset that has the potential to pay off for years – writing a social media post is a massive time waste that becomes irrelevant tomorrow. See the difference?
Now, without sounding like I’m a hypocrite, I do believe that social media is extremely powerful, and I plan in the future to fully embrace and use it – HOWEVER – I will do that after I’ve invested in my blog and I’m already receiving a steady and consistent stream of passive income.
In effect, social media becomes the next layer to add on top, but not to do first.
The last thing I’ll say about this, is I’ve now lost count of the number of prospects who’ve come to us completely confused and out of their element, just say things like ‘we need to hire someone to do social media’.
It’s almost like think it’s like hiring someone to do their taxes or mow their lawn. It’s like business owners have this perception that ‘social media’ is just this box that you tick and say “great! We’ve done the social media thing!”
Sorry to burst the bubble, but it doesn’t work that way.
Firstly, to do social media properly, you need to put your own heart and soul into it – this isn’t something that you can just outsource to an intern in the Philippines.
I mean, you can, but you’ll end up with a bunch of generic garbage on your page (no disrespect to your Philippino intern).
No, social media needs to be well thought out, and it needs to be something that you commit yourself full.
I see this all the time with Dentists (another story…). I’m just going to say it, most dentists have garbage social media, and for the most part it is just because they’re ticking a box.
But remember who’s on the other side: real people. If your content is boring, uninteresting, or doesn’t help them in some way, they’re not going to engage with you! There are too many fun and shiny objects on the internet to engage with your boring a**.
So if you’re going to do social media, do it properly, but wait until you’ve already built a profitable business, then add it as the cherry on top.
Thirteenth – Matt Complains About ‘Tire Kickers’
One of my favourite words a client can utter is ‘Tire Kicker’. Honestly, it warms my soul.
I have to be blunt here: most business owners and entrepreneurs are entitled little b*tches. Had to be said.
Most business owners have the nerve to expect that they can just setup shop, run a few ads, and within days that hungry prospects will show up demanding to have their wallets emptied.
I assure you, it doesn’t work that way. Building a business takes time. A lot of time. And most business owners just do not have the patience for it.
This also crops up with new ad campaigns. I’ll work with a client to develop a great ad campaign, we’ll run it for a few weeks, then I’ll ask them how it’s going and they’ll indignantly say “all I’m getting are tire kickers! I thought you knew what you were doing! I told you that I only want to focus on the serious buyers!”.
As if there’s just some pile of ‘serious buyers’ sitting around, waiting to see your ad so they can come give you their money.
You entitled little s*its. Excuse me, but I do have to vent here.
What business owners fail to realise is that sales, business and relationships take time. They take a lot of time. And while a ‘tire kicker’ may not be ready to buy with you today, if you help them out, if you give them some good information, if you give them a good experience, if you get them on your follow up email newsletter list, there’s a chance they’ll come and buy from you in the future OR will refer someone to you.
A ‘tire kicker’ is just someone who doesn’t trust you yet. It’s YOUR onus as the business owner to get them to trust you. Good marketing can get them in the door, but with rare exceptions marketing alone cannot make the sale – that’s where your job comes in.
Stop blaming ‘Tire Kickers’ on the marketing, and instead embrace your tire kickers as future clients.
As Alec Baldwin says in Glengarry Glen Ross: “You got the prospects comin’ in. You think they came in to get out of the rain?”
Fourteenth – Matt Started Heavily Discounting And Working For Free
Now, I have to be careful with my wording here, as there is some nuance and I don’t want to be misunderstood, so let me be clear:
When you are starting a new business or you’ve just learned a new skill, there is nothing wrong with offering your services for free for a short while, while you build up experience and case studies (I sure did).
As a rule of thumb, take on 3 new clients for some pro-bono work, get your experience, and once you’ve successfully delivered to 3 happy clients, ensure that you get references, case studies and ideally a letter of reference from the company president on company letterhead, detailing exactly what you did and how you were able to help.
There is nothing wrong with temporarily working for free while you build up your proven experience.
Now, with that cleared up and out of the way, here’s where Matt went wrong: in a moment of desperation he started slashing and discounting his prices. Not smart.
When you start slashing prices, you’re simply just on a race down to the bottom, and it doesn’t end well.
As Dan Kennedy says: “If you’re not the cheapest in your market, there’s no competitive advantage to being the second cheapest”.
Which means – you either need to be the absolute cheapest in your market OR you actually priced yourself as the most expensive. By pricing yourself high it gives you the margins to deliver a proper product and be able to afford to hire the right staff.
In Matt’s panic, he discounted his prices, slashing the respect that any of his clients or prospects may have had, damaged his reputation, and hurt his ability to raise his prices in the future. No. No. No.
Lastly – if clients aren’t buying at your prices, it’s likely a reflection that you haven’t hit a hard enough pain point. People don’t need just generic web design services, so there’s no impetus to buy.
However, if Matt had niched to a specific market or sub-market, and he was either the only game in town, or the best game in town that was most specialized in that niche – who do you think is going to win the business here?
The reason that business owners constantly feel compelled to lower their prices is because subconsciously they realise that they are in fact just a commodity, and as a commodity your only real point of differentiation is price. Are you the cheapest? No? Then get the hell out of my face.
As Grant Cardone says: “Be obsessed or be average”, and you’ve got to be highly obsessed with your niche, your specialization, and your differentiation from your competitors.
Fifteenth – And While This Is Not Directly Work Related, But Matt’s Biggest Hobbies And Aspirations In Life Are To Play PS5 And Take His Girlfriend On Expensive French Vacations
Now some of you might be scratching your heads at this one. What does playing PS5 and taking his girlfriend on exotic vacations have anything to do with failing at business? “They have nothing to do with business!” you might be thinking. Or, “but Matt needs to relax somehow!”.
But the truth is these behaviours have everything to do with failing at business. Why? Because these are the behaviors of a boy, not a man.
And boys do not succeed in business (at least men with the maturity of boys. Some boys do have the maturity of men, but that’s a topic for another day).
Any guy who’s highest aspiration in life is to play videogames and drink beers with friends. Get out of the business world, because you’re not going to make it. Just pack up show now.
Being successful at business requires and insane level of dedication and commitment that most entrepreneurs and business owners can’t even fathom.
People are sold on the fantasy of leaving their 9-5, to stop being a ‘wage slave’, and live their ‘perfect and dream life’, while ‘sipping margaritas off a beach in Thailand’. Puke.
If you want to be an entrepreneur because you’re expecting an easy life, get the hell out now.
Entrepreneurship does not offer and ‘easy life’, it offers an insanely challenging and painful life – however for some personality types it is the better option.
For me for example, freedom and autonomy are extremely important personal traits for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I absolutely loathe having someone who has the power and authority to tell me what to do, when they want it, how they want it done, and how the work I’ve done isn’t good enough or fast enough.
If you try that sh*t on me – you’re dead to me. Call it a quirk or a glitch in the Matrix – but there’s just something deeply ingrained in my personality that does not allow me to take sh*t from morons in positions of power.
However, I also appreciate that life is about trade-offs – and the trade-off for me being a self-employed and autonomous entrepreneur is accepting a life of (temporary) poverty, of eating extremely basic home-cooked meals (and never eating out. ever), of living without a dental plan and the resulting toothaches that come from that, of getting my a** out of bed at 5am every day to get to work.
Nobody is cracking the whip on me, so I have to crack the whip on myself. This life is not easy, but to me, it is a hell of a lot easier than working in a cubicle and have some dumb sh*t of a manager try to tell me what to do.
The other piece I want to touch on here is the girlfriend and vacation. Two separate and incredibly important points.
Firstly, he has a girlfriend, which in my opinion is a HUGE red flag for anyone starting a new venture. See when you’re single, you can do stupid sh*t, and nobody can get mad at you but yourself.
But when you have a girlfriend, suddenly there’s someone else out there, who gets a say in how you live your life. Your girlfriend wants certainty and predictability. Afterall, she wants to have a baby (one day), and it is hard to raise a child without certainty and predictability. She isn’t intentionally being a bi*tch, it’s just her biology.
It’s important for you to remember that entrepreneurship (at least in the beginning) is the exact opposite of certainty and predictability. And likely, your risky decisions will make her feel uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable she feels, the more she’ll nag you. The more she nags you, the more you’ll be thrown off your game and start to question whether what you’re doing is the right thing or not. Oh, and the more you’ll panic.
First piece of advice here is, if at all possible, do not have a girlfriend while you’re starting a major new entrepreneurial venture. It’s more headaches than it’s worth. Get the girlfriend after you’re successful.
Lastly, the vacation. First off, Matt is a corporate bi*ch again, and has to accept he only gets 2 weeks of vacation a year. Puke. This is what I can’t stand about corporate jobs, they think they have the right to tell me how much vacation I can take each year?? I’m a hardworking guy and I’ll probably work 52 weeks a year – but I do that out of choice. If I want to take a 3 month vacation, I’ll also do that out of choice.
And then let’s tie the points back together with the girlfriend and the vacation, and I’ll share a little story here: as of this current writing, this week will be my last week at my marketing agency (May 14th, 2021 – mark it in your calendars friends). The following week I have a week of accrued vacation to use up.
Do you think I’m going on an exotic trip to the Bahamas? No. I’m hunkering down in my tiny Toronto studio apartment, and I’m going to write. I’m going to write like a madman with a goal of producing at least 50,000 words (will keep you posted how things go).
And this is my point: when you work a corporate job and are looking to one day escape and be an entrepreneur or a business owner – you need to use every single opportunity you have to hone your craft.
This means that evenings, weekends and any measly vacation you get NEEDS to be dedicated to your craft and your next business venture.
But if you have a girlfriend, and she insists on fancy vacations, you’ve blown it. You’ll never succeed.
I can already tell you that you’ll return exhausted from your vacation, not refreshed and energised. Likely you fought with your girlfriend most of the trip, so your cortisol has actually spiked, not dropped.
You’ll feel tired, exhausted, frustrated and anxious – does this sound like the image of a man who has successfully moved his business venture forward?
Whenever I hear a man (a boy) talk about the expensive toys, the video games, the parties, the drinks or the vacations he’s going to take, I know he’s not a real entrepreneur.
He’s a want-repreneur, and he’s going to fail so hard at business it will make your head spin.
Get your head on straight – nose to the grindstone – and remember:
Discipline = Freedom.
The Ultimate 97 Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail:
Alright, with all that preamble aside, let’s get into the nitty gritty here – let’s get into the 97 Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail. Learn from these words, and you’ll be a wise man. Ignore them at your peril.
They’re Too Focused On Perfectionism
I could honestly write an entire book on this (and probably will). Definitely up there in the top 10 or even top 3 reasons businesses fail or never even got off the ground in the first place: too much focus on perfectionism.
Let me give you a clear example:
As many of you know, this blog is the exact opposite of perfectionism. There are typos and mistakes everywhere, and sometimes I even put up incomplete posts. But as of this writing (May 2021), in the last 40 days I have written (and published) over 160,000 words.
By contrast, we have one client and our marketing agency that we help with blog writing. Now this client drags their feet and makes a fuss about everything. We have endless revisions and changes, and modifications and meetings, and focus sessions, and emails back and forth, and at the end of the month, do you know how many words we’ve written and published? 750.
750 words published in one entire month. That is nothing. That is a literal drop in the Google Ocean.
So let’s say I average 120,000 words in a month, that is about 15,900% more than their 750 words. That is ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE larger. Not just a few times larger over 100x more.
In fact, for every one word they publish, I publish 160 words.
Now whose business do you think is going to smash it over the long term? Not even any competition.
Sink this mantra into your brain: Success = Relentless Action
They Don’t Have A Proven Revenue Stream
Now, I was originally going to title this ‘They Don’t Have A Proven Sales System’, but I changed my mind as there are multiple alternative revenue streams a business can and should implement.
For example, marketing firms typically deal with clients, so being able to sell clients would be a huge asset. However, I believe all marketing firms (or at least those who want to be successful), need to diversify their income streams, to say, selling advertising space.
It makes me laugh (or cry, I’m not sure which), how marketing firms love to puff up their chests and talk about how amazing and great they are, and all the things they can do to help grow your business.
However, the dirty dark secret is they aren’t implementing most of those tactics themselves. And I’m a huge believer in ‘practice what you preach’.
For example, marketing agencies love to wax poetic about how amazing they are at SEO – great work marketing agency, so how much money are YOU making from your own SEO efforts? Have you been ranking your own pages and earning your own 6-Figure income from passively selling advertising from your organic traffic from your sick SEO results? No? Then get the f*ck out of my face.
To me it’s one of those great mysteries. Marketing firms like to talk a big game about how they’re effectively able to print money, so….why aren’t they printing money for themselves?
In my mind, any marketing agency that NEEDS clients, isn’t a legit marketing firm. If you actually knew your stuff, you could make your own money and wouldn’t need any clients.
And most clients can feel that question burning somewhere in their subconscious, but perhaps many struggle to articulate that feeling into actual words.
You Have Constant Meetings To Get ‘Aligned’
Why do projects fail? It’s often not because of any one specific big catastrophe that happened, but rather as a process of death by a thousand cuts.
I love that expression, and it’s so true here. Projects fall apart more from annoying paper cuts, rather than a massive slash of the knife. It’s sad, it’s pathetic, but if you’ve ever worked an office job, you know it’s true.
How does this happen? Meetings.
Meetings. Meetings. Meetings.
Managers love to have meetings! There’s this constant need to always be ‘aligned’. Or maybe if you just made the requirements of the project clear from the beginning, I could just focus on getting my work done.
I saw this great comic once, and I wish I could find the souce, but it’s this heard of gazel that are racing in unison towards the business end of a cliff – and the caption says ‘I’m so happy we’re all aligned on this!’.
Game. Set. And Match.
And therein lies the problem: we spend all this time getting ‘aligned’, but nobody is paying attention to whether we’re actually getting aligned in the right direction or not.
And the best part is, after spending all that time getting aligned, none of the project work actually got done, so then you need to get aligned on why the project is behind schedule. And on and on and on it goes.
Business thrives on productivity, but it’s my belief that managers were secretly designed to sabotage productivity.
Honestly, how many managers have you worked with before who actually added to your teams productivity and getting sh*t done?
Not to brag here, but this is why I love being my own boss (okay honesty check – as of this current writing it is May 10, 2021 – and I officially have 4 days left at my agency – THEN I’ll be full time my own boss, instead of just part time – but I digress).
As my own boss I can actually get stuff done. It may not always be the best, most complete, most professional, but nobody can say shit about the sheer volume of work I produce 163,000 words in 38 days – the industry can bite me.
Remember 80% = Done.
Maybe if managers didn’t change their minds and the goal posts and the projects and the deadlines ALL THE F*CKING TIME – we could actually get our work done without needing to get aligned.
‘We need to get aligned’ is code for “I’m indecisive and keep changing my mind, so let’s have a meeting where I can waste both of our times and I can berate you for allowing us to go off course”.
Good leadership should be clear and concise – it should make sense, and it should not change unless there is a good reason for it that is well explained to everyone.
If the project is clear, you don’t need endless meetings to get aligned.
You Don’t Live By The 80/20 Principle
For those who haven’t read it, I highly recommend you check out Perry Marshall’s 80/20 Principle of Sales & Marketing (seriously, go read it now).
The core message of the book is that we waste a lot of time doing stuff that is irrelevant to our business, and not nearly enough time doing the stuff that actually matters.
If you look closely at your business, you’ll likely find this 80/20 relationship, where 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your efforts, 80% of your billable hours comes from 20% of your clients, and conversely, 20% of your clients cause 80% of your headaches.
The moral of your story is fire your 20% most difficult clients, so you can focus 80% more time on your best 20% of clients.
We all do this. We all get caught up in busy work. As I talked about above – the endless meetings to get aligned, count as part of that 80% of wasted time. Going on vacations with girlfriends, playing video games, watching random youtube videos, hanging out with friends, going on family vacations – these are all part of you 80% of time that is wasted.
The better you can identify the 20% of your efforts that drive the majority of your success and revenues (for me that would be time spent writing this blog – hey that was easy!), the more you need to start organizing your life around that 20%.
Famed Internet Marketer Mark Joyner has this great seminar where he talks about his concept called ‘Simple-ology’.
In a nut shell, it’s just about doing the simple things, and not overcomplicating it. But this is where the concept of 80/20 and Simple-olgy come together in a beautiful love dance: once you’ve identified your top, highest priority item – that one thing that will move the needle forward and build your business – it becomes the first thing you do every morning. That’s it. (Side note: people love complicated solutions to complicated problems, but often the truth lies in utter simplicity).
So I’ll use myself as an example here: my 20% that delivers 80% of my results is writing this blog. Now I get up at 530am everyday (weekends included), and the first thing I do each morning (after using the bathroom and grabbing a glass of water – apparently I’m still human after all), then I set a timer and I work until 8am. My goal? To write 3,000 words.
Once I’ve written my word, uploaded and published – I then can feel confident for the rest of the day that I’ve done my work.
These concepts are further elaborated by Brian Tracy in his book Eat That Frog, which talks about doing your most important and most challenging task first thing each morning, as well as The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield, which smashes you over the head with the importance of ‘doing your work each day’.
See how this works? It’s not that complicated. Pick that one task that you absolutely need to get done each day, and then just prioritize it as the first and only thing you’ll do each morning until it gets done.
You Have Clients That Make You Write S*it You Don’t Want To Write About
Now this is a bit of a tricky and controversial one. Almost by definition, if you have clients then you have to write about what they want to write about (I’m using blog writing and SEO as the example here).
If your client’s business is about colourful refrigerators, then you my friend, better start enjoying writing about colourful refrigerators.
However, if you hate writing about colourful refrigerators, then you better get the f*ck out of that business.
Here’s my point, if you’re going to work with clients, then it behooves you to work in an industry and niche that you actually enjoy, OR, alternatively, quit your job and start your own business where you can write about whatever you want to write about. See my point?
The reason many marketing firms go stale and stop growing, is because their clients have them writing and doing all sorts of stuff that they’re not actually interested in, or specialized in.
Let me ask you, have you ever tried to write about a topic you didn’t care about? How much fun was that? It’s worse than watching paint dry while banging yourself over the head with a 2×4.
Seriously, it is so painful and demoralizing writing about topics that you don’t care about. The end result? You write slowly, you put it off, you don’t put your heart and soul into it, and in the end, the result is just mediocre at best.
Either pick a new niche that excites you or start your own business, or preferably both. Your interest in your new topic will propel you forward in ways you never thought possible. Progress comes from being happy and excited. Stagnation comes from being bored and miserable.
Which are you going to pick?
You’re A Generalist
This is going to be a drum you keep hearing me beat over and over again. You need to stop being a generalist, and instead you need to start specializing your craft and working in a narrow and specific niche.
What’s wrong with being a generalist? Look at our story above about Matt. Matt was a generalist. “Matt’s Web Design Inc” – Matt sells websites to everyone, and as a result, he sells websites to no one.
See the problem with being a generalist is firstly, the vast majority of your competition are also generalists, meaning you have a massive amount of competition, making you a commodity and driving your prices down.
But the more insidious problem with being a generalist is that nobody respects you. Seriously, nobody respects you. Nobody talks about you, nobody refers you, and clients treat you like a mule to do their never ending and insatiable bidding, while constantly guilting you into ever lower prices.
It’s garbage. It is literal garbage being a generalist. HOWEVER, and this is important: most business owners are PROUD to be generalists. Most business owners want to scream to the world “we help everyone!”.
The problem is business owners have this completely warped sense of reality. They think that by being available to everyone, it will somehow help them to be more successful, and close more deals. Couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s a lot like dating. The more available you are, the less interest she has in dating you.
The more rare and special and exclusive and unavailable you become – suddenly the more exciting it is to date you. Funny how that works right?
See most entrepreneurs and business owners have it completely a**-backwards.
To share a little story, we had one client who was a business consultant. He worked with businesses to help them better run their businesses more efficiently.
As we were onboarding this client, we wanted to find out more specifically what kinds of businesses he worked with, hoping to find a specific niche or specific angle we could zero in on. But nope. He proudly and excited told us that he ‘worked with everyone’ and the he enjoyed ‘solving problems for a whole wide array of different industries and businesses’. Puke.
Are you surprised that his marketing campaign didn’t go very well? We ran a google ad campaign and we got a tiny bit of traction, but nothing really stuck.
And think about it – WHY WOULD IT? If you ran a business, would you be excited to hire a GENERIC business consultant?? NO! You want the expert in your specific industry.
You don’t want to waste your time explaining to an ‘expert’ how your business and industry works – they’re supposed to be the ones that solve your problems.
And herein lies the problem with the generalist – why would any business owner in their right mind want to work with you?
People want exclusive and specialized knowledge. And you being an available generalist, does not turn them on.
I have yet to see a generalist business thrive. I’ll let you know when I spot the unicorn at the end of the rainbow.
You Complain That Users Online Have Short Attention Spans Yet Also Demand Perfection From Every Piece Of Content
This is one of my favourites. I love when clients complain that users have short attention spans (they don’t by the way, or how else would you explain the explosive rise and success of Joe Rogan and 3 hour podcasts).
The number of times I’ve proposed a 3 minute video or an extended piece of ad copy and the client whines “but that’s too long! Nobody is going to read/watch all that! Their attention spans are too short!”.
But then, in the exact same breath, complain about irrelevant punctuation, grammar and whether the ‘t’ in ‘the’ should capitalized or not when use title case.
And they just seem to be blind to this irony – on one hand users are too impatient to pay any attention to you, yet at the same time, they are so incredibly attentive and observant that they notice every tiny little formating mistake on your post.
Get your head out of your a** you arrogant pr*ck. Nobody cares about you that much. In fact, nobody cares about your period. Period. End of story. Nobody cares about you.
Yet, you imagine that you are just some god-like figure that these mere mortal human bow down and worship. I hate to burst your bubble, but you are nothing to them. They’ve already scrolled through your feed and forgotten about you. You don’t even exist to them.
Now, to someone like me, that thought is liberating: it means I can do whatever I want and there’s nobody to call me out on it. That is what true freedom is.
But to most business owners, the thought is terrifying, because it shatters their little tiny fragile egos, that are designed to make them feel all special and important.
Yes people online have long attention spans (if what you’re offering is worth paying attention to), no they don’t care about your nit picky formatting issues.
Get over yourself, and more importantly, get to work.
You Don’t Have Full Control Over The Process
This is a tricky, but important one. It’s surprising to me how many businesses operate in spaces that they don’t have full control over. And I’m shocked that they don’t appreciate how terrifying that is with regard to their long term success in life.
The example I give is running a google ad campaign but having no control over the landing page.
I’ve shared this story before, but I’ll share it again: one of my first clients hired me to run their Google Ad Campaign. I was so excited that spent all weekend building the best possible Google Ad Campaign that I could. This thing was tight and well optimized.
I ws so excited to start running it. A week went by, and, crickets. Another, week, we had a few leads trickle in, but nothing substantial and nothing turning into real business.
I was starting to panic. My first big project! I needed this to succeed! I called up a few friends working in the digital marketing space, and both of them when the saw the landing page immediately said “yep – there’s your problem – this page is garbage and will never convert” (which was ironic as it was a web design firm).
Now, I had a problem – I had no control over their landing page. I didn’t have access to the backend of their website, and it wasn’t in my contract to advise on the landing page –
And here’s the problem: the landing page was completely out of my control, however it was completely ruining the effectiveness of my ad campaign, and no matter how hard I worked to make a great campaign, I would still be blamed and seen as a failure.
In effect, I was doomed to fail due to something that was completely out of my control.
And if you look carefully at your business under a microscope, you’ll probably find all sorts of areas that you’re working in where clients have certain expectations of you, however, you may not actually be able to deliver on.
Smart business owners take full control of their business environment. They are fanatical about it. The draw a big bold box around their business and around their projects and say “this is what we have complete control over, and anything outside of this, we do not touch. And if a client ever asks us to do something that requires something outside this box to function properly, we won’t do it. Nope.”
And to draw the parallel once more, that is me with this blog. The reason I decided to stop servicing clients and start working on this blog, was because I knew it was an ecosystem that I would have complete and utter control over.
See how this works? Engineer your business to have complete and utter control over every aspect and element.
The Forms On Your Website Are Stupid And Too Long
You know why I hate working for clients? You have to do what they ask, even if what they ask is f*cking stupid because ‘the client is always right’.
Before we go any further, let me refer you to Steve Krug and his book Don’t Make Me Think. Most business owners expect their users to think online, and it is completely destroying their businesses.
Let me start by talking about the forms on your website. Yes those little forms where you collect names and emails, possibly in exchange for an ebook or free consultation. Could also just be the Contact Us form on your website.
Virtually every website has some kind of form that requires users to enter their information in exchange for something.
And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with forms, forms are great. The problem is the questions that clients insist go on their forms.
Honestly, clients expect users to fill in their life’s story. And I hate to spoil the punchline: but they don’t.
If at all possible, your form should only contain one field: email.
Now there are some cases where perhaps a name and phone number are also acceptable to ask for, but even that is pushing it unless absolutely necessary.
But I’ve seen clients demand that users fill in their life’s story, what business problems they’re facing, where they graduated, what they’re looking to achieve, what year they entered the country, where their parents were born, job title, company name and the most offensive of all: making it difficult and complicated to fill out on a mobile phone.
Oh right – most clients have been asleep for the last 20 years and haven’t woken up to the fact yet that most users are actually on a mobile phone.
Why does it matter they’re on a mobile phone? Because you know exactly how annoying and frustrating it is trying to fill out complicated while you’re on a mobile phone.
You have to awkwardly pinch the screen, scroll around, type awkwardly into boxes. The whole thing is a nightmare.
Yet clients insist on having all this unnecessary garbage. I’d say clients are greedy, but it’s more just that they’re stupid. They’re literally shooting themselves in the foot by making it so complicated, and wasting most of their ad spend because users just instantly bounce. Nicely done.
Oh and another story for you. This same business consultant I mentioned earlier – when we broke the news to him that his landing page and form were not at all optimized to convert and were likely the reason why the campaign was seeing poor numbers, we offered him an easy solution:
We could turn off mobile traffic, and focus exclusively on computer traffic, while the mobile experience got improved (oh and it also had insanely slow page speed, so this page just hit the trifecta of garbage landing pages).
This was an easy and quick solution to implement – very easy for us to do, and the client would see immediate results, as we’d already validated that the site converted pretty well on computer.
But, the client wouldn’t have any of it. The client insisted that we keep mobile on as he was afraid he’d ‘lose out on potential opportunities’. So we kept mobile on and guess what? The campaign remained a disaster train wreck. Honestly, thousands of dollars spent on ad spend, and nothing more than a few nibbles returned.
Remember what I said above about not having complete control over the entire ecosystem? This is what I’m talking about.
We ran an campaign for our client, yet we had no control over the landing page, so our campaign was doomed to fail through no fault of our own, yet we are the ones who ultimately get blamed as we’re the ‘experts’ and we’re the ones who were hired to deliver a great campaign.
This is why I hate clients. They want things that don’t exist. They want solutions that aren’t possible. And they want you to jump through their ridiculous hoops in some sick power and mind games.
No thank you.
When Your Client Is A Lawyer And Need Every Word To Be Above Board
This one is obviously more specific, but you could replace ‘Lawyer’ with ‘Doctor’, ‘Engineer’, ‘Accountant’, or ‘A**hole’ and still more or less have the same effect.
It’s story time folks: we had one client who was a Lawyer, and we learned the hard way that the problem with working with Lawyer is that they need everything to be perfect (remember what I said up above about perfectionism? Lawyers have that on steroids.
Now, in fairness to the Lawyers, I get get it – when you’re writing about legal topics you need the information to be accurate. If you talk about a law or a legal proceeding in your blog, you better have the facts right, or not only do not look like you know what you’re doing (which to the conventional professional, is the ultimate sin), but could potentially get you in legal trouble if you put out incorrect information.
So my empathy for Lawyer’s plights aside, here was the problem: everytime an article was written, it would have to go through multiple rounds of revisions. Now, we worked in partnership with another marketing agency – they would do the blog writing, and we would provide the keyword research to further optimize the post for SEO.
Now normally when we do SEO, we like to just go in and do our magic. We work on a document behind the scenes, we sprinkle the important keywords and pizzazz, and we’re done.
But in this case, every word was under scrutiny. And there were multiple layers of review and approval.
Which meant a) we couldn’t just make changes on the fly, and more importantly b) every keyword we injected into the text was scrutinized and interrogated.
See one of the problems with writing for SEO (Search Engine Optimization), is that sometimes you need to inject in words that feel slightly awkward, or clunky or redundant, but that is just part of SEO. If you don’t include the important keywords in your titles and blog that Google needs to understand your post and rank you properly.
And so we would update posts to include important keywords, and then after the article would go through all the rounds of revisions, it would come back and those keywords would largely be removed – stating that the client didn’t like them.
We would then publish the post, and surprisingly (to no one), the post would not rank for those important keywords, the whole SEO program was found to be a complete dud, and then to add insult to injury, the client would then blame us for the poor performance.
See that’s the problem when you work with clients: It’s always your fault.
When you do the right thing to help them out, they tear it apart because they don’t understand it. And after they tear it apart and destroy the good work you did, then the blame you because you didn’t do your ‘job’.
That’s it folks. I’m out – screw you guys, I’m going home.
When You Spend 8 Hours Writing A Proposal For A Project That Is Only Worth 8 Hours
I wish I could say this is a joke, but I’m being dead serious here. This is a reflection of how insanely we would undervalue ourselves and underprice our agency, and also how perfectionism got the better of us (starting to see the trend here).
There were several proposals we wrote (I wish I could say it was just one), where we literally spent as much time writing the proposal (if not more), than the proposal was actually worth.
On more than one occasion we spent 8 hours developing and refining a proposal, that was only worth about 8 hours of actual billable hours. That’s insane.
That means effectively we did 16 hours of work, to be paid for 8 billable hours, which means we’ve literally cut our billable rate in half.
Add on top of that the fact that often projects would go over hours (which we ate), frequently as much as 2-3x. So that 8 hours that we were able to bill to the client, actually looked like the following:
- 8 hours to write proposal + have calls & meetings with prospect to discuss
- 8 hours billable time
- 16 hours of additional unpaid overtime.
So we’d work 24 hours to be paid for 8 hours of work. And if that wasn’t bad enough, to add insult to injury, the client would still usually complain that the work we did was not adequate enough or comprehensive enough, and they were angry that we cut a few corners.
At this point the agency is barely earning more than minimum wage, and on top of that, still needs to pay out for expenses and employee salaries.
Does this sound like a sustainable business??? No this business is headed straight to the trash heap.
I understand and appreciate the concept of a loss-leader – this is where you intentionally lose money up front to get work with a new client that you know in the long term will turn into a fruitful and profitable relationship (ie they have money and there is serious room to grow the account).
However the loss-leader approach requires a strategic analysis and intentional decisions being made. If you’re just throwing yourself will-nilly at any opportunity that comes your way and happily burning your budgets and losing money – you’ve got a road in front of you that is going straight down to hell.
Enjoy the ride.
Proposal writing needs to be systematised. As in you’ve pre-prepared some standard documents that explain how you do x, y, z processes for a, b, c costs. Now understanding that some customization necessary, have a few sections or areas where you can customize to the client (small touches like adding their logo to the document go along way to making them feel like you have a partnership, and they’re not just a number to you).
But in effect, the proposal template should already be prepared ahead of time, and all you need to do is populate in with a few specifics. Even for a $50,000 job, this shouldn’t take more than an hour or two.
Remember, you don’t get paid for all the time you spend preparing proposals – so any time you spend here is time down the tube – unless you can justify that your time spent will further enhance your relationship and you’ll make the time back on the back-end.
Just please: stop doing EVERYTHING custom for each client. If you customize every little detail you do, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot and run out of money faster than you can say ‘bankruptcy lawyer’.
When You Submit A Proposal And The Client Comes Back And Recommends You ‘Sharpen Your Pencils’
This one really grinds my gears, and is related to the earlier point of spending more time on proposals than the project is actually worth.
So this has happened a few times where we put together a killer proposal (or at least, half decent), we show it to the client, they ‘hum and haw’ and eventually come back and say something to the effect of:
“You know, we really like what you’re proposing here, but we’re not sure it’s quite in our price range. What are you able to do for us?”
Puke. Go crawl in a hole and die. As if it wasn’t bad enough that we’d already wasted that much time putting together a detailed proposal for you, now you’re asking us to invest even more time revising it, with the end result that we get even less money.
Remember what I said about the problems of being a generalist? Yeah – this is it.
So we dutifully agree, and go and we ‘sharpen our pencils’, and find ways to slash away any chance at profit from our campaign.
I’ll give one specific example to really drive this point home. Typically, when we run a new marketing campaign, we mandate that we manage it for at least 3 months (6 months is more ideal), so that we can optimize and improve it. Even the best of us rarely get it right the first time.
However, this client was not interested in us managing the campaign for 3 months, he insisted that he would only pay us for the first month, and we once again dutifully obliged.
We slashed our budget, removed hours from the project, and structured it so the client was only paying for the first month of setup.
Not surprisingly, the campaign went south as we had no ongoing budget to continue managing the campaign. The client was furious that the campaign was such a failure – despite us making it clear up front that we needed 3 months to fully optimize the campaign.
And herein lies the sick truth of working with clients: it is never, ever good enough, and it is always your fault. Clients will shoot themselves in the foot by slashing precious hours and dollars from your proposal, destroying their own campaign, and then blame you when things go awry.
But you know what? It’s not the client’s fault. It’s the marketing agencies fault for allowing that kind of treatment in the first place. If the agency is so desperate for business that they bend over and say ‘give it to me daddy’, then they get what they f*cking deserve.
It all starts with having dignity and respect for yourself (and diversified income streams that mean you’re not reliant on any one client).
Final punchline: Despite all our efforts to slash budget from the proposal, the client kept complaining and causing a fuss during the campaign, requiring more management, more meetings and demanding more ‘strategy’. Side note: the project never budgeted for any strategy (or reporting), yet the client was adamant we do a detailed strategy analysis.
The final result: we went 5.4x over budgets.
Yes from the 13.3 hours we budgeted (which is pathetically low by the way), we ended up spending 72.5 hours running the campaigns, managing problems, and kissing the clients a** through every step of the way.
If I include the time we spent writing the proposal (probably close to 8 hours) – we did 80 hours of work, to get paid for 13.3 hours – do you see how pathetic that is? Do you see why this business deserves to fail?
When You Submit A $10k Proposal And Your Business Referral Partner Say “Oh Yeah, And I Need A 15% Margin On That”, And Instead Of Raising Your Price 15%, You Gut Your Profit And Give It To Your Business “Partner”. Also – The Sneaky Fucker Didn’t Even Mention The 15% Until You Were Months Into The Proposal. “Oh Yeah We Also Need To Think About My Cut…”
This one was physically painful to experience. We’d been working for weeks putting together a client proposal (notice the trend…). We’d been sharpening our pencils (again notice the trend…), and we’d been doing everything we could to put together a well-thought out and comprehensive proposal.
After we finished cutting as much fat as we could (we wanted to win the project pretty bad), we submitted the project to our referral partner (side note: we had a referral partner who was good at connecting us to a wide range of opportunities, hence our excitement to win the project).
After reviewing the proposal for a few days, our referral partner came back to us and said “this all looks good, but I need you to add a 15% margin for my referral fee – will that be included or extra on top?”.
Our CEO responded and said “we’ll include your referral fee as part of our pricing”.
I was shocked. We just gave away our entire profit. To make this clear, let’s say for example that the proposal was $10k. We were happy with all the services we were offering for that $10k. Now if our referral partner at wanted a 15% cut, we could have added 15% on top, to make our total $11.5k. However, our CEO included the 15%, meaning we were doing the exact same work we’d proposed, except now instead of getting the $10k, we were only getting $8.5k.
Remember what I said before about sharpening our pencils until there was literally nothing left? Yeah, exactly.
I was devastated. And I have to be honest, this was one of those moments that sealed my fate with the agency. That was one of the moments when I realised that my time with the agency was limited, and that I needed to find other opportunities in my life.
So why did it affect me so bad?
To me, it felt like our CEO sold us out. It felt like he wasn’t standing up for us, and what we could achieve, and what we were worth. It felt like he threw us to the dogs.
And it was at that moment, I knew he was no longer my leader. It was at that moment that I decided he no longer had the authority to lead me. It was at that moment, that I knew I was out.
I didn’t quit on the spot, but it was then that I knew I would be quitting in the very near future.
A good leader, is meant to lead. A good leader is meant to fight and defend his tribe. A good leader, fights for his tribe. And in that moment, our leader let us down.
We submitted the proposal, and to be honest, I’m not even sure whether we ever heard back or not, I was so mentally checked out at that point. But at the same time, I also really don’t care. I wish them all the best.
Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: You Feel A Pang Of Fear Everytime You See A Message From Your Manager
Email, Slack, Teams, SMS, Facebook Messenger – we live in a highly connected world. And if you’ve ever worked a job, you’ve probably had a boss that loves to contact you on any and every platform.
Now, you know that you’ve got trouble brewing in your business when everytime you see a message from your manager, you feel this dep pang of fear run through your system.
You think “oh sh*t! What did I forget this time? Did I hit that deadline? Did I send that email? Did I do that thing she asked me to do? Oh damn, what was that other thing she asked me to do?”
Cortisol spikes, adrenaline starts pumping, fight or flight kicks in. Why? It shouldn’t have to be that way.
But unfortunately it is when you have a micromanaging boss. When you have someone who’s constantly on your case about what you need to do, or what you should be doing, or demanding a status update, or a reconciliation of everything you’ve been up to that week.
And then, you provide a detailed status update of all the projects you’re currently working on to appease her, but it’s not good enough, she wanted even more level detail. She wanted to know exactly what specific tasks you’re working on, what your thought process is AND what upcoming tasks and deadlines you see on the horizon.
More. More. More. So you spend 30 minutes writing this stupid status update, wasting your time that you could have used to actually get that project done. Then, that projects starts falling behind and missing deadlines, and now she wants another detailed status report of why exactly you’re ‘slipping’ and ‘missing all these deadlines’.
You want to shout back “I’m falling behind because you keep interrupting me and demanding I write an essay for a 30 second status update”.
But you bite your tongue. You need to keep things professional, remember? She is your boss and your superior, remember?
So you put on a fake smile, and you get on with it. All the while slowly dying inside.
Now before you get the wrong idea, I need to make it clear: I am not lazy.
I’m not whining and complaining because I had a ‘mean’ manager who told me to do stuff.
I’m angry because hard work and productivity was getting shattered by her incessant demands, and ever changing requirements.
From day to day and hour to hour, what was being asked and expected of me was constantly in flux. I couldn’t get my feet on the ground. Every time I thought I knew what was needed, the earth would shift below me and suddenly I discovered I was standing on a trap door.
I fell down many trap doors. And that sums up this feeling pretty well: I was terrified every time I received a message from my manager, because it always felt like I was walking into a trap.
I don’t think I can say it better than that: I felt like I was walking into a trap.
Everything I said and did was wrong, and everything I said or did would at some point be used against me.
If I told her that I would deliver a project by a certain deadline, and then she told me that another project was a higher priority, and I ended up missing that initial deadline, she would spit it back in my face and say ‘but you gave me your word’.
Are you kidding me?
To have a successful long term relationship, you need to look up to and respect your manager. Some amount of fear is okay if they’re helping you grow in meaningful ways. But feeling straight up terrified every time you see a message from her. Feeling the acid boiling up in your stomach, feeling the knots twisting inside of you, feeling like ‘I’m not safe here’ – is not a recipe for long term success.
It is a recipe for a mutiny. And I jumped ship.
Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: Your Org Is Top Heavy – You’ve Got 7 Sr Level Managers/Admin, And Only 5 People To “Do” The Work – Too Much High Level Creative Thinking And Not Enough Ability To Deliver
This is something I wasn’t expecting. When I started at the agency, it was pretty small – there were basically 7 of us. A CEO, an admin, an IT specialist, a developer, a designer a creative director, and me, the new marketing specialist.
A pretty decent mix, and well spread out mix of disciplines.
However, in time the organization started growing, and started growing pretty substantially.
Suddenly there was a manager, and a general manager, and an account manager and an accountant, and grow and grow and grow we went!
But, we weren’t hiring junior, in the trenches kind of people. We eventually hired one, right around the time I was leaving, so I guess they had a replacement. But I remember distinctly looking around in my final weeks in the office and seeing all these senior staff and thinking to myself: I need to get the hell out of here, this house of cards is about to come tumbling down.
Why did I know it was about to tumble? Because think about it, holding up a whole set of senior staff, with few resources to actually deliver on your projects is going to become a problem real quick.
Front-line junior staff are the ones who actually do the work. They’re the ones in the trenches, doing the studies, preparing the marketing campaigns, setting them up, achieving results and reporting to the clients. Junior staff are the ones who get stuff done. And you take a slice of their billable rate to pay your (overhead) senior staff.
Senior staff rarely bill directly to clients – senior staff do things like write company policy, and decide who’s going on vacation, and how to handle company payroll.
In effect: senior staff help the business to run, but they don’t bring in the revenue (the lifeblood) that actually keeps it ticking along. So a company of primarily senior staff won’t last very long. You’ve got a lot of big mouths to feed, and little ability to actually feed them.
As soon as I saw the organization was becoming unsustainably top-heavy, I knew I had to get out ASAP. Which ironically, only made it more top heavy…whoopsie!
Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: Employee “Did You See That Email, You Were Copied On It?”, Manager “You Need To Own Your Projects, I Can’t Manage Everything For You, Employee 2 “So Here Are The Things I Recommend…..”, Manager “Yeah I Already Saw That In Your Email, Don’t Just Repeat Things To Me”..
I had a manager once who made my life living hell. And I’m trying to be polite. It wasn’t that she was mean per se, but it was that she always flip-flopped, and no matter what you did it was always wrong.
I remember this one fantastic interaction with me, another co-worker and our manager. My co-worker asked my manager whether she had seen an email that he’d sent out earlier that she was copied on.
A rather innocent and innocuous question. But she flared up and retorted back “you know, I can’t have my eyes on everything, you need to own your projects, I can’t manage everything for you, do you have any idea how many emails I get? You need to manage your own projects”. Blah blah blah.
So then after it was my turn to speak and I’d also recently sent her an email, and I started by talking about the recommendations I’d made in the email. I was barely a sentence in when she stopped me flatly and said “yeah I know, I already read your email, I don’t need you to just repeat things to me”.
Well which one is it?? Do you read every email and you know exactly what is going on, or do you read no emails and have no idea what is going on?
And this was my frustration – no matter what you were wrong. The standards of truth and accuracy, and consistency were thrown right out the freaking window. Everything was always wrong. And before long, you just felt like you were always walking on eggshells, afraid that anything you said might send her off on some insufferable tirade.
Starting to understand why I had to quit?
And this kind of problem would happen over and over again. When ever I would as a question or clarification my manager would snap “weren’t you paying attention?”. But if I didn’t ask for clarification and something went wrong she would lose it and say “why didn’t you come to me and ask about this? We could have answered this days ago”. I felt paralyzed. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Everything you do is wrong. Everything you do is being judged under a microscope and getting spit back at you.
That is no way to build trust. That is no way to build relationships. That is no way to grow a team.
Teams must look up to and respect their leader. If team members cower in fear from their manager, they don’t have a leader, they have a tyrant.
And I’ll say it: my manager was an authoritarian tyrant – who’s ego was so fragile, that she always needed to be right, she always needed to maintain the image of power and control, and she always needed to tell others they were wrong to sweep the stability from under their feet, and knock ‘em to the ground.
In the end, I decided it was not my job to fix her or teach her how to be a proper leader, so I left. Good luck without me. In the words of Blink-182: “you’ll be sorry when I’m gone”.
Signs your business is going to fail: if you yell at me for not performing well enough, I’m going to hide the truth and shower you with lies
This applies to both managers and clients. But if you’re constantly nagging me about how a marketing campaign isn’t performing as well as you’d like it to, but you also haven’t provided me with enough budget to do a proper job, then I’m going to cut corners and I’m going to shower you with lies.
There’s a term in marketing called ‘positive reporting’. This is when you paint an overly optimistic picture of what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished, and to be honest, positive reporting is a big part of the reason that business owners don’t really trust marketers.
The problem with positive reporting, is that you’re overly highlighting all the things that went well, while hiding all the things that went crap. An example would be something like:
You report to a client they got 10 Million ‘brand impressions’, that they massively grew their ‘brand awareness’, and started moving users towards the ‘consideration’ phase. Yay!!
10 Million brand impressions – sounds exciting right?
Okay – but you left out the fact you made zero sales, and the client’s $10k investment has not resulted in ANY revenue back to the business.
But that’s okay too! If the client makes a fuss you can pipe up and say “yeah but this is a longer term investment that will take months of management to truly crack”.
Which is code for: “we have no idea what the hell we’re doing, and we truly hope that you don’t see through our web of lies. We need you to keep paying your bills to fund our lifestyle, while we keep dancing around and avoiding this issue”.
But, if my manager starts giving me sh*t, or if my client starts giving me sh*t about how we’re not ‘performing well’ – cool – now you’ve pissed me off and I’m going to shower you lies. I’m going to tell you all the nice things you want to hear to get you off my back.
And by the way – can you please get the hell off my back?
Signs your business is going to fail: Your manager and CEO are okay that clients contact you directly with incessant questions and requests. Often stuff that is not in scope, or stuff that you’d need to spend hours preparing, and messing up your whole project workflow and deliverable schedule.
This one drives me insane. And as the ‘employee’ it’s easy to feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, you’ve got your manager screaming in your ear about how we need more ‘cohesion, and work together as a team, and have a clear plan and be in ‘alignment’’, and on the other hand you’ve got a client calling you directly asking you for requests (some in scope, some definitely not in scope.
So you end up getting lost in this endless telephone tag. Because as only the ‘junior’ marketer, you don’t really have the power to make decisions (and if you do, you know you’ll be scolded for taking initiative), so you need your manager’s buy in. So you tell your manager what the client asked for, and your manager snorts and says ‘how dare they ask that! We can’t do that for them!’.
So then you sheepishly go back to the client and inform them that you can’t deliver on their ridiculous request. To which the client then asks what ‘you can do for them’. So you go back to your manager. And your manager very helpfully says ‘I don’t know! I don’t have time for this! You come up with some ideas, that’s what we’re paying you for anyway!’.
So you brainstorm some ideas, present them to your manager, to which they demand you put together a ‘more detailed plan and proposal’. So you waste more time getting that together. Present it, get your managers approval, go back to the client and they say ‘yeah, but can you sharpen your pencils a bit?’. So you sharpen your pencils, go back to your manager, get approved, go back to the client and for whatever reason they’re still not happy, and on and on and on and on it goes.
You know what would have made this real simple? If the manager had communicated directly with the client, come up with a plan, asked me to do it, and then I just execute.
Instead I’m caught chasing my tail and wasting my time in this endless game of broken telephone, trying to be the messenger without getting shot to your manager and your client.
Stuck in between those two pillars of authority, while you pathetically try to keep your sanity and self-esteem at something close to resembling a functional level.
Like what the hell is wrong with you people? If I’m the ‘doer’ then I’ll happily ‘do’, but if you’re the ‘manager’ then I expect you to do your job and ‘manage’.
Now I’ve just wasted an entire day playing this sick game of telephone tag – falling behind on my important deliverables, which means we’ll be getting ‘in alignment’ soon on why these projects have been slipping ‘again’.
Signs your business is going to fail: You do positive reporting
Continue from a few points above – the bain of my existence: Positive Reporting.
Now, maybe it’s just because I’m an engineer, and I learned things in school, like you know, science. But I learned a thing or two about how to write and structure reports.
Now, I’m not saying that your business report needs to read like an academic journal (please for the love of god at least make your reports fun), but they should follow a certain level of scientific method, with you know, math and statistics.
Now, the problem with marketers is, they’re not exactly well educated. They like shiny and flashy things, and they learned some nice buzzwords in school like ‘rocket to success’ and ‘brand positioning’, but they never exactly learned anything like math or, ethics.
The result? Most marketing reports are filled with questionable results and statistics at best, and outright lies at worst.
I’m not saying it’s necessarily intentional, but most marketers don’t actually understand how numbers work, so when they say that things are ‘up 87%!’ and are all up in your face and excited, there’s a pretty high chance they’re either full of shit or don’t know what they’re talking about, but usually both.
I’ll give you one example: one time my manager was editing one of my reports, and she had well-intentionally flipped one of my numbers around. So for example, if I was saying that the number of leads we had generated had increased 460%, she had flipped that around to say that the cost per lead had decreased 460%.
Which on the surface seems fair, if you increase your leads by 460%, assuming you’re spending the exact same dollars, then your cost per lead decreased by 460% right?
I sat there looking at the numbers, confused and slightly bemused. And then it hit me: imagine you walked into a store and they said the prices were slashed by 50% – pretty cool right? A $100 item is now $50 – nice! So…if they said the price was slashed 100%, that $100 item is now…free, right? Because it’s 100% off. So if it was 460% off… wait, now I’m being paid to take it?
Newsflash to my manager: You can’t drop a price by more than 100% without going negative.
Now I’m not trying to be hard on her – she admitted several times quite enthusiastically that she was bad at math. Power to you sister.
But it’s this kind of sh*t that I’m talking about. Marketers throw all sorts of numbers and statistics all around, but they have no idea what any of them really mean – so what happens?
They all end up doing positive reporting.
What is positive reporting?
Positive reporting is when you tell your clients all sorts of positive numbers that are designed to make them feel good and to get them to think that you actually know what you’re talking about, in the hopes that you can blow enough smoke up their as*es that they stick around another month so you can leech them dry and attempt again next month to keep them around another month.
So why is positive reporting dumb? Because it will always eventually come back around to bite you in the a**.
Think about it, if you keep telling your client how wonderful and amazing you are, and how much you’ve been able to help them, and how many ‘brand impressions’ you helped them to achieve – eventually they’re going to get confused when sales and revenue don’t catch up.
My manager had this great saying ‘well they can’t expect us to be responsible for getting them sales’.
What a wonderful expression, it really puts a glowing smile on my face.
So while you’re pitching a client on why they should hire us, you tell them all these stories and fill their heads with dreams of how much we’ll be able to help grow their business (fun fact: growing a business means making sales, it doesn’t mean spreading ‘brand awareness’).
Great, so now the client is thinking we’re going to help them grow their business, and then you run the ol’ bait and switch and say ‘well actually! We can’t get you sales – but we sure can grow your awareness!’.
Eventually the client realises that you’re full of complete dog sh*t and leaves you high and dry.
In a world where most marketers are these hype-y, fake, positive reporters, you actually being honest and straightforward can be a breath of fresh air.
I’ll always take the brutal honesty route, take ownership of any of my shortcomings, and then lay out a clear plan of attack of how I’m going to help them get to that next level.
It’s not always pretty, but client’s do respect honesty – and you’ll only be able to build a long term relationship built on a solid foundation of trust, if you’re willing to be honest up front.
The choice is yours. But if your business is getting lost in the hamster wheel of positive reporting get out before that house of cards comes crumbling down.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you’re discussing buying an important software (heat mapping) that is $99/mo and your general manager says “yikes…that seems expensive, do we need it?”
This one made me lose so much respect for the business. Now remember: managers manage. If you hire a manager, they’re going to manage. They’re not going to see opportunities, they’re only going to see costs.
We had a general manager who’d been looking for ways to cut costs and save the company money. Nothing wrong with that, I believe cutting unnecessary expenses is an extremely worthwhile and fruitful activity, I do it all the time.
In fact, recently I even cut my $10/mo Spotify subscription and $15/mo Audible subscription, simply because I’d decided I’d needed to pinch every penny that I possible could. Cool.
However, I’m also a strong believer in investing in tools and assets that appreciate in value. If you use a special software for your business, that delivers amazing results that your clients love, and potentially you can even showcase in your proposals to earn new business, that my friends, is called an investment.
If you invest money, and it helps you to make more money, it is no longer an expense, it is now an investment.
This is why despite cutting Spotify and Audible, I do invest money into my own ad campaigns, and specific softwares that my clients love. If it helps me run my business or grow my business, then it is fair game.
Long story short – we were investigating a very powerful heat mapping tool, which for those that don’t know, allows you to track what your users are up to (in an anonymized and not creepy way).
Our manager asked how much it cost and when I told her it was $99/mo she was shocked and said ‘yikes! That’s very expensive! I’ll need a strong business case of why we need it’.
First of all – we work at a 12 person marketing agency, $99/mo is a drop in the proverbial ocean. That’s $3/day. Employee wages are probably in excess of $2k per day, and add on top of that all the operating expenses of running the business.
$3/day is literally nothing.
But more importantly than that – the manager saw this strictly as an expense. She was looking at it from an accountant and managers eyes – not from an opportunist’s eyes.
And that’s my point: when your business only sees expenses, and fails to recognize value and investment, your whole business is headed straight for the sh*ter.
Oh and there’s a ps to this story: after getting it all setup and running, our client started raving about how much they loved the software. They loved that they could see recordings of what exactly their users were up to on their sites. Game. Set. And Match.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager repeatedly shouts “I’m too busy with my own projects to manage yours”
Aren’t managers the best? Managers are there to help you manager shit – I mean, that is literally all they’re there to do.
So if you go to your manager with a question or concern, or you’re looking for some help to get something done – their job is to help you – or else why the hell are they there?
There were times I’d go to my manager to get help or get some clarification – and she’d flipantly respond saying “I’m TOO busy with my own projects to manage yours”.
Newsflash – you’re the fu*king manager – it is your job to manage this shit. And if you’re too busy – then learn how to manage your time better.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you suck at putting out proposals. They take weeks to put together, require endless revisions, and still suck dick when you submit them
I touched on this before, but there’s more to the story. We literally turned into a proposal factory. And I don’t mean that in the sense of like ‘we turned into a proposal machine’ where we got good at it or anything like that.
No. Rather we just got into this endless hamster wheel of writing proposal and after proposal after proposal. Each one more complicated and unnecessarily detailed than the last.
We would go through endless iterations of writing proposals, revising, editing, having more meetings. Over and over and over again.
And to add insult to injury, every proposal we wrote was complete and utter garbage. We never got very good at it. And often, if even against our best efforts we actually won the project, there would often be major misunderstandings or confusion in the proposal and delivery of the work – where the client expected one thing and we thought something else – which of course simply resulted in us doing massive amounts of unpaid overtime and extra work.
And here’s the point I’m trying to make: we wasted more time writing proposals, than the proposals were actually worth.
We would spend 10 hours writing a proposal that would only be worth 5 hours of billable time. Are you kidding me?
What we needed was a template. A simple sheet with the services we offer, our hourly rate and some level of basic customization to make it unique for each client – that’s it.
But instead we would literally reinvent the wheel on every single proposal we would write. And that might be cool if we were actually getting good at writing them. Except we weren’t.
No matter how many times we tried, and how many meetings we had, and how many brainstorming sessions, and levels of review – no matter what, our proposals would still turn out like garbage.
Why were they garbage?
- We spent more hours writing them then they were actually worth
- They were unclear – it wasn’t exactly obvious what the client was actually getting for their money
- They were ambiguous – there were too many opportunities for interpretation which client’s happily exploited
- They didn’t include all essential elements – no joke, we wrote proposals where we forgot to include basic things like time for reporting, and when the client said ‘so where’s my report’, we ate the costs and produced a report.
- They were unnecessarily long and complicated – seriously just get to the point of what the client is actually getting
- They were grossly underpriced – we would write proposals for projects that were $500/mo. For reference, at our agency rate of $150/hr, that’s like 3 and half hours work each month – less than 1 hour per week.
- They didn’t articulate clear results to the client – probably because we didn’t have an clear results to articulate
- Not enough photos – this is more of a side rant, but a photo is worth a thousand words – show don’t tell
- They took weeks to prepare. Honestly we lost jobs simply because it would take us 3 or 4 weeks to actually get our act together and get that proposal together.
- They reeked of committee decisions. You know when committees try to decide on stuff – but it just turns to this watered down, meaningless, impotent garbage? Yeah, that was our proposals.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager changes her mind every 30 seconds, and you’re wrong not matter what you do.
Rip my hair out. Honestly, if I start balding early, or develop a nervous twitch it’s from the frustration of having a manger who changes her mind every 30 seconds.
Now, I’m not afraid of rolling up my sleeves and doing some hard work. In fact I love it. But what I need is a certain level of certainty, predictability and dependability. Meaning, I need to know exactly what is expected of me: what the deadlines are, what the priorities are, what the expectations of quality are, and how you’d like the information to be communicated to you.
Sounds simple right? Nope. If you have a manager who changes her mind every 30 seconds, like a leaf caught by a gusting wind, then your business is going to fail.
Suddenly you’ve lost your firm foundation, you’ve lost your footing, and you’re scrambling, scrambling to get your balance back. And from there, the whole house of cards starts falling. Tumbling.
I had a manager who would tell me what to work on as a highest priority, then get mad at me when another lower priority project hadn’t gotten done, or saying she wanted one style or report and then wanting a different one, or saying that she wanted updates in Slack, then wanting updates in an email, or saying she wanted a quick report, and then complain when it wasn’t detailed enough.
It was an endless onslaught of changes and differing opinions. All over the place. Up and down, up and down. Felt kind of manic depressive. Felt kind of bipolar. Felt kinda like I had no idea what to expect one day to the next.
Besides being insanely frustration, it was also destructive to productivity, as it would mean that I was constantly going down roads just to find they were not only dead-ends, but contained a 12 car pile-up.
Good leadership needs to be firm and dependable – something that you know how to deliver on.
If your managers are changing their minds every 30 seconds, your business is going to fail.
Signs Your Business Is Going To Fail: When The Most Productive Thing Your Manager Does Is Cancel Your Weekly ‘productivity Training’ Session.
This would be comical if it wasn’t so sad. Our CEO very excitedly hired a new general manager, and our CEO raved about how amazing she was, and about all the big companies she’d worked for and all the big money she’d been paid to speak at all these big events.
We were pumped, we must be getting the Tony Robbins of marketing management! But not quite.
One of her first orders of business was to set up ‘Productivity Training Sessions’ (one of her next orders of business was ‘Meaningless Mondays’…).
The productivity training sessions were these weekly lunch & learns (see, we were already achieving great productivity by sacrificing our freedom and lunch hour for this unpaid training session), where the whole team would gather and learn the ancient and mystical secrets of enhanced productivity.
And what secrets dare you ask did we learn? We learned the mighty secrets of keeping a clean email inbox, of clear communication, personality types, and of course, the importance of mental health.
The one about mental health was my favourite, because right after telling us about how important mental health was, and how we should get out for walks and meditate and junk, she would then overload us with more work than was humanly possible, and wasn’t very empathetic when we told her we were struggling with the workload. Love that caring and understanding for mental health.
But I digress. These weekly productivity sessions were tripe at best, and outright insulting at worst.
But my favourite moment came when our manager cancelled our productivity sessions two weeks in a row. And suddenly it hit me: cancelling those productivity sessions was the most productivity thing our manager had actually done for the team, because suddenly I was free to get my actual work done, and not waste my time being lectured to by a moron.
When you tell your manager that you’re struggling with your workload, so your manager assigns your tasks to herself and others, which then overloads their workload, and the tasks just come right back to you, except now you’re a week closer to the deadline.
Honestly, what a circus. We developed this internal system of ‘supporting each other’, where if we were struggling with our workload we could flag it to our manager. The main intent was to avoid management needing to pay time and a half for overtime of course, but it’s nice to know they pretended to care.
So there were a few times when the workload was really starting to pile up, and naively I’d reach out to my senior manager. She hum and haw and say great things like ‘we need to find a solution!’. And her solution was to get my immediate manager to discuss my upcoming projects and priorities.
This conversation then just turned into her assigning my tasks to herself and other members of the team – ‘thanks so much!’ I’d exclaim.
Then a few days or a week would go by – and I’d follow up on the progress of those tasks (they were still my responsibility of course…) – and low and behold – nobody had gotten them done because they’d all been too busy.
So, invariably the tasks would just get assigned back to me, and we’d go round and round in these depressing cycles.
Ultimately, all those tasks which I didn’t have time to complete originally, would eventually get assigned right back to me, and now we’d just be that much closer to the deadlines. And oh yeah, I wouldn’t be entitled to any overtime because ‘we’d worked out a solution’.
Yeah, you’re welcome you ungrateful f*cks.
When your new general manager starts a quarterly sprint to close new sales and watch other key metrics, then just silently cancels the program next quarter without really explanation.
Again: changing the goal posts, and randomly changing the expectations.
So I have to admit, this was one of the few actually good ideas our general manager had. When she started she created these quarterly sprints. And the goal was that each quarter we’d have certain metrics we’d be measured against such as sales, billable hours and some other accounting junk.
The part I was most interested in was sales. That’s a pretty cool metric – it show’s how much we’re actually growing the business and being ‘movers and shakers’.
The other good thing, was that each Monday the whole company would gather together, and it was a time to catch up, see what was going on inside the business, and what other people were up to. In effect: bonding.
Side note: For anyone reading this in the future, it’s important to note that at this point COVID was in full effect, and we we’re all under strict lockdown, working from home, so having a little virtual time to connect was better than nothing (and this coming from a guy who absolutely hates meetings).
And while this whole quarterly sprint program wasn’t perfect, it had a lot of great aspects to it.
One of which was, that when we successfully completed our sprint, we were all awarded a lieu day – yay! One day off as a reward for the multiple weeks of unpaid overtime!
But then, we finished our sprint, and suddenly, the whole program vanished into thin air. Literally, was never mentioned or spoken about again, and we completely shifted how we did our weekly meetings. In fact our weekly meetings jumped around more often that I could count (remember what I said above about managers changing their minds every 30 seconds…).
Seriously, our weekly meeting would be Monday, then move to Thursday, then we’d have no team meeting, then the meeting would get put back on a Monday, then ‘Meetingless Mondays’ was introduced and we scrapped our Monday meeting, then the team meeting got moved to Wednesday. And sometimes it would be the whole company, and sometimes it would just but our team. On and on and on and on it went!
I’m all for experimentation and trying new things – but there was literally no stability! Everything was always changing and moving. And with that, any understanding of expectations also went out the window. And with a loss of expectations, also brought about a loss of ownership, a loss of caring and eventually a loss of wanting anything to do with the whole organization.
Seriously, if an organization can’t even decide when the f*ck it holds regular team meetings, then how the f*ck can they decide on actual important issues? (Oh wait, they couldn’t…).
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager actively skewers her “subordinates” in front of the rest of the team – shouting at them, making them look bad, exposing what a bad job they’ve done, sticking the knife right into those vulnerabilities and not helping them save face – enjoy the decline, everyone will leave you soon! Nobody wants to stick around working for a boss who doesn’t respect them, and they can’t respect back.
This goes beyond bad management 101 and moves into the realm of abuse, trauma, distrust and vengefulness.
Honestly, if your goal is to disintegrate a team as quickly as you can – this strategy is for you.
Effectively, I had a manager that would actively skewer her subordinates during team meetings. We would have ‘team’ meetings where we would all get together to present our findings and report on what we were up to.
But if we asked questions for clarification like “hey, what do you all think of changing this?” or “I’m not quite sure what you said, can you please clarify?”, she would immediately shoot back and tear the questionnaire apart.
“We talked about that last time – weren’t you listening?”, or “I don’t have time to manager your projects, you need to handle this”, or “we’ve talked about this before, I don’t understand why this is still in isse for you, for what reason do you still not understand?”, or “it’s not my job to answer your questions, you need to come to the meeting prepared”.
And not only were her answers outright retaliatory and not helpful in terms of getting the issues resolved and actually moving things forward – she would sit there and just look at you like you were some sort of scum of the earth until you backed off and sheepishly said something like “sure, I’ll look into this and get back to you with a better answer”.
But here’s what she was blind to in her power hungry rage: she was winning the battles, but getting absolutely destroyed in the war.
The more she made everyone look bad and feel like sh*t, the less anyone wanted to take initiative and participate. The less anyone took initiative, the more she felt like she was herding cats, and the cycle spiraled downward.
As things spiraled downward, projects slipped, deadlines were missed, projects fell apart – no one on her team had any excitement or enthusiasm left to deliver great work.
And that’s what she didn’t understand – she thought that by ‘being tough’ she was getting respect and getting stuff done.
But instead, everyone just lost respect for her and saw her as bossy – team morale plummeted. She’d made us all look bad in front of the entire team – she’d given us no opportunity to save face, and because she’d made us look bad, we all consciously or unconsciously wanted to make her look bad.
And that is straight up a recipe for disaster.
Note to managers: Do not make your employees look bad in front of other employees – always give them the benefit of the doubt, and allow them to save face when possible.
If you need to take more serious corrective action, then have a 1-on-1 conversation, and without berating them, lay out a clear plan of your expectations moving forward and how they can meet them.
Otherwise, you’re just shooting yourself right in the foot (and the face)
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager puts too much emphasis on the word ‘my’ when saying ‘my team’
There are warning signs to look out for that your boss might be a power-hungry megalomaniac.
One is the emphatic way they say ‘my’ in ‘my team’. Almost sounding like they own you.
‘Myyyyyyyy team’. Puke. You don’t own me. You don’t own sh*t.
What you don’t appreciate is that you don’t own me, I am here completely voluntarily and of my own free will. If you treat me terribly, I’m leaving, and you’re going to have a real mess on your hands, because you probably don’t appreciate yet how valuable I am yet to your team (but don’t worry, as soon as I’m gone you’ll start to properly appreciate how much I helped this team – and how hard it will be to find someone who can genuinely replace me – have fun!!!).
There was just something so gross about how she said the words ‘my’. It was subtle, but I could tell from how she said it that she was feeling she was imbued with some form of god-like powers. Or that, here she was, finally put in a position of power and authority and that sickness started infecting her brain.
There’s something so sinister about people who are power hungry, yet lack any real sense of empathy for the people they have power over (which unfortunately is most people in positions of power).
They feel like just because they’ve been given some subordiinates to manage over, that suddenly they’ve just been given a pass to get away with murder.
This is my team, and I can do anything I want with my team, and I can tell my team to do whatever it is that I want, and my team must listen to and do everything I say. When I say jump, my team says how hi.
No, you’re sick. And remember: I never gave you my authority to lead me. Authority is given, it cannot be taken. And I did not give you authority over me.
Sure, I’ll do what you ask today because you have power over me and you can fire me – but I’m going to be scheming ways to get the hell away from you as quickly as I can – and tomorrow I’m going to be gone.
Don’t abuse your power. Just because someone put you in a position of power, doesn’t mean you actually have any power. Remember: you work for your team, not the other way around.
If you expect that your team works for you – let me know how that goes when you have a mutiny on your hands and everyone deserts you. Let me know how powerful you feel then, and how you’re feeling about ‘your team’.
Sings your business is going to fail: when employees (me) show up first thing at 6 or 7am (regularly), and nobody seems to care, notice, or say “thank you for all your hard work and dedication” – when you feel people starting to take you for granted, get the fuck out.
This one drives me mental. I’m a hard worker, and I love to give my projects 110% on a bad day. I’m an early riser so I tend to log on to work around 7am, some days even as early as 6am, and typically work to 7 or 8 pm. On top of that it’s normal for me to check in on projects and do work over the weekend. So if a typical work week is 37.5 hours, I’m typically logging closer to 45 or 50 hours.
I don’t work that long because I have to, I do it because I enjoy it, and because I love the feeling of being further ahead than of falling behind. I work hard because I enjoy it, but that is my choice, and I expect that if you’re my boss and I’m busting my a** for you, that you acknowledge and respect it.
I work hard because I want raises and promotions, and if you’re not giving me those regularly, then we’ve got a problem on our hands, and I’m going to be very quickly looking for other work opportunities.
But more insidious than that, if I’m busting my ass and you’re not even acknowledging it – then go f*ck yourself.
At our agency we had a group chat on slack, and every morning as people would trickle into ‘the office’, they would start the day by saying ‘good morning!’ to each other.
95% of the time I was the first one to say good morning, and often I’d be doing it at 6:30 or 7am, while others are typically logging on around 8:30 or 9. So I’ve already been at it for 2 hours before the rest of the team has even woken up.
All good so far – but here’s where the problem would start – typically each morning I would get caught up on everything – clear my email inbox and update my manager on the status of various projects – of where we were at and next steps.
And often she would just start each morning by saying “so what’s the status of x?”.
And then, “I need you to do blah blah blah, can you have that ready by 10?.
No matter how much work I did, it was never enough, or good enough.
And eventually I just decided f*ck this. If I’m busting my a** with all this unpaid overtime, really trying to get stuff done and move things forward – and no ones even bother to acknowledge all my hard work – then I’m done – I’m not going to do it anymore.
Not only am I not going to work overtime for you any more, but I’m also just not going to work for you at all anymore. Period.
My time would be better spent building my own business and my own investments. Why am I killing myself for you if you’re not even going to notice or care?
Because I promise you this: you will notice and care as soon as I’m not here.
Maybe you don’t appreciate right now how much I do for this company, but you will when I’m gone.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager takes everyone’s hard work for granted.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you get an email proclaiming “Arthur’s Two Bosses”
You know sometimes you get blindsided by things and suddenly you realise that you’ve walked right into a trap? Yeah, have I got a story for you.
When I started at the agency, I worked directly with the CEO – who unsurprisingly is the real brains behind the organization. We’d met at a leadership event a year earlier. He was there with their wife and I knew immediately these two were the real deal.
They’d mentioned something at the time about running a marketing agency, but this was before I’d even considered marketing as a career option, so it didn’t mean much to me at the time, but the words always kind of lingered in the back of my head.
When I returned back to Canada in late 2019, we reconnected at a christmas party. We threw around the idea of grabbing a coffee to talk further about marketing – as by this point I’d been running my own marketing agency for about a year – I was curious to find out more about how a ‘real’ marketing agency is run.
He mentioned the idea of me joining his agency – I played with the idea and suggested that I do a one month unpaid internship. My reasoning was that if I tried it out and realised that I hated it I would have no guilt about leaving after one month because I wasn’t even on the payroll. Additionally, it allowed the CEO to see my chops firsthand, without having to worry about whether I was ‘financially worth the investment’.
I finished the 30 days internship and honestly I was having a blast. The team was small – there were only about 6 or 7 of us total, and more important than that, nobody on the team had my skillset. We had a marketing strategist, a designer, a developer, IT support and admin – but nobody with any real expertise in paid digital advertising – and I was excited because I saw an opportunity to spearhead a whole new division in the organization.
My CEO was very similar to me – we both had the attitude of ‘80% = done’ – we liked to move fast and take action, without worrying about things being perfect.
That first month was historically pretty crazy month – it was March 2020 and COVID was ramping up into full effect – in fact, when I started I only had 2 weeks in the office, until we were sent home with a stay at home order.
I the ensuing chaos and madness, me and the CEO decided to start a new podcast. This was a time for us of mass experimentation and trying new things. I felt so appreciated and respected, whenever I had ideas – they were at least considered as options, and many of them we executed on.
I felt grateful to have this direct connection to the CEO and that my ideas were valued and important (without being delusional, I’m aware not all my ideas were great – but we still took action which was the important part!).
But then things started to take a downward spiral. Around May that year, our CEO hired a Senior Marketer. I didn’t realise it at the time, but she was soon to become my direct boss.
My first impression of her was someone who I describe as a ‘textbook marketer’, as it they talk like they’ve learned marketing right out of a textbook, but have no actual real world experience. They use a lot of buzzwords, and say a lot of fancy things, but most of it is just fluff and essentially meaningless.
My CEO mentioned something about how she was going to start giving me some projects, but I was blindsided a month or so later, when I received an email saying “Arthur’s Two Bosses”.
I’d gotten used to reporting direct to my CEO, and I’d been getting confused about why this new marketer kept asking me for updates. I had inquired about what my reporting responsibilities were (notice how the wording is getting more formal here…never a good sign), and suddenly we were having a meeting with the general manager in which in informed me in no uncertain terms that the CEO was going to start stepping back and I was to start reporting to this new boss.
“Arthur’s Two Bosses”.
I was shocked. This isn’t what I signed up for. I signed up to work direct with the CEO. He was the entire reason I joined the organization, and how he’s stepping back and I have to start reporting to this new boss that I have no real respect for? Are you kidding me?
I felt powerless. Here I was just a junior at the company, with barely 3 months under my belt and suddenly I’m being told what I have to do (I hate being told what I have to do), and my only options were to accept it or walk.
I decided to accept it, but I knew from that moment forward that my time with the agency was limited.
I knew from the second I received that email, that I had a fixed timeline with the agency – and the only question was when, not if I would leave.
I vowed to myself that I would give it at least a full year (because as much as I’m an a**hole, I try to at least be a decent person and show respect) – but I knew it would be a slough, because this was only month 3, with 9 months to go.
Side note: my final work day was May 14th (which as a fun fact: today as I’m writing these words is May 14th, 2021, I’ll take a screenshot…), so I officially made it 14 months. Well done sir. You’re a gentleman and a scholar.
“Signs your business is going to fail: when all your manager says to you is “”what is the status of X””, and “”we need to get aligned””, and “”have you done everything you said you would?”” and “”don’t send it to me until you feel it’s perfect and nothing could possibly be made any better””
Ah I really love managers – they just warm my heart…
You think you’ve developed a great relationship with your manager, but all you’ve really got is a series of status update requests.
“What is happening with this”, or “what is that status of that”, or “why haven’t you haven’t done anything on this recently”, or “I wish I didn’t have to keep chasing you up like this”.
Don’t worry, boss, you don’t have to thank me for all the hard work I’ve done or anything, or the fact that I change my priorities every 30 seconds based on your changing whims and desires. Don’t worry about any of that.
Just treat me like a poorly programmed and incompetent robot, that is incapable of making rational decisions of of getting anything done without constant and repeated reminders.
Yeah, just treat me like all I am is a productivity machine that is here to deliver you reports and status updates – that’s going to work out very well for our long term relationship. Well done.
Or perhaps – maybe you get your own sh*t together first, before you put all the blame on me, and actually come up with a clear and coherent plan. You are the boss and the manager after all right? You’ve been granted this high position of power and authority to make decisions right?
So make proper f*cking decisions. And stop blaming me for your incompetence.
You know what else I love?
When your manager says “don’t send me that report until it’s perfect and there’s nothing you could possibly make better”, and then they review the report and say “you should have sent this to me earlier! We could have course corrected this problems earlier and avoided you wasting so much time going down bad rabbit holes!”.
Well which one is it boss?! Do you want to see it early so we can plan and revise at an earlier stage – or do you only want to see it when it is perfect and flawless? Stop blaming us when we follow your instructions but your instructions don’t make any sense!
One more point on the “don’t send me this until it’s perfect” bullsh*t.
That only leads to perfectionism (which we’ve covered before), and leads to endless hours being wasted, trying to review every single line of every single page to scour out every single little typo and formatting issue.
What an absolute waste of time. On top of that – it puts an insane amount of pressure to get it “perfect” or now we’re going to be scolded and berated for any tiny flaw or imperfection. “How could you have missed that! I thought you said you reviewed this thoroughly??”.
Go f*ck yourself.
Honestly, is this is a team collaborative effort, then let’s work like a team. Let’s help and support each other, instead of demeaning and criticizing each other. Yes, there will be mistakes and yes there will be things missed, but 6 eyes are better than 2. If we can have multiple people weighing in at each stage, we can offer a greater breadth and depth of knowledge.
Side note: there are limits to this however. Yes I believe that working in teams you can accomplish much more, but by the same token, you also want to avoid death by committees. If 10 different people are now involved across multiple different disciplines and with varying agendas, the final piece can end up so watered down, to becoming effectively useless and worthless.
I hate committees. I loathe them.
I love hearing alternative view points, yes, but I hate having to please wide sweeping groups of people. You can never make everyone happy. And if you’ve made everyone happy, you’ve made no one happy as you’ve effectively said nothing.
At that point you’re just a docile and impotent little declawed kitten – cute but effectively useless.
If you want your work to have any impact on the world, you need to have some teeth. You need to take a strong position and a strong stance, and that will result in upsetting, or worse, offending some people.
Get over it you little snowflakes. The world is a harsh place – we’ve just pretended to pad it, but all we’ve accomplished is building an insane asylum around us. But I think I’ve digressed off the main point…
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager doesn’t understand that certain deliverables got pushed back a few weeks because she’s dumped newer and more urgent projects on your task list”
This is a fun one. There were many a time where I had a meeting to ‘get aligned’ with my manager. We’d come up with a plan on the highest priority tasks and I’d start executing – great start, well done.
However a few days would go by, and suddenly shed’ remember about another deliverable – THAT WE HAD AGREED WAS LOW PRIORITY – and suddenly it was a real big priority.
Suddenly it was a the biggest and most urgent task that needed to get done, and she was confused and irritated that I hadn’t already done it…
I mean damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
If we make an agreement that a certain project is low priority then don’t come complaining to me a few days later that it’s not done – WE DECIDED TO DO IT LATER. I’m not sure if it’s entitlement, arrogance or just plain stupidity – but if we make the decision that a project is low priority, then it is low priority and it gets done later.
I’m not superman, I can’t work on 10 tasks at once. Or wait – were you expecting me to put in endless hours of unpaid overtime to get caught up on the unrealistic deliverable schedule that you laid out?
It’s not my fault that you took on more than you could chew. If you want me to help you fix it, then great, accept that I’m going to need to put in considerable amounts of overtime and actually pay me for it.
But you’re too cheap – you won’t do that – so instead you’ll just whine and complain, and get all upset that I didn’t accomplish an entire weeks worth of work in a single day.
I’m here to work hard and help out as much as I possibly can – but don’t expect me to just clean up your garbage when you make bad decisions.
I mean, maybe if you came to me and humbly admitted – “hey I know this is a lot right now, I’ve really taken on a lot more projects than we’re staffed or equipped to handle right now, I know that I’m asking a lot, but if I could ask you a personal favour, it would really help us out if you put in some extra evenings and weekends to help us get caught up – I want to make this right, so we’re going to make sure we compensate you properly” – great, now I know at least that the agency has got my back and has my best interests at heart – and I’m not just giving away my time, energy and soul away for nothing, or for you to unfairly take advantage of.
This is my problem with managers who rant and rave about how much they believe in mental health – sure it’s all well and good that you support the cause, but when the rubber hits the road, you’re still expecting me to put in copious amounts of unpaid overtime, without compensation or even an admission of appreciation.
Which makes you a hypocrite and full of dog s*it.
Stop giving lip service to causes that you don’t actually believe in or support. I don’t care how much you ‘love’ mental health – I care about how much you love my mental health – and if you’re not compensating me properly for your bad decisions – then you don’t actually care about me – you just like saying nice buzz words.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you keep spending money on a failing campaign because “the client budgeted this amount and we have to keep spending it”
Sometimes in marketing you get caught between a rock and a hard place (I mean, I guess that’s true in just about any industry). But in marketing sometimes your contract will say that the client is to spend $3k per month in ‘ad spend’ (that’s money paid direct to platforms like Facebook or Google).
Now, so far, we’re all good – contract for say $2k/mo ad management, and $3k/mo ad spend.
But here’s the problem: sometimes you notice halfway through the month that the campaign is going, well, sh*t. But maybe you’re also busy with several other projects, and you can’t just go and drop everything in that moment to go and fix the broken campaign.
So you think about pausing the campaign until you’re better able to dive in and review. However, if you pause the campaign for a week or two, the client will a) be confused why their campaign is suddenly paused and their flow of new business/leads has suddenly dried up, and b), you’ll miss your obligation to spend the full amount laid out in your contract.
Now personally, I feel this approach is complete bullsh*it. If a campaign sucks, turn it off, there’s no good reason to waste money.
But I ended up in a many a heated and confused debate with my manager about this. I’d see campaigns that were just blundering along and realised they needed some TLC to get them back on their feet.
But sometimes I’d pause the campaign, then just go so busy with other stuff going on, that days or weeks would go by before we could actually get things properly resolved.
Then, I’d get scolded for ‘ruining’ the campaigns.
“The client us is paying us to manage and run their campaigns, and they’ve committed to a certain ad spend, and we need to spend it!”. It was that use of the word need that really bothered me.
We don’t neeeeed to do anything. And we don’t need to waste the client’s money unnecessarily.
Think about it for a second – if you were a client – and your marketing campaign was burning like a dumpster fire – would you want to keep flushing your money down the toilet, or would you want someone to pump the breaks, to be a professional and to take control of the situation? How long do you need to think about it?
Obviously the answer is to stop wasting money. When you’re bleeding, the first step is to stop the hemorrhaging.
But it was the mentality that made me sick: “the client’s need us to spend the money” – yeah, but once they find out the campaign has been an outright disaster, they aren’t exactly going to be thrilled to keep paying us or hire us again now are they?
Am I the only one who can see this?
When your whole business is built on spending money simply because you agreed to spend it, I hate to tell you this, but you’re going to be going out of business before long. Remember: sh*t flows downhill.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager says in a group chat “hey Arthur can you run this by the boss and tell him x, y, z”, when the boss is in that group chat…Why are we playing broken telephone here? You could have just told him yourself, instead of getting me to just repeat your message
This was one of those little things, that when you scratch a little deeper below the surface, reveals a darker and more insidious problem. Like some kind of flesh eating disease – it wastes away the whole organism.
So here was the context: I was in a group chat on Slack with my manager and my CEO. And my manager asked me in the group chat “hey Arthur, can you run x, y, z by the CEO and get his thoughts?”. I sat there staring at her words. Befuddled.
The CEO was in this group chat – did she want me to repeat her words exactly? “Hey CEO, can I get your thoughts on x, y, z?”. In which case, he would have seen my words, and then seen that I’d just repeated her words.
I mean, my manager could have either sent me a direct message, or, could have just @mentioned the CEO in our chat, and said that he should respond back to me.
I don’t want to sound like I’m nitpicking here.
What I’m trying to get at is the terrible nature of our communication. Why the hell are we playing broken telephone here? Why are we adding in extra and unnecessary levels and layers of communication?
And here’s the problem: corporate communication sucks. It’s so redundant and unnecessary. Just cut the shi*, say what needs to be said, and let’s make some progress.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your managers are secretly scared shitless, but they hide behind their power and believe they have the authority to just tell you what to do because they are the managers (ie: email about Arthur’s 2 Bosses)
As you get more life experience, work more jobs and have a wide array of managers, you start to realise that most are scared and worthless sacks of sh*t. I don’t mean that they’re bad people. Most of them are quite nice and friendly.
What I mean, is that most of them hide behind some level of anonymity. The armchair manager. They love to sit up in theri ivory towers and hide behind their computers as they sound out passive aggressive emails.
Most managers are just keyboard warriors.
Instead of picking up the phone, and growing a pair of balls and doing the difficult thing, they send these vague emails filled with manager-speak – that sound all buzzwordy, but don’t actually mean shit.
It’s so embarrassing when your manager get’s locked in this passive aggressive email exchange with a client. The client is clearly asking for help, and your manager sends some snide reply, talking about “as per our agreement, as laid out in section four dash two, of the bottom paragraph, we clearly outlined your reports would be forthcoming on the 2nd fortnight of each month. Please find enclosed an attachment as per the attached agreeement”.
The passive aggressiveness is just so pathetic. Especially when coming from a senior manager.
Grow some balls, pick up the phone, call them, and sort it out.
Unfortunately it is also true when manager are messaging you and asking you to do stuff. They hide behind their iron curtain of email. They like to fire down their orders from above to you little pathetic plebs, and you better tremble before ye almighty.
Why do they think this is so effective?
And look, I’m not saying that you can’t use email. Email is great – but email is a tool, it is not a substitution for proper leadership and balls.
When you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, just talk to them like a real human being. They’ll respect you more for it. If your employees feel like you’re scared, and you’re hiding, they’re respect for you will plummet like a stone.
“Signs your business is going to fail: when it’s 2021 and you dont use document signing services like docusign/eversign to collect client signatures, and instead email pdfs and expected them to print, sign, scan and upload….jesus….
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always the most tech advanced person. As I type these words I’m on a MacBook Air model from 2017, and my Samsung Galaxy is from 2018. My MacBook becomes extremely unhappy and disgruntled when I open one too many chrome tabs, and the fans start blaring as it tries to keep itself from melting down.
However, there are some tech tools, that are becoming just so fundamental, it shocks me when companies aren’t using them. I could go on a whole long and extended rant here, but for now I want to keep this focused on document signing services like DocuSign or EverSign.
For those who don’t know – these tools simply allow you to send PDFs to clients/vendors/loan sharks, and they can sign them digitally, and send them back with a click of a button.
Let me backup a little bit here and share a story: our general manager was in the process ‘cleaning things up ‘round here’, when she discovered that many of our projects did not even have signed contracts from our clients. Now, to her credit, this is a pretty important piece of paper to have, however I’m not sure we needed an overpriced senior manager to tell us that. But I digress.
The general manager noticed that a few of the clients I was managing didn’t have signed documents so she asked me to follow up. She sent me PDFs and said ‘hey, can you send these to your clients and get them signed?’.
I looked at the PDF’s somewhat dumbfounded. “You want me to send a PDF?” I thought to myself.
I then asked tactfully – have we ever used a document signing software before? She said it was something she was ‘looking into’.
I’m not sure how much looking into it you need to do, you just pick it and go.
Luckily, I already had a personal account with a document signing service, so I was able to get it together and send it out.
But the question was still lingering in my mind ‘okay…it’s 2021, and you’re thinking that we can send a PDF to a client, expecting that they’ll print it out, sign it, scan it, upload it and send it back?
Are you f*cking kidding me? What a waste of a client’s time! Are you serious? You would actually subject them to such torture, and expect them to still respect us? This must be some sick joke.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you get a message from the general manager saying “”hey we don’t have a papertrail or invoices issued for over a year, does anyone know what’s up with this client?”””
You know those moments that just instill you with significant amounts of confidence? Yeah, this definitely wasn’t it.
You know what when you’ve got a general manager who asks the group chat “hey, does anyone know what’s up with this client (subtext: I don’t know sh*t about what’s going on here, someone please help me so I don’t look like a complete idiot)”, that you should just pack up your bags and leave.
Being serious here (I mean, I just did it today).
Like get your sh*t together. You’re the general manager and you’ve been with the company for nearly a year now – why is this just coming to light now? If there’s been no paper trail for the past year, what the hell have you been doing?
It does not build any confidence in you as the employee when your general manager basically says “hey everyone, I know I’ve basically been asleep at the wheel for the past year here, but can someone please throw me a bone and tell me what’s going on – there’s no paper trail and I never even bothered to look until today. Thanks”.
Like get your head out of your a** and do something that’s actually useful.
Again, this is another one of those examples where managers laid out unclear and unintelligible instructions. A year ago she might have said “we need more paper trails” – but what does that even mean? What are you looking for specifically? Did you lay out a plan, or are you expecting us just to guess?
If you’re expecting us to guess, are you anticipating how much time it’s going to waste? And has that been built into our overall plan? And are you following up to ensure it’s being done correctly?
Most employees are good, and genuinely try to help and make things better – but if your instructions and your plans sucks – then what exactly were you expecting would happen?
Signs your business is going to fail: when you’ve got a program called “constant improvement” where the client gets us on a retainer for the whole year, but every (every) client makes a stink about “how quickly we’ve gone through our hours” and “this is a lot more expensive than I expected” and “moving forward I need to approve all hours before you do them” – not one single client yet has been “blown away” by how amazing the CI program is. Oh yeah – and it’s intended that we have a slow response time (they pay a low rate in exchange for less urgent response times), however all clients always want fast, immediate answers, that completely throw off our work flow for other clients. It’s a mess, and an unproductive disaster.
I’m all for experimentation and trying new things. In fact, it’s one of my core tenets in life to keep pushing new boundaries and seeing what is actually possible or not.
Out our agency, our CEO developed a new program called “constant improvement”. The intention of the program is that we are effectively retained over a year to make ‘constant improvements’ to the account.
So for example, if the client retained us to work on their website, we would be there to make all the little improvements to their site. Need a blog post uploaded? We’ll do it. Need a new section added? We’ll do it. Need some additional SEO work? We’ll do it. Need your copyright year updated from © 2008? We’ll do it.
And – any small requests you have – things that take less than 30 minutes – we’ll do for free and won’t even charge those hours.
AND because you’re investing in us over a year, we’ll invest in you by lowering our hourly rates. Our standard hourly rate is $150/hr, but we’ll go as low as $100 – as long as you’re cool with slow response times.
And this is where the cracks of the program start to show themselves – and also became a great case study in term of what clients actually value.
See the program was designed (intentionally) to be the kind of program with a ‘we’ll fit you in when we can, but that might be 2-3 weeks’ kind of attitude. In fact, the program was conceive to solve the problem we were facing internally of slow months and busy months.
Every business and every agency goes through it’s ebbs and flows, but by having these year long retainers, we could pad our slow season with their work, and ease off during busier times.
All sounds well and good so far, but eventually every theory gets put to the test, and when the rubber hits the road, you find out whether it was actually any good or not.
Let’s start firstly with the $100 hourly rate. On the surface, that sounds pretty great! 33% off normal standard rates, that’s a nice little discount.
Except there was a problem, and maybe internally we were just bad at math, but a very perceptive lawyer pointed it out to us: which was that we were selling the package as only costing $100/hr, however, our smallest package included 2 hours of agency time each month, yet actually cost nearly $500/mo. So…I guess it’s $250 an hour?
Yeah, not such a great look for us. Looks like we’re either doing a bait and switch, or blowing some serious smoke.
Now I get that the $250 is a blended rate of many different pieces, and that you get discounts for paying yearly vs monthly and that the programs get cheaper (per hour) the larger you go – so there are many, many factors that play into this.
But it makes you look like a math r*tard when you shout about how amazing your $100 hourly rate is, and then the client does some simple arithmetic, and quickly shows you that, no, actually you’re charging them more than double that – AND – more egregious than that, the hourly rate is actually HIGHER than the standard agency rate.
Yikes, not a very good look. So that was one problem, confusion over the actual pricing.
The next problem, and this was actually a beautiful piece of client insight, was that: no client gave a f*ck about helping us balance our work load and to put their projects aside until our busy season.
Let me say that again in more clear terms: client’s wanted their work done, and they wanted it done yesterday. They weren’t interested in putting it off for a few weeks.
Now, this was one of the pillar theories of the whole concept: we would average out our workload through the year, and clients were to understand that if they joined this program, that there was an expectation it could take us 2-4 weeks to action their requests.
But this was a big learning and listen carefully: Clients weren’t interested in waiting, they wanted it done now.
As an aside, I do feel we could have presented the program has having two options (if it wasn’t confusing enough already): the first option would be to say that if they wanted speedy response times, they could have it for a higher (pay $250/hr and we’ll respond within the week, or pay $100/hr and we’ll respond within the month).
This way, client’s could actively make the decision about how important speediness was to them, and to properly understand what that speediness would cost them. Because clients being clients, they want their cake and to eat it too.
Now the next, and possibly most insidious problem, was that clients had zero comprehension of how quickly they were burning through their hours. 2 hours per month (for the small package), is basically nothing – that’s barely enough time for me to open analytics on my compter. Even the ‘large’ package was only 10 hours per month, which is still barely even enough to write a monthly report at the speed we write them.
Now I do feel this is our fault as the agency and our ability to communicate. But the following scenario I’m about to describe was so common as to make it comical:
We’d start a new year-long Constant Improvement progam – they’d buy the large package – giving them 120 hours intended to be spread over the entire year. And by month 3 we’d send them an update saying that they’d used nearly 80 of their hours, and that they should consider upping their package.
Naturally, the client was confused and outraged. “I just spent $20k with you, with the expectation it would last an entire year, and we’re only 3 months and you’re already asking me for another $20k??”.
Yeah, not the most tactful approach on our end.
However more importantly, and I admit that this is on us – we should have provided better and more comprehensive estimates on how long each of their requests would take.
I do have empathy here for the client, they should never be blindsided about how many hours they actually have left. Like straight up, that is just s*itty client management.
Every request the client sent us, should have been responded with something to the effect: “we are acknowledging receipt of your request. Our team estimates this will take 8-10 of your hours, and could be completed within 4 weeks of your approval”. Then, after the task is complete, send an update in terms of how many hours were actually used.
The client should never be caught with their pants down about how many hours they have left. Like a deer caught in the headlights, it never ends pretty.
And so time and time again (so consistent you could set your watch to it), around the 3-4 month mark, our Constant Improvement clients would request an update on their hours (yes, they had to request it), and then they would rightly so lose their s*it about how many of their hours they’d used.
They’d been blissfully unaware about how demanding their ‘small’ requests had actually been. And now they were blindsided by our complete lack of communication, and now they were angry, and confused and to compensate they’d start making all sorts of demands:
- “You need to give me an estimate of hours before starting any task”
- “You need MY approval before charging any more hours”
- “I need you to provide a DETAILED reconciliation of all hours used and exactly what you did”
- “I want weekly reports on exactly what you’re doing and the hours used, and you need my explicit approval before doing anything”
Essentially, the hammer dropped, and the client was ‘putting us in our place’.
We were getting put on time-out, while our client raged about how irresponsible we’d been, and they were attempting to assume the alpha position.
Nicely done team. We really made that client happy.
Now, this story in and of itself wouldn’t be that significant, except for the fact that it kept happening, again and again and again.
Every client was the same story – they’d be completely shocked with how quickly we burned through their hours, then throw a temper tantrum and try to throw us in agency jail.
It was sad and pathetic, and made me lose a lot of respect for my agency. It showed me that we couldn’t even do the basic things right: client communication, managing expectations, clear estimates and regular reports (or warnings) on progress. The client should never be caught with their pants down, and if they are, that is our fault, and be prepared for the ensuing shit storm.
I believe there were a lot of really exciting ideas with this Constant Improvement program, however the actual execution was pretty sh*t, and ultimately blew up in our face.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you have a program called “steady state” and nobody knows what the f*ck that means and “oh it says there’s SEO, what SEO did you do? and I bought this additional SEO package – what is included in what and am I double paying?”
As you can tell by now, I’m not a huge fan of buzzwords and marketing jargon. Our CEO developed this program called ‘steady state’. Now as someone with a science background, this name left me puzzled – a dynamic state is when things are in constant change, and steady state is when things are not changing – they’re by definition remaining the same.
Why would anyone want to buy a pack that’s effectively called “your stuff will remain the same”.
Sometimes people get over hype-y with their naming and descriptions, but in this case it was dramatically underhyped. So much so that I would scratch my head and ask “who the hell would actually buy this”.
And more importantly “what the hell even is this?”. As there’s nothing from the name to really understand what you’re actually buying, other than know that “things will stay the same”.
Great – so what was it? It was effectively a package to keep WordPress plugins up to date – and the ‘steady state’ referred to it being a success that your website wasn’t going down or getting hacked.
So sure, I get it, a website that is under ‘steady state’, is much better than a website that is actively falling apart.
However with that said, the name ‘steady state’ still doesn’t doo much to inspire dreams or incentivise action, two things that we as marketers are supposed to be good at.
So first of all, we should have chosen a better name – even something as simple as “website protection” would have helped to identify that a) this was about websites, and b) that this was about keeping said website protected.
Those are ideas that client’s can get behind because they know what they’re buying, and they have some understanding of what they might actually receive.
But then to make things even more confusing, there were 3 different package sizes we offered based on the size of the website, however there were no clear guidelines about what qualified as ‘size’. For example, if a site received 100k page views per month, was that a big site or a little one? Nobody knew.
Another problem was that the larger the package they got, the more features it included, but nobody on our team really tracked whether any of those features actually go delivered or not.
This came to a head, when one of our clients ordered a significant SEO package from us, and then was confused when they found out their ‘steady state’ plan also included SEO.
They were furious -”why the hell am I paying you all this extra money, when it’s already included in the package I have? AND why didn’t anyone tell me that I already had SEO work in my plan before I made this purchase??”.
All very valid questions, and the egg is on our black-eyed face for being total useless s*it bags.
We had to explain in very delicate terms to the client how the SEO that was included in their ‘large steady state’ program, as actually ‘very small’ and only included some basic things and that they needed the larger package to get more of their more significant SEO ambitions accomplished.
They were still fuming – why was the ‘large’ package so expensive when it basically included nothing?
All valid questions, and honestly I believe we just had a shoddy pricing structure, and no ability to properly track and report our projects. Well done team.
Signs your business is going to fail: when the client says “we need to learn from the previous campaign so we do better on the next one”, so you remove target locations/states that were poor performers and they say “we need those states, they’re critical to our business”, so you remove keywords that were poor performers and they say “we need those keywords, they’re critical to our business”, so you remove demographics/audiencess/devices that were poor performers and they say “we need those targeting options, they’re critical to our business” – great! so you want to learn or do you just want to repeat the same fucking mistakes we made the first time?!
This honestly would be comical if it wasn’t so insanely painful and insulting.
We had one client who came to us with one brand of product they were selling, and over the course of our relationship, they moved to selling the exact same products but under a different brand name and logo.
Our job was to run a Google Ad campaign for them, which had been very successful for the first brand, and our work was to transfer over the campaign to the new brand.
Our client very astutely said ‘we need to take all the learnings from the first campaign and apply them to the second campaign – we’ve been doing this for a while now, and we’re expecting that we can get the new campaign gets up and running without any issues’.
All well and good – there is nothing inherently wrong with that request – however where things fell apart was in the execution and the client being a dumb f*ck.
We went back to the client and said “alright, we found that these 10 locations are performing the best, and these 5 locations are terrible, we recommend turning off the 5 terrible locations”. And the client would say “No! Those locations are essential for our business!”.
Then we’d say “we found these 10 are the best keywords, these other 5 are the worst, we recommend turning off the bad ones”, and the client would say “No! Those keywords are essential for our business!.
Then we’d say “we found certain demographics really buy your products more than others, let’s focus on your best audiences and turn off the ones that don’t buy from you”, and as you guessed it, the client said “No! We need those audiences, they’re essential to our business!”.
I just sat there dumbfounded and bewildered. You berated us to dive deep into the original campaign, to extract all the learnings and apply them to the new campaign to hit optimal performance right out the gate. You stressed over and over again “we need to extract the learnings! We need to extract the learnings!” – and then when we presented the learnings, you dismissed all of it outright.
And then later when the campaign wasn’t performing much better than the original, you berated us again “why isn’t this campaign performing better! I thought you used all the learnings!”.
And I felt my soul crying a little bit – “we did extract the learnings, but you rejected all of them – this is your f*ing fault”.
Get me out of here…
It pains me there sheer arrogance and stupidity that most clients have. They demand the world, then when you present the world, they reject it outright, and then whine and complain why you haven’t actually accomplished anything. Like this isn’t rocket science. If you s*it all over our work, you’re going to get a pile of s*it for dinner.
“Signs your business is going to fail: when literally everything you do is wrong. When you take initiative, it’s wrong, when you ask questions it’s wrong, when you let others take the lead it’s wrong.
When I was a kid I loved the cartoon Dilbert. Even though I’d never worked in an office, I could still feel the pain of all the employees and their resentment to their utterly incompetent ‘pointy haired’ boss.
I assumed though, that it was mostly a joke, and that the real world would be nothing like that. Afterall, managers of today now had Dilbert to teach and educate them, so there’s no way they would repeating the mistakes of the past, right?
Sadly, I would quickly learn that I was entirely wrong. Incompetent management continues (and will always) run rampant in organizations.
For the most part, there are two types of managers: 1) the first is those who had no competence in being a manager, yet the position was open and someone had to fill it, and 2) managers who are power-hungry megalomaniacs, who just love telling people what to do.
And often managers are both: incompetent and power-hungry sociopaths. What a winning combination.
So I knew that there was something not quite right with my job and more organization, when I started to realise that everything I did was wrong.
Well, actually, let me backup a little bit. When I first started, everything I did was right. Like I said, I had no direct manager, and I was the first one really starting the new ‘marketing’ division, and any and all action and initiative I took was applauded and respected.
However, within a few months as we started ‘sharpening our pencils’, I now had a direct manager that I was suddenly told that I needed to report to. Needless to say I wasn’t thrilled.
Things started off okay, but very quickly went right off a cliff.
The problem that I came to realise, was quite simply that: everything I did was wrong.
In fact, it was quite similar in a way to having a nagging girlfriend. Quite literally everything I did was wrong, and was deserving of criticism and ‘being corrected’. Now, I’m all for constructive feedback, but when you sh*t on me everytime I do anything, I probably won’t be doing things for very long.
- Taking initiative – “you need to consult with me first before you do anything”
- Not taking initiative – “why aren’t you taking action on this? I’m so busy I can’t manage your work for you”
- Asking questions – “we already talked about this, weren’t you listening?”
- Not asking questions – “if you didn’t understand, why didn’t you bring it up?”
- Emailing a client – “I need you to run everything by me to make sure we’re aligned before you communicate with clients”
- Not emailing a client – “why didn’t you send the client an update? You can’t expect me to look at everything you do”
- Copying my manager on client emails – “why did you copy me on this email? I get too many emails and my inbox is full. Stop copying me on every email”
- Not copying my manager on client emails – “why aren’t you copying me on these emails?? As a manager I need to have visibility with everything going on with the organization!”
- Assigning tasks to the 19 yr old intern – “you know he’s only 19 right? He’s not capable of handling such complicated tasks”
- Not assigning tasks to the 19 yr old intern – “why aren’t you using him more?? His hourly rate is so cheap compared to yours and we need to be more efficient in how we operate!”
- Doing a lot of work – “you should have spoken to me before you started, I could have guided you better”
- Not doing a lot of work – “why does everything fall back on to me? I have my own projects and can’t manage yours – why aren’t you taking action on this?”
- When you don’t work evenings and weekends – “our projects keep slipping – aren’t you on top of it?”
- When you work evenings and weekends (unpaid) – “I appreciate you want to work on the weekends and that’s your choice – BUT I DON’T – and now I have to spend my morning catching up to understand all this work you did over the weekend!”
- Taking the creative lead – “I really don’t like what you’ve done here”
- Not taking the creative lead – “I can’t be responsible for everything here, you need to do your share of the work. Everyone here just tries to pass the back and it all gets dumped back on me!”.
Literally, everything I did was wrong and was worth being ‘corrected’.
Even down to the minutia of the words in the emails I wrote and how I said things (“I wouldn’t have positioned it like that, you made us look like we haven’t thought about this…blah blah blah”).
And so here’s the problem: when your manager calls out and corrects every little thing that you do or don’t do. And you’re always afraid to even look at your message thread with her, because you know that no matter how many positive updates you’ve just sent here, there will be some angry and passive-aggressive response from her, about how exactly it wasn’t perfect. Like give me a f*cking break.
As an example, there were times I’d message my manager with something to the effect of: “Hey quick update for you – I’ve moved X project forward, it’s coming along nicely, here’s a link www…, I got an update from the client on Y, and I’m going to be moving forward with Z soon. Also, projects, A, B, and C are progressing, but I’ll catch up on them after I finish Z.”
And her response? “What’s the status on project Q?”
That’s it. No “hey thank you!”, or “hey, really appreciate you got up early at 7am to get caught up on all this stuff and move these projects forward”, or “hey! Thanks for helping me out :)))”
No. It was just an incessant demand for more status updates. And no matter how many status updates I provided it was never enough. Never good enough, never fast enough, never quality enough, never enough.
My manager loved to go on about how everyone on the team “kept passing the buck”, and how everything kept “getting dumped back on her”. But she was too dumb to see it.
She destroyed everyone’s ambition, confidence, independence and desire to take initiative, and then was confused and upset, when no one took any initiative and it all got dumped back on her.
In effect, it was like creating a welfare state. You destroy a person’s independence, and then you wonder why they don’t take any independence action.
It’s like, my manager was scared of not being in control, so she clipped all her ‘subordinates’ wings, and then whinged and whined to no end about ‘how much work she had to put in’, to help everyone to fly.
Open your eyes. Your actions have consequences. If you’re going to be in a position of power, take responsibility for your actions.
Signs your business is going to fail: when the new “”account manager”” “”checks in”” to make sure that the report isn’t “”slipping”” – does nothing to actually help, but is great at “”checking in”””
So a little history – after years of scrambling on projects, and not having super clearly defined roles about who exactly was responsible for what, we finally hired a dedicated account manager (who only stayed with the team for 5 weeks, but that’s another story).
Now the job of this account manager was effectively to be the dedicated client liaison, and to manage projects scope, timelines and budgets.
Now these are all important responsibilities, and we desperately needed to someone to fill those shoes, however, at the end of the day, the account manager provided no actual real value to the team or helping projects to get done faster or more efficiently.
In fact, as far as I can tell, all he managed to accomplish was making things more complicated and less functional.
My grievance, was that his role of “managing client deliverables” simply came down to interrupting me, and having another voice in my ear asking about status updates.
We had one round of client deliverables coming up, and he checked in “hey Arthur hope you’re well? just checking if you’re on top of this report?”, to which I responded “yep”, and he responded “great”.
Super. I’m so glad we had to hire an expensive account manager just to have that excellent conversation.
Like, he offered nothing to the interaction. No thoughts, no tips, no recommendations. In fact, as far as I’m aware he didn’t actually know or understand anything about the project really. He just had a spreadsheet that said a report was due, and to do his due diligence, his entire job was just to ask me whether I was ‘on it’ or not. Nice work.
And this spreadsheet brings me on to my next point: he made these unnecessary and overly complicated spreadsheets. My god they were impossible to read. Also, it’s 2021 people – when it comes to project management can we please use better solutions than SPREADSHEETS? Projects and teams are too dynamic these days, and spreadsheets become too clunky.
Yes, for me as a solopreneur now spreadsheets work fine, however when you have a team of 10+ people, spreadsheets quickly fall apart, and become a joke. Just like books on tech – they’re already obsolete before they’re even published.
He created this spreadsheet that was meant to track project deliverables, as well as a whole bunch of other crap. Yet the dates were wrong, the milestones were wrong, everything was wrong.
He had report dates listed for projects that had no reports. And he’d created a ‘team calendar’ which everyone had to update each week with their major deliverables. Not only was this clunky and redundant (we already had another spreadsheet to track our tasks and deliverables, effectively doubling or tripling the work we had to do), but more importantly, it served no real purpose.
Each week (and I’m so thankful this was introduced only in my final two weeks), this new account manager would simply go through the calendar and say “did you do it?, or “was this completed?”, or “is this done?”. Literally, just a checklist.
Again, like I said earlier, he offered no real value in terms of actually helping the team to accomplish anything, he was just a glorified date checker, to see whether we’d actually done the thing that we said we would do or not. And if we hadn’t, he of course had no real solutions – he’d just say to the group “okay, so how can we get this done?”. Thanks boss, thanks for really stepping up and helping us to creatively get our work done better.
Remind me again – why the f*ck are you being paid more than me?
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager asks how you work best and you say you enjoy “autonomy” and then every conversation after they make the point of consciously repeating “I know you love autonomy but…” as the grit their teeth and give you that look of death
This was so cringe that it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. After we’d all returned from Christmas holiday, and feeling refreshed and excited for the new year (actually, that’s a lie: I was still burnt-out and depressed af starting the new year off), my manager decided to take the initiative to better understand her subordinates (yipee…).
She pulled us aside, and started asking us about what helped us to work at our best (she must have watched some management course over the holidays). She wanted to know what inspired us and what motivated us.
She wanted to know what got us excited, and what we needed to show up our best each day to work.
So far, so good. It was actually nice for a change to see our manager actually taking the time to understand us better. In principle, I agree with, and I like what she was working to accomplish.
However, things fell apart when that nasty thing called the truth started rearing its ugly head.
See, she asked me what I needed to be most effective at my job and when I said the words ‘autonomy’ it’s like her whole face got screwed up in some psychotic evil death stare.
The words fumbled out of her mouth “you…like…au….au-ton-o-my..?” as she tried to digest each syllable. It was like her world was suddenly collapsing. Like that simple word had threatened her entire power structure, and was challenging her very existence.
“Yes” I said. “I feel most inspired when I have control over my day and how I spend my time, I like to be able to schedule out my day and work at my own pace”.
She was starting to look noticeably nauseous.
As the few weeks after that passed, in every conversation I had with my manager, she made a special point of bringing up those special words “I know how important autonomy is to you” or “I know how much you love being autonomous”, or “I appreciate that we’re trying to help you develop more autonomy”, but every time it was said with this gritted death stare, as well as then a reason why I couldn’t be more autonomous.
“I know how important autonomy is to you, but it’s really important you provide me regular status updates so I know exactly what you’re working on”.
Literally, from that day forward she just kept repeating the word “autonomy” as much as she could (that’s probably a management technique, repeat the word back ad nauseum so they know you heard them, or want to punch you in the face), while at the same time explaining to me why I couldn’t be more autonomous, or how that might be bad for business.
Thanks boss. Don’t worry, I found a much better solution: I quit.
Signs your business is going to fail: when account managers talk about “we need to make sure these projects don’t slip anymore” and the assumption behind their tone is the reason the project is slipping is somehow because you’re lazy or just not being “whipped” into alignment enough, rather than seeing the systemic agency problem that no one knows what they’re doing, there are no clear lines of communication and everythings a fucking mess, and you’re trying your hardest, coming in everyday at 6 am to make things work, but no matter how many hours you work and how much effort you put in you always seem behind. Go fuck yourself. If I’m putting in 110%, and we’re still slipping, it’s because your business sucks, not my work ethic
I love it when managers pull you aside and say how they need to ‘talk with you to understand what is going on’ and then they say in a passive and neutral voice ‘we need to make sure these projects don’t slip anymore’.
Great, thanks boss, really providing some great leadership. Firstly, who the f*ck is ‘we’? Does that mean me or you? Because it would be great if it mean you. Because the reason this project slipped is because you don’t know how to manage sh*t.
You assign more work than can possibly get done, drag me into endless and pointless meetings, and then wonder why ‘we’re slipping’.
I love this attitude too, because behind it is this implied belief that I’m being lazy or not doing my job or something.
Here’s a thought: if I’m busting my a**, working overtime, working (unpaid) evenings and (unpaid) weekends and we’re still slipping and falling behind, then maybe, just maybe, it’s not me – it’s you.
I mean – you’re the project manager after all right? You’re the one who’s getting paid the big bucks to actually get these projects done right? If the projects are slipping, doesn’t that by definition make it your problem – not mine? Oh, and then you have the audacity to blame everyone else of ‘passing the buck’. That’s rich.
Again, let’s just look at the facts (but hey, who needs facts when you’re always wrong no matter what), if I’m starting work every day at 6 or 7 am, working 12 or 14 hour days until 7 or 8pm, and often working weekends too for another 8-12 hours – AND WE’RE STILL FALLING BEHIND – then I hate to break it to you sweetie, but it’s not my fault the project is slipping – you obviously don’t actually know how to manage a project or deadlines or a team.
See, call me crazy, but if I look at a proposal, and that proposal says that we allocated 2 hours to do a task – I’m going to do the best job possible I can on that task within the allotted 2 hours.
If 2 hours isn’t enough to do a thorough and detailed job, then I’m sorry, but the client didn’t pay for a thorough and detailed job, the client paid for a ‘quick n dirty’ job, and the client gets what they paid for.
I wouldn’t say that I cut corners, I’d say that I did the best possible job I could within the budget that the client was willing to pay. Fair is fair.
However, my manager was a perfectionist who believed that everything needed to be up to some arbitrarily high standard – whether or not the client actually paid for it – because she believed in having an agency that ‘doesn’t suck’ – her words.
I get it, she wanted to build and establish a reputable marketing agency with a track record of high quality work. And I get that and I support that – however if the client is only willing to pay for a hack job, then the client only gets a hack job.
And before you say that I’m being irresponsible or unfair to the client – what about the other clients? If I spend 8 hours working on a project that only budgeted 2, and now I’m 6 hours behind on other projects for other clients – how is that fair to them? Don’t they deserve to thave their budgets and timelines also respected?
Or what about respecting me? You seem to have no problem that your irresponsibility and utterly incompetetnt project management resulted in me effectively donating my evenings and weekends to the organization, without compensation or even a thank you – how is that fair to me?
If the client is only willing to pay for 2 hours, they only get 2 hours – if they’re not happy, they can buy more. Otherwise, get stuffed.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you start a youtube channel / podcast with your boss, and everything is going great until your new manager steps in and starts writing awkward and robotic scripts, and insists you read them word for word.
So a little context here: when I first started at the agency, COVID was just sweeping the nation (or rather, the world).
Everything was chaos, businesses were being shut down, and everyone was suddenly being forced to to work from home.
My boss and I like to think outside the box and we saw an opportunity – we could start a new podcast about how business owners can not only survive be to thrive during the pandemic!
Had we ever run a podcast before? Absolutely not.
But that wasn’t about to stop us.
We setup zoom, hit “go live” and we were live on the air. Or at least, live on Facebook Live.
Was it any good? Nope. But that wasn’t the point – the point was that we were getting started, and that’s really what matters.
We started recording daily. We picked a time, and everyday we’d go live, and have a little rant about a new-fangled marketing idea or concept that we were experimenting with and had proven experience to be good.
In the beginning we frequently had guests on the show – which brought life, new energy and fresh perspectives to the show.
My boss and I had no idea what we were doing – but we were having a great time doing it.
Between the two of us, we had pretty extensive knowledge of the marketing industry and it was easy for us to rant.
Our main focus (which is a loose term), was to help business owners who were transitioning to this new stay-at-home order pandemic world.
We helped fitness and yoga instructors learning how to start running zoom classes, we helped a spanish teacher learn how to take her classes online. We help the owner of a music school to realise the power of building her brand on YouTube.
We were kings and rockstars, and everything was going great for a few months.
But then my boss hired a new manager, and things fell apart.
See, this new manager was a Senior Marketer – she’d been around the industry a few years and she knew a thing or two. Or at least she liked to think she did.
Now I’m not saying that she wasn’t smart. She was very smart, in fact, way smarter and more knowledgeable about the industry than me.
However, I quickly noticed a problem – she was ‘academic smart’.
You know those people who know EVERYTHING – yet all their answers sound like they came word for word out of a textbook? They use a lot of buzzwords and jargon, and sound really fancy – but at the same time, it sounds like there’s a complete lack of any real world experience?
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
There are two ways to learn something: theoretically through classrooms and textbooks, and practically real-world experience and living in the trenches.
In my mind, it doesn’t matter how much ‘theory’ you have, what matters is whether you’re a practitioner who has put their theories to practice and tested them in the real world: the market.
If your ideas have survived the market and delivered your clients results, then great – you actually know what you’re talking about.
But if you try to sound over-confident, just because you ‘read it in a textbook once’ – that’s not going to fly with me. I call bullshit.
And that was one of my biggest beefs with this manager – she could talk a big game, but seemed to have very little real world experience.
It is difficult to respect someone who tells you to do stuff that they haven’t done themselves.
There is a big difference from saying “yeah there’s this concept in marketing and it sounds pretty cool” and saying “yeah I worked with this client and we implemented x, y, z, we had a few problems with x, but we were able to find this solution and and in the end we helped them achieve a, b, c amount of growth in their business.
See the difference in how those statements make you feel? Which gives you more confidence that the speaker actually knows what they’re talking about?
And this brings me back to the problem with our podcast: Our new marketing manager took over our script writing to help give our show more ‘structure’, but in the process ended up writing these overly complicated scripts.
Normally for our shows, my boss and I would jot down a few ideas we wanted to cover, then we’d riff off each other – going back and forth and bouncing ideas around.
However with this new structure, we were given scripts to follow. Actual scripts, where we were expected to read word for word.
Have you ever tried to read a script while sounding loose and natural on camera? Yeah, it’s awkward af.
Not only do you sound scripted, but people can see your eyes clearly scanning back and forth as you read the script.
It’s not pretty.
And in that moment, our show lost its spontaneity.
It lost the fun, it lost the joy and it lost the creativity.
Suddenly instead of feeling like I was doing something exciting and new, suddenly it felt like I was just a machine who was being ordered to read words off a script.
It killed the mood and it killed the vibe.
We kept running the show for nearly a year, however from that moment on, as far as I was concerned the show had died.
It was a slow and painful death, but I knew from that moment that my enthusiasm for the show was over.
It had transformed from something I was excited to do, to something I was being told to do.
And this was all a roundabout way of saying that managers are great at one thing: killing enthusiasm.
Whether it comes from a place of insecurity and powerlessness, but managers cannot stand when other people have any level of autonomy and control. Managers love to come in and tell people what to do – and it destroys any level of excitement and enthusiasm.
The worst part? After the manager killed the show, she could just walk away like it was nothing to her.
But it wasn’t her show, it wasn’t her baby – it was our show, and she killed it.
This is why I believe that people who have no skin in the game, should have absolutely no authority to tell others what to do.
Of course you can have advisors who offer recommendations, but nobody can TELL you and FORCE on what to do unless they have skin in the game and are willing to pay the price of losing if things go south.
Which they always do.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you work extra hours on evenings and weekends and your manager yells at you because you “made her look bad” because now she “has to catch up” on everything that happened over the weekend.
Let me know this is has ever happened to you: I had a manager who was complaining because we were always ‘behind’ and that projects ‘kept slipping’. So I decided to do what any sensible and hard-working employee would do: I put in extra hours on evenings and weekends to get caught up.
I didn’t get paid or compensated for these extra hours of course, but out of my dedication to the team and the company I felt it would be good karma to help out.
One weekend in particular, I really went at it and produced a mountain of work. I helped us to get caught up on a number of projects and deliverables that needed to get done.
I shared my updates to our company Slack channel to keep everyone in the loop with what was going on, and to get some unresolved questions answered.
I went to bed Sunday night feeling like a champion – I had donated my entire weekend to the team (yes donated, what else do you call it when you’re not compensated for your time?), caught up on a pile of work, and helped our team move a number of important projects forward. I was feeling good.
However, much to my chagrin, by Monday morning things had turned sour.
My manager demanded to know why I had sent so many Slack messages over the weekend, and how she was feeling ‘frustrated’ because she now had to get caught up with everything from over the weekend.
In her words: “it’s great that you’re willing to work over the weekends, but I don’t want to, and now because you’ve posted all these updates I feel behind and like I need to get caught up”.
Because I had worked for free over an entire weekend, she was frustrated because she felt ‘behind’.
Are you kidding me?
I gave up my entire weekend to help the team, but you’re the victim here? Are you serious??
You know when your spidey senses start tingling and you get a clear message of ‘I can’t work here anymore’ ? – yeah, this was one of those, ringing loud and clear.
As soon as my manager said those words, I knew my time at the company was limited.
She should have been grateful for my hardwork and sacrifice, but instead all she could see was how it made her feel powerless.
And that’s the key takeaway here: when you have a manager who’s insecure and feels powerless in themselves, doing anything that shows some level of autonomy, or operating outside of what they’re comfortable will immediately set them off.
I’m sure that she was grateful that I got a whole bunch of work done over the weekend – but all it did was make her feel powerless – and to a manager – I had committed the ultimate sin.
But her addiction to power blinds her and she can’t see the forest for the trees – because when I’m gone – who’s going to be getting all that work done?
“Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager is on your a** everytime you send an email, send a slack message, deliver a piece of work late (timing), deliver a piece of work early (quality) or even ask a question.
Each one of these pieces individually was small, but it built an overall feeling of: “I gotta get the hell out of here”.
I’m all for constructive criticism, but when you get called out and ‘disciplined’ or ‘educated’ every time you do so much as lift a finger, it’s going to start wearing you down.
What I found with my manager was that any time I did… anything – she had a ‘learning opportunity’ for me. Great.
Any time I sent an email to a client – she’d say “why did you say x? That makes us look bad. You should have positioned it differently”
Or, “why did you cc so and so? They don’t need to be on it!”, or “why didn’t you cc so and so? They need to be on it!”.
Or every time I’d send a slack message to the team, she’d say “why are you telling so and so to do a task? That’s not your job, and I don’t think they’ll do a very good job at it”.
But of course, if I didn’t tell anyone to do a task, then she’d say “why aren’t you taking any initiative here? I feel like I’m the only one who’s keeping this whole thing going! Everyone else here just wants to keep passing the buck!”.
If I delivered a piece of work late, she’d scold me for being late “projects keep slipping – don’t you see how this is completely unacceptable??”.
But if I worked my butt off and delivered a piece of work early, she’d scold me and say “this is so bad! It is incomplete, you didn’t do x, y, z – this is in no condition to deliver to the client, weren’t you paying attention? Are you expecting me now to go in and fix all this. I’m too busy with my own projects to manage yours!”.
And the final nail in the coffin was that I’d also get scolded any time I’d ask a question.
Now I’m a personal believer in the idea that there are no bad questions – with the rare exceptions of when someone is intentionally trying to be a d*ckhead – all questions are good questions, and if someone is asking a question, IT IS A SIGN THAT THE INSTRUCTIONS WEREN’T CLEAR.
But my manager took questions as an affront to her power, or as a sign of our laziness.
Any time I’d ask a question on important points that needed to be clear for the project to function, I’d invariably receive pushback: “weren’t you paying attention? We covered this already. Weren’t you listening? We talked about this yesterday, we went over all of these details! I don’t want to be the one who has to remember everything around here!”.
Okay sweetie, cool your jets.
We talked about 50 different things yesterday – and you’re upset because I’m unclear on one specific and one very important detail? (say, a deadline).
And this is my point: if you feel afraid to ask a question because you know you’ll be verbally torn up in front of your co-workers and made to look a fool, then you’re going to stop asking questions.
And if you stop asking questions, the project is by definition going to fail, because team members aren’t 100% clear on important details.
And remember: if your staff aren’t clear on important details, that is your fault as the manager for not making it clear. That’s your job, remember?
If I was managing a team – I’d rather people ask me all sorts of stupid questions, so we could get things cleared up, and everybody on the right page.
But if you manage like a tyrant, and you destroy open lines of communication – then it’s game over.
For a team to function in our highly advanced modern economy, the lines of communication need to be open and running blazing fast.
People need to be free to communicate and ask questions – otherwise problems fester.
I know it feels hard – but if you’re a manager, you need to give up the sense that you’re in control, you’re not – your team members need to feel empowered to get the job done – otherwise you’ll be left to clean up everyone’s mess, which she was, and complained bitterly about it – but was too blind to see that she had caused it.
I’m so grateful that someone put you in charge of me without my consent. That worked out great, didn’t it.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager says “we need to set specific deadlines when we ask for reviews”, so you set a specific deadline and they say “why is this such a rush?!”
You’re probably starting to see a trend here: manager scolds you for doing a thing, so you adapt and try to improve, and then your manager scolds you for the complete opposite reason that she scolded you the first time.
Well have I got another story for you.
We were in the process of getting more formalized with our monthly reporting. Up until then we’d been pretty hap-hazard, doing them when we had the time, but now we were working to develop a system where the first 2 weeks of every month was ‘reporting season’.
Side note: I am fully in agreement that having a formalized reporting process is good business practice. As a concept this is a great idea and I support it. However, in practice, it completely fell apart.
Our reporting process got too bloated and complicated, meaning that we literally spent the first 2 weeks of each month pulling reports.
Think about that for a second: we spent half the month just preparing client reports, meaning that we only had 2 weeks each month to do actual work, before we were right back into reporting ‘season’ again.
I have a personal belief that reporting should account for no more than 10% of a total projects time – and ideally closer to 5%. Remember: client’s aren’t paying you to pull reports – they’re paying you to get more sales and grow their business.
Stop flattering yourself with all this unnecessary and extremely wasteful reporting.
But I digress – now as we were getting more formal in our process, we found that we were running out of time. Say for example, we wanted to deliver a report on the 10th – well that report would need to be to Senior Management by the 8th to have final approval, and would need to be reviewed by a manager by 6th to get an initial approval/comments/recommendations. So ideally that report needs to be largely together by the 4th or so, so that everyone has the opportunity to review and approve before it goes out to the client (oh, and this isn’t accounting for weekends and holidays that can throw off schedules).
Now we kept finding that the 10th would arrive, and not everyone had had the proper chance to dive in and review.
So my manager started saying to me “you need to set earlier deadlines – you need to make sure this gets together sooner and that you account for management review time in your estimate. It’s not acceptable that you don’t leave us enough time to review!”.
Fair enough, management needs more time to review – cool – so I started revising my scheduling, to make sure I’d have the report ready in time so that management could review.
Then when the next reporting season arrived, I’d outline the schedule and say “okay – here is the report, I need this back by x date”, to which my manager would respond “why does this need to be so soon? Is this really so urgent? Couldn’t it wait a few days”.
I nearly lost it.
First you scold me for not properly managing my time and letting deadlines slip, then you scold me for being too prepared and too on it – are you kidding me?
And this was about the time the truth and reality started to sink in: no matter what I do, it will always be wrong.
Let me say that again: no matter what I do, I will always, by definition, be wrong.
Because when your manager is insecure and power hungry, everything you do by definition has to be wrong, so she can maintain power over you.
I’m not interested in playing games and this kind of garbage – I’m here to get some serious work done.
Grow up, I’m out of here.
Signs your business is going to fail: when people insist on using 3 decimal places for every number, when 0 decimals would suffice (does 24.825% really tell you anything more than 25%???)
Okay, maybe I’m just ranting here now, but this one drives me a little bit insane.
Now without trying to sound arrogant here, once upon a time I went to this magical place called engineering school. And while I disagree with a lot of the stuff we learned, and it being a waste of time and money (but that is a rant for another day), one concept that got drilled into our heads was the idea of “significant digits”.
The idea being that in any mathematical equation, you can end up with an answer this is like 33.245128754673%. And while that answer is technically correct, it is in a way meaningless.
What do all those decimal places really add to the usefulness of the answer?
The concept of significant digits helps to give guidance on how many decimal places are required for an answer, and it comes down to the precision of your numbers going into it.
If you input data is not precise, then your output data, should be equally imprecise.
Here’s an example: if you made 7 sales, out of 103 clicks, technically your conversion rate is “6.796116504%”.
But all the input data only had the precision of 0 decimal places. Meaning the final answer should have no more than 1 decimal place.
I personally would report the answer as 6.8%, possibly even rounding up to just 7%.
Because ask yourself – how much value to those extra 9 decimal places really add?
If I reported the answer as 7%, or if I reported the answer as 6.796116% – does that really change what you’ll do with the results? Does it impact your decision of whether it is a good campaign or not? Does it change how you’ll respond or find a solution?
Absolutely not. For all intents and purposes, both numbers basically represent the same thing.
However, 7% is easier to write in a report. It is easier as a client to read and understand, and it is easier to talk about in conversation.
By simplifying to just 7%, it makes the whole process of communication that much easier and clearer – and anything that improves communication, is worth its weight in gold as far as I’m concerned.
Imagine for a second you’re a client and you’re reading through a report, and you see numbers like 12. 78467%, or +53.2016758, or 7.9999878% – do those numbers help you? Do they fill you with confidence? Do they confuse you?
Likely all of the above.
So why do people insist on adding excessive amounts of completely unnecessary precision and decimal places?
I think it makes them feel smart. They can look like they really know what they’re talking about because they’ve got all those decimals.
All you’ve accomplished is confusing and annoying people, but maybe that was your goal after all.
But if you work for a manager that insists on unnecessary precision, it is likely a sign that they are compensating for some other fear – they want the report to be intentionally vague or confusing, so they can wrap it in this shroud of mystery.
In fact – quick side note: many marketers love making reports intentionally confusing and convoluted.
They’re trying to make themselves look super smart, while at the same time distracting you from the reality that they actually have no freaking idea how to make your campaign actually, you know, profitable.
Beware of these marketers. And if one of them is your boss, get out of there as quickly as you possibly can.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager says “hey send me that document” so you send that document and then she says “you know you really should have sent this to X and Y before sending to me. I’m too busy to review an unfinished document…”
Speaking of managers who really grind my gears…
Have you ever been working away on a report, when suddenly your manager out of the blue says “hey, send me that report you’re working on, I want to take a look”.
So you send them over a copy and then you get a response back “you know, you really should have showed this to Sally in accounting and Kevin in sales look this over first – why did you send it to me without having them review it?”.
Are you serious?
You asked me to send you a report, so I sent you the freaking report.
If you wanted it to go to Sally and Kevin, which conveniently you never mentioned before, ever, before this moment, why didn’t you ask me to send it to them first?
I did what you told me, and I still got it wrong.
Now, also, if I had taken the initiative and I’d sent it out to Kevin and Sally, you would of course have scolded me as well for sending it to them without consulting you first. And if I’d asked you whether it should get sent to Kevin and Sally, you would have scolded me for asking you, when I “should have known better anyway”.
See where this is going? I get scolded and told I’m wrong no matter what I do. And I have no interest in playing that game.
If I’m wrong when you do what you say, and I’m wrong when I take initiative and I’m wrong when I ask questions – how exactly do you expect this relationship to last long term?
Punchline: it won’t.
Signs your business is going to fail: when people are more concerned with “CTR’s” and “CPC’s” than they are with conversions and actually meaningful results. Vanity metrics can be helpful, but they can also get you focused on the wrong things. Maybe an ad has a low CTR, but it converts like a motherf*cker and builds your email list and puts dollars in your pocket. Focus on what matters, f*ck the rest
This one might sound nit picky – but it’s important.
In marketing – we have all sorts of metrics. We love data and we love numbers and we love convoluted acronyms.
For the sake of this section, let’s stick to these 5:
- CPM – How much you pay per each 1000 impressions
- CPC – How much you pay per each click
- CTR – how many clicks per 100 impressions
- CVR – how many conversions per 100 clicks
- CPA – How much you pay for each conversion
Now, all of these metrics are important, however I’d argue that the most important are the last two (CVR and CPA), and arguably, of all these metrics that CPA is the single most important of all of them.
If you sold a $300 item, and you have 50% margins, meaning that you have the potential to earn $150 profit on each sale, and you find out that your advertising is resulting a in CPA of $50/conv – you now know that you are earning a healthy $100 profit off each sale ($300 sale price minus $50 ad costs, and $150 cost of goods = $100).
As a business owner, I’d be very happy with that, and I’d tell my marketer to ramp up the ad spend so we could start printing money.
See my point here? If you knew no other metrics, but you knew you had a CPA of $50/conv, and that lead to $100 profit per sale – would you care what your CPM and CTR were? Not really – they’re kind of irrelevant.
But here’s where things sometimes take a sinister turn.
I’ve seen this before with marketing campaigns and it breaks my heart – a campaign will be chugging along quite well, earning sales and being profitable.
However, an over scrupulous marketer might start digging into the numbers and see they’re getting a CPM of $80 (expensive), a CTR of 0.5% (underperforming), and a CPC of $12/click (expensive) – and they think “oh no! This campaign is not performing well – we need to get cheaper clicks, cheaper impressions and increase the click through rate!!” – Over scrupulous marketer to the rescue!
So they make their changes, focused in on the micro issues, however they lose sight of the macro picture – and in the process they end up destroying that beautiful $50 CPA, and now it’s $200 – which means once you account for your cost of goods – you’re now actually losing $50 for each sale.
The business went from being profitable to losing money in the snap of a finger.
Because the marketer was focused on vanity metrics that are effectively irrelevant to business performance.
Now don’t get me wrong, those metrics can be useful, and they give you a good way of comparing yourself against others in your industry and what could be typical – and if you’re trying to debug a situation, they can give you some insights into where problems might lie – however the problem is when marketers assign them too much weight.
They assume that a low CTR is by definition bad. But it’s not if the overall campaign is performing well.
And this is the problem: inexperienced marketers can’t see the forest for the trees – they get lost in the minutia of unimportant details that don’t really help anything – but a professional and experienced marketer is able to step back and see the big picture – and say more definitively whether a campaign is performing well or not.
Stop getting lost in meaningless details. Focus on the core metrics that actually matter. And oh yeah – clients will appreciate your straightforwardness.
Seriously – good clients hate it when you confuse them and take them down unnecessary rabbit holes – keep it simple, keep it clear, and they’ll love you for it.
As they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your clients berate you to rank better for certain keywords, so you specifically put those keywords in a blog to help them rank better, and then they remove them, and then they complain when they aren’t ranking for those keywords.
Can you tell yet that I love clients?
Mmm…insane client demands just put such a big smile on my face 🙂
So we had one client that hired us for SEO services.
We were having trouble competing against some of the big brands in the space, so we worked to find some alternative low-competition keywords we could go after.
We agreed on the terms and the specific direction that we’d be going in.
Now another firm was responsible for writing the piece, but our job was to edit it and optimize for SEO.
So we took those keywords that the client agreed with were important and added them to the blog post.
Now, I’ll admit, the terms did look a little ‘stuffed’ – meaning that they looked a little bit forced, however, our goal was to rank for those keywords, and if we don’t use enough of them, Google won’t properly understand what the content is about.
So while maybe it wasn’t perfect, it was great for what we had agreed that we were trying to accomplish.
However, the report went back to the client for final approval, and when it came back to us, it was clear that all our hard work had been undone.
In fact, virtually every mention of the keywords we’d agreed to were important, had been removed.
Stunned and bemused, we went ahead and published the article, understanding it to be our client’s wishes. They were happy with it, after all, right?
Well not too surprisingly, the article never actually ranked for the terms they wanted to rank for.
Oh, and guess who’s fault that was?
Of course it was our fault.
Remember: clients are never at fault.
As the service provider, it will always be your fault.
If you do what you know needs to be done, and the client doesn’t like it, that’s your fault.
If you let the client bully you around to get their way, but they’re idiots and have no idea how marketing works, and as a result the marketing fails – yep – you be that’s your fault too.
See why I despise working with clients?
You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And no matter what your prices are too damned high.
Later guys – I’m out.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your “prized” FB video + remarketing campaign, that you plastered up as winning case studies, falls flat, generating less in revenue the ad spend – not only wasn’t profitable, but actively lost money. And that’s what we’ve got to hang our hat on…
Yeah – this was a painful one.
Our team very proudly put together a new marketing campaign.
Now, overall I believe that the concept that we came up with was top notch, and had huge amounts of potential. But as always, somewhere in execution, things fell flat on their face.
For the marketing nerds out there, here was the basic premise:
We run a video as a ‘video view’ Facebook Campaign – the intention is to get as many people as possible to watch the video, and build up a video view remarketing audience (ie – anyone who has watched the video, is no eligible to receive future ads.
Here’s the principle: most people just zip through their newsfeed and have no interest in what you have to say – however, if someone does actually stick around and watch 3 minutes, or even 30 seconds of your video – that is a pretty big sign that they’re interested in what you have to say.
Half the game of marketing is just finding those people who are actually interested in what you have to say.
Once users have effectively put their proverbial hand up and indicated interest – it is much easier to sell to them, then it is to sell to the general public.
The next step then is to run a remarketing conversion ad – this effectively allows Facebook to comb through all those people who put their hands up, and find the ones who are eager to convert.
It’s like a one-two punch in marketing.
In theory, this is a great marketing strategy that I highly recommend and will personally be further exploring and perfecting.
However, there is a big but here.
Our agency started running with this marketing strategy, and we saw some initial success – nothing too mind blowing, but we were able to generate a 2x ROAS – effectively meaning if we invested $1000 in ads, we saw $2000 in revenue.
Which initially sounds good, but once you account for things like taxes and cost of goods, that may mean a pretty slim profit margin, depending on how expensive it is to actually deliver that product.
So, decent results, but nothing earth shattering.
But our agency decided to pick that up and run with it.
We produced a whole sales deck, essentially outlining how amazing this new strategy was. We then started trying to sell it to every Tom, Dick and Harry who would give us the time to listen to us.
We were on a mission – sell the Facebook Video Remarketing Campaign!!
We pushed it hard. Stressing about how amazing we were, and how much people should definitely be buying from us.
It was a tough slough, but we eventually got a nibble. Actually, in full honesty, it wasn’t really a nibble, it was the client we’d used as the case study, decided to re-up and have another go at it (I guess they were impressed enough to try again).
So after all this pomp and circumstance, and beating our chests about how we were the best and how amazing we were – with enthusiasm high – we decided to run the campaign again.
In the first 2 weeks, we actually got some decent sales, seeing about a 2x ROAS again – however, by week 3 the campaign had stalled and by week 4 it was dead in the water.
Overall result? 0.97% ROAS. Yes – this campaign earned less revenue than we spent on ads, which means that account for cost of goods to deliver as well as our management feel, the client overall lost buckets of money.
Not only did they not break even, but they lost money.
Yay! (we’re the best!).
And this is one of my frustrations about working for an agency – we do all this chest beating about how amazing we are, yet when the chips fall, we also fall flat on our faces.
But more sinister than that – we still got paid as an agency, yet our client (who trusted us) overall lost money.
And we say “oopsie! I guess we’ll do better next time!”.
And the client is there just scratching their head being like “what the hell did I just pay for?”.
The other problem with agencies – just as one more side rant – is the philosophy around “set it and forget it” – as in we’ll setup the campaign for you, and then keep running it for the duration of the contract without really doing much with it.
So if the campaign starts tanking – oopsie! Too bad!
A real marketing professional should be watching that campaign daily like a hawk, and have the leveral and flexibility to adapt and change. Pausing the campaign, adding new creative, changing up the headline.
A proper campaign should be in a constant state of flux and updates.
Especially a Facebook campaign. Facebook has made it abundantly clear that ad campaigns on their platform are designed to die after about 7 days.
Facebook will happily keep taking your money, but they won’t show your ads to their best users.
The solution? Continuously updating your campaigns.
But the easier solution that I’ve found is pausing campaigns.
Seriously, if you have a campaign that stopped performing – pause it for 3 days and then resume for another 3 days.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the campaign will suddenly come back to life again. It is a miracle to watch.
I feel bad for all those poor suckers who started a Facebook campaign, and have just kept it running for weeks and months. Ouch.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager just does not understand math or statistics.
When reporting to your clients on campaign performance, let’s just say it can be helpful to have some basic understandings of math and statistics.
For example, once we were measuring the effect of removing a step in a survey.
After making the change, the total number of survey finishes had increased, and my manager very excitedly wanted to show this off to the client.
I however, unfortunately had to be the bearer of bad news and tell her that more people had started the survey the 2nd time around, which had nothing to do with our change, and that overall, on a normalized percentage basis the number of finishes was actually DOWN from the previous period.
In other words, we got more survey finishes, not because the survey was better, but because more people had started the survey (through no fault of our own).
She couldn’t comprehend my words – in her world, more finishes = better. She doesn’t really understand comparing apples to apples.
And sometimes this is a problem in agencies, you work with team members or managers who are generally pretty smart and talented in their specific field – however, just do not understand the basics of things like math and stats.
(which is unfortunate considering how they’re responsible for reporting on monthly campaign results, which generally require a good deal of statistical analysis – yikes).
This also ties back into our earlier point about Positive Reporting.
I had a manager that would twist and turn the numbers however she could, to get the end result that she wanted.
She was essentially manipulating the numbers for the sole purpose of trying to look better than she really was. Nicely done chief.
Just enough statistics knowledge to be dangerous.
Signs your business is going to fail: you focus entirely on the bottom of the funnel – meaning you only want to talk to people who’ve already decided they want to buy your thing, but then get frustrated when you get tire kickers.
Have I mentioned yet that it makes me laugh when clients get frustrated that all they’re getting is ‘tire kickers’?
Little entitled brats as I’m concerned. If you can’t turn a tire kicker into a viable business prospect, then you suck at business. Stop whining and blaming other people for your failures.
Side rant: if you’re getting frustrated that all you get are tire kickers, then you are missing an automated nurture program, that can turn those tire kickers into loyal fans, say 6-12 months down the road. It’s entirely your fault if you can’t convert.
Now, if you want to build a long-term sustainable business, you gotta find a way to advertise more top of funnel, meaning more awareness focused, where you cast a wiiiiiiiide net.
Then you need to have an automated nurturing and filtering system, delivering you with high quality bottom of funnel, high paying clients who are eager to pay you big dollars. Like that saying goes it’s all about nurture, nurture, nurture.
So what’s the problem here?
Most clients (and rightfully so), want to focus at the bottom of the funnel. Meaning if they sell cars, they want people walking onto the lot that are ready to buy. In my mind, that is very entitled and wishful thinking – get over yourself and your arrogance.
So clients – only want to focu their marketing effort at that ‘bottom of funnel’ marketing. As an example – if you ran a Google Ad campaign for users who searched for “used Tesla cars near me” – that is a user who has already decided they want a used car, and even specifically a Tesla at that – they know what they want, and they’re just looking to get it.
When that person sees your ad and then calls you – they already know what they want, and ideally they just go for a test drive, whip out their credit card and buy it. Easy right?
Right – but the problem is that most people are just browsing, and they’re not actually looking to buy right in that moment.
So what’s the solution?
To run more of an awareness campaign.
Remember what I said up above about running a Facebook video campaign to a conversion remarketing campaign? Yeah, that is exactly what I’m talking about.
The more awareness you can generate up front with videos, and photos, and descriptions and case studies – the more material you can get in front of people up front – the more you can get people to like you and the more you can get people to fall in love with your and your business, the easier the sale will be.
The problem is most business owners focus only on the sale. Everything else is just a means to an end to get to the sale.
This would be like dating and being confused why you date doesn’t want to marry you on the first date.
In less eloquent terms, this is like trying f*ck total strangers.
Let’s be real – if someone sees your ad one time, you don’t have a relationship, you’ve had a fleeting moment.
They’ve likely already forgotten about you and they’re certainly not that interested in buying from you.
And this is my point: client’s need to get off their high horse and their sense of entitled arrogance, and understand that tire kickers are just a fact of life.
Appreciate that marketing is a longer journey, and that it takes serious time to build trust and relationships.
And if you can’t sell to tire kickers, you just suck at business. Stop blaming others for your problems.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your team is stressing because the number of ad impressions served last week went down and CPM went up. ‘What happened!?’ they exclaim.
This relates back to my earlier point about confusing the importance of CPMs vs something like CPAs – or as a quick refresher – stressing more about the cost of an impression, than the cost of an actual sale.
I wish I could say this was just an isolated case of a temporary lapse of judgment, however it was reflective of a recurring problem: the cost per impression of a campaign would suddenly creep up a little bit, and everyone on our team would suddenly lose their sh*t.
“What happened??” “What went wrong??” “Why didn’t anyone see this coming??” and the hailstorm of whinging, finger pointing and passing the buck would ensue.
Now I’m not saying that I’m some kind of business savant, but if your impressions get a little more expensive one week vs the last – it doesn’t mean jack sh*t.
First of all, weekly fluctuations are normal. Just because things went a bit up or down, doesn’t inherently mean anything.
I loved when our manager would start shouting: “what happened here – why did it get more expensive??” – which are fair questions – except that when we literally changed nothing on the account for 2 or 3 weeks – there’s nothing to get your knickers in a twist about it.
Think about it – if you have made zero changes to your account in several weeks, and suddenly this week things got more expensive, and then your manager screams “what happened here??” – it’s like “chill!” ad campaigns fluctuate naturally – just because it went up a little bit this week, doesn’t inherently mean anything.
Yet at the same time – the manager also failed to see that CTR increased, and more importantly, that conversions on the account went up.
Who cares if your impressions dropped. This isn’t a f*cking impressions campaign. You can’t see the forest for the trees.
And this is my point: at the end of the day, what we really care about is sales. If sales are going well, who cares if your impressions got a little more expensive – you’re getting distracted by irrelevant metrics.
Keep you eye on the prize.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you’re leaving your job and your manager gives a stilted, robotic announcement to the team “yes and.. we’d like to thank you…for your hard work….and everything…you’ve done…for the team”
It just warms your heart doesn’t it?
When I announced my resignation from the marketing agency, my manager gave the most uninspired good-bye speech I’ve ever heard.
We were having a meeting with the entire team when my manager made the announcement.
Filled to the brim with tired cliches – like “we really appreciate all your hard work”, and “you’ve been such a valued member of this team” and “we wish you all the best in your future”.
Now obviously when you start a new job, you won’t know how crap your goodbye speech will be – but if you get a crap goodbye speech – then you know that you made the right decision in leaving.
But more than that, if you’re the leader of the organization, and you see your managers giving these half-baked speeches – take note because your team and your organization is in deep trouble.
To be a proper leader – you need to actually care about your people – which means actually knowing something about them, and having some level of emotion when they decide to leave.
If your organization is filled with SkyNet robots, it’s time to get out, or build a new business.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you take on projects you absolutely have no experience or no ability to deliver on, with clients that have unrealistic expectations and demand that you perform miracles on something that you don’t really know how to do (or want to do) anyway.
Continuing on the saga of poorly managed businesses and client expectations – let’s talk about the agency that gleefully takes on projects that it knows perfectly well it can’t deliver on.
I’ve noticed this sinister trend in the agency world the “yes we can” attitude – normally seen as a positive thing, this is when an agency says “yes we can” to literally any proposition that comes its way:
- Can you do SEO? Yes we can!
- Can you sell physical products? Yes we can!
- Can you help us set up an eCommerce store? Yes we can!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new and difficult things.
But there’s a problem when you regularly agree to taking on projects that you know that you’re not skilled at delivering, and then on top of that, charge rates that are embarrassingly low.
It’s one thing to take a strategic loss-leader to win a certain type of business, however if you just jump and any and every opportunity that comes your way, you’re going to end up shooting yourself in the foot (as we did).
See, we’d have a client that would ask us if we could do something like SEO – to which our team excitedly said “Yes we can!”. We’d then charge the client an extremely low amount of money – enough to cover maybe 6 hours of agency time for the month.
We’d deliver our work, and then the client would invariable say something like “I was really expecting more traffic and sales from your effort. If we’re actively paying you this money, we’re expecting to see traffic steadily ticking upward more significantly to justify the ROI”.
And then we’d promise “yeah, but give us another month and then we’ll really blow you away!”.
So we’d work for another month and invariably the client would still be disappointed. “We’re paying you all this money…” they would mutter.
And we’d triple promise that “yeah, but in another month the SEO will REALLY blow you away! SEO takes 6-12 months, remember?”
And then the results still wouldn’t materialize, and we’d just be sitting there, pissing on our feet.
It wasn’t pretty, but this kept happening over and over again.
If your business keeps promising projects that it knows that it clearly can’t deliver, it’s only a matter of time before that sink ships.
If you want to be ambitious and take on new projects, it needs to be a strategic decision, and you need to jump into it fully – put everything else aside – take some new courses – learn what you need to learn – come up with a plan and execute it properly.
Otherwise, you’re just pissing in the wind.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you present a prospect a proposal, and they humm and haww, so you bend over backwards trying to satisfy their every desire.
Seriously, we had clients where we would present them with epic proposals, and they’d humm and haww and drag their feet. The proposal would stall, and nothing would really go anywhere.
Then the client would make a stink that the proposal wasn’t quite what they were looking for.
So we’d bust our a**es to produce another proposal and we’d do another presentation deck, only to have the prospect humm and haww again.
Then they’d ghost. Then they play games.
We would bend over backwards to try to satisfy clients, and clients would invariably string us along – seeing how much free work they could get out of us – then when we were all used up, they’d discard us on the side of the road.
Now it gets worse, because in doing everything we could to make our prospects happy, we would invariable screw up our other projects and deliverables.
Oh right, how could we forget – but we had other important client projects due of course, that now we’ve thrown out of whack just to win this piece of business.
Let me just say this clearly:
When you bend over backwards and mess up your internal processes and timelines to please a prospect, your business is going to fail.
When you’ll do anything to win business, your business is going to fail.
When you say “this is a really big project, and we need to win it” your business is going to fail.
Just, save us all the trouble and get out of the game already.
Signs your business is going to fail: when a client demands a 2 day turnaround on a quote and you comply, your business is going to fail.
Let me paint a nasy picture:
When clients have the power to demand detailed quotes from you within a 2-day turnaround window – your business is going to fail
When you agree to their 2 day timeline, your business is going to fail.
When you then forget about the 2 day timeline and the client angrily follows up a week later, your business is going to fail.
When the client demands that you provide quotes and estimates for every tiny piece of work you do (even if it’s less than an hour), and you cave to their demands, your business is going to fail.
What I’m talking about here is all about power and posturing.
If clients have the power to push your around, to demand instant turnaround, and effectively dictate your employees schedules – your business is going to fail.
Your posture is weak, and clients can smell it. They know they can push you around, because you’re so desperate for that money. And when you comply, you’ve just sealed your own coffin.
Remember: you are the skilled service provider. The services you off are unique and difficult to get elsewhere. Why should a client have any power to push you around?
They’re the ones with the burning problem remember? They’re the ones who are struggling to grow their businesses, and you’re the one with the unique solution remember?
So tell them to f*ck off. They work at your pace and your schedule.
Have some self-respect. Never let a client dictate your schedule, your resourcing, your timelines or your budgets.
If a client has the power to push you around, you need to acknowledge that you don’t have a business in the first place. You have a punching bag.
Your business and services are so generic and undifferentiated, that the only difference between you and a competitor is price.
Probably because as we discussed above, you agreed to do everything that your clients asked of you, even if those were skills you did not have expertise in.
So you became a generalist.
You became so generic and unspecial, that clients come to you, not because of your exceptional service, but because they know they can push you around.
It’s sick. But like sharks smelling blood, they’re in for the feed.
If you haven’t differentiated yourself – that’s your first step – because otherwise you’re just like everyone else – all getting gobbled up by the sharks.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you bend over backwards to do everything you can to keep your clients satisfied, screwing up your own internal processes and timelines (and messing up other clients projects in the process, creating a nasty domino effect), only to have your clients demand you bend over backwards EVEN more to deliver to their unrealistically high quality expectations, while inversely being unwilling to pay you anything close to what you’re worth.
This point builds off an earlier point about doing everything you can to prevent your clients from even feeling unhappy for even a split second.
This is almost more about babysitting than it is about actually doing a job or running a business.
Seriously, most clients are whiny little b*tches. They’re on a power trip, and they want you to know that seeing as they’re paying the money, they’re the ones who are in control, and dammit you better pucker up.
When clients say jump – you say how high.
But here’s the problem that most business owners miss.
They get so caught up with saying “the client is always right! We must do everything we can to satisfy the client!” – that they miss the fact that if they bend over backwards to satisfy one client, they are likely messing up their own internal timelines and processes.
Meaning, there’s now a knock on effect where another clients project got delayed or postponed.
Now, how is that fair to that other client?
And here’s the sad reality: the squeaky wheel, gets the grease.
The clients that complain the loudest, get the most attention.
Which is backwards. The clients who complain the loudest should be fired, and you should focus your attention on your best clients – who pay their bills and treat you right – these are the clients you need to focus on.
The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your best clients, and that 20% of your worst clients will cause 80% of your headaches – fire them.
If your concern is about treating your clients right – then get rid of your bad ones, so you can focus on treating your good clients as best as you possibly can.
Get your priorities straight.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you’ve invested over $500k into you business over the last 2 years and ‘haven’t seen a paycheck yet’. If you invest half a million dollars, and you still haven’t proven you have a marketable product, you’re an idiot. Find out if people want to buy it first.
I’m being serious here – we had a prospect proudly proclaim to us that he had invested over $500k into his business over the past 2 years, and had yet to see a paycheck.
In fact, we had the distinct impression that he hadn’t even proven yet whether there was a market for his services.
He’d told us that he’d gone door knocking, and had been harshly rejected over and over again – not exactly a resounding success.
He worked in the residential sewer industry – not exactly something that homeowners are exactly excited to talk about at dinner time.
Also – he was working in an industry with massive competition – there are already plenty of other service providers, offering nearly exactly the same thing he was offering (not unique).
And on top of that, their profit margins were garbage. On a $500 sale, they were pocketing about $50 (10% margins) and that’s assuming they didn’t have any advertising costs (which they would, and they would be substantial).
Signs your business is going to fail: when clients demand that you provide the estimated hours before ever completing a task, and then demand to know why that same task hasn’t been completed yet when you told them that it was with the team to be estimated.
I meanted above that we had a program called ‘constant improvement’. Where a client would hire us on retainer for an entire year. They would have 120 hours that should in theory last them the entire year.
However, nobody internally seemed to appreciate how slow we were, and so that 120 hours that was supposed to last an entire year, might be mostly gone within 3 months – oopsie!
Not surprisingly, clients would freak out and lose their minds.
“We’re only THREE months IN and you’ve ALREADY used 70% of the HOURS??? Why wasn’t I informed of this? Why didn’t anyone warn me earlier that we were burning through so many hours so quickly???”
Clients would freak out – and to be honest – rightfully so. I’d also be upset as a client if I’d bought a package meant to last me an entire year, but the agency had been too lazy to keep me informed about how much I was using.
But then here came the problem: clients in an attempt to take back the power, would start demanding hourly estimates.
Before any work was to be completed, they wanted to know how long it would take.
Again, a reasonable demand, however this would also extend to tiny requests. Small requests that might take 30 min, we then spent at least 30 min estimating how long it would actually take. Clearly we weren’t very efficient at estimating time.
But here’s where things would take a serious turn for the worst:
Clients would start demanding that we provide estimates of hours before doing any work. However, as we were all busy, it might take the better part of a week to get an estimate together (depending on the complexity of the request).
While the project was out to be quoted (and the client had been informed), the client would then impatiently get back to us and say “well? Have you finished the work yet?”.
To which we’d respond “it is still out being quoted. Our team is quite busy at the moment, but we’ll get back to you as soon as we can”
To which the client would respond “why is this taking so long?? I needed the work done already”.
Clients wanted it both ways. They wanted to be provided with estimates ahead of time so they can feel like they’re making informed decisions, but they also want the work to have been completed yesterday.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the clients here – this was all entirely our fault as an agency.
It is our responsibility to a) be responsible with our time, but more importantly to b) properly manage client expectations.
And this goes back up to what I discussed above – not allowing your business to be pushed around and bullied by clients.
Clients love to bully you – they love to tell you what to do, and to tell you that everything you have done is clearly not good enough, not fast enough and not cheap enough.
And that’s fine, clients can bully all they want.
The problem is that if you as an agency owner, bend over and fold to their demands.
If you acquiesce and give in to their demands, and let your clients push you around – I hate to tell you this, but your business is going to fail.
And so here was the problem: we let our clients treat us like garbage. Actually, it was more insidious than that: we trained our clients to treat us like garbage by giving them the clear signal that it was okay, and that we would tolerate it.
Or even darker than that: that we needed to tolerate it because we needed the money so badly.
Not a good position to be in – and not very good posture. Clearly, we did not have the upper hand in the relationship.
Signs your business is going to fail: no one wants to buy your sh*t.
Yes, the truth hurts.
But sometimes we need a little truth to help stop us from making dumb decisions.
First of all, I’m just going to say it: most clients think that marketers are some kind of magicians or something, and that we have these magical powers to sell anything.
But the harsh truth is that if you have a terrible product or service that nobody wants to buy, then all marketing will accomplish is speed up how quickly you go out of business.
There’s a joke in there about slapping lipstick on a pig.
We had one client who sold kitchen appliances. But literally all they had done was take the same fridge their competitor was selling, and then slapped their own label on it. Literally the same appliance.
Why is that a problem? Zero differentiation.
If a customer is choosing between two brands – and they are exactly the same – the only thing that distinguishes them is their price.
Oh, and our client believed in ‘premium pricing’.
Well done genius – except they constantly complained about low sales.
Gee, I wonder why?
Let me make this clear to you:
When you sell a kitchen appliance that is literally the same as your competitors but you slapped a different label on it, nobody wants to buy your sh*t.
When you have a website that looks like it was built by a 7 year old in the 90’s, nobody wants to buy your sh*t.
When you sell overpriced, poorly positioned, indistinguishable commodities, nobody wants to buy your sh*t.
When your mission is to “sell colored fridges”, nobody wants to buy your sh*t.
When you sell a literal commodity, that has required no thought or effort to distinguish from the competition, nobody wants to buy your sh*t.
But of course – when their products don’t sell, whos fault is it? Is it their fault for poorly choosing a product to sell – or is it our fault as the agency for not being able to sell it?
You guessed it, it is absolutely our fault.
Now, I to revisit a line I said earlier about being an agency so desperate for money that you take literally any job that comes your way.
And I hope you’re starting to understand why that is so dangerous.
Let’s step back for a second. If you’re a client, nobody blinks an eye if you say “I want to talk to 3 agencies and get 3 quotes so I can make a more informed decision”.
In fact – everyone would cheer you on – “fight the power!” they scream.
But as an agency owner – you must be equally picky with the clients you take on.
Think about it – if you can smell upfront that a client will be trouble – that they’ll be difficult to work with, have unreasonable demands and that you know you’ll have trouble successfully selling their product – stay the hell away.
Seriously, drop that client and move on.
If you want to be a successful agency owner, you need to be just as selective and picky about the types of clients you take on.
To do anything less, is just dangerous.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager is more concerned about arbitrary industry benchmarks, rather than actual performance improvement over time.
I had a manager who LOVED industry benchmarks. And I mean loved with a capital L and several <3’s inside.
Now, industry benchmarks are useful – they give you a rough guide as to what others in your ‘industry’ are paying for advertising and roughly what results they’re seeing.
However, this number is such a massive aggregate of different marketers, different products, different campaign types, different skill levels and different sales cycles – that in my mind – this number is effectively useless, other than to provide a rough guideline to compare yourself against.
It is by no means the be all and the end all – this is not a number that you should hang your hat on.
Beating the industry average does not inherently mean you’re doing well, and being below industry average does not inherently mean you’re doing poorly.
Who cares if the industry average is $2 per clicks, and we’re at $2.50 per click? Maybe more expensive clicks will bring us better results.
Maybe cheaper clicks will actually destroy our funnel and make things worse.
I understand the benefit of comparing against benchmarks, but should be used for informational purposes only, not to make strategic decisions.
Just because you’re ‘worse than benchmarks’ doesn’t inherently mean your campaign is bad. And trying to fix it could send you down a rabbit hole of irrelevance.
Case in point: if you have a very high CTR, this is generally perceived as a good thing, however the higher your CTR, the likely higher your CPM will be (as you get a higher rate of clicks you serve fewer impressions for the same budge). So if you were concerned your CPMs were too high, the way to fix that would be reduce your CTR – does that sound like a good solution?
Obviously the preference would be to drop CPC, but if you couldn’t do that, your only option would be to decrease CTR.
Let me give you a clearer example:
Let’s say that you’re running a conversion campaign on Facebook.
Now conversion campaigns by their very definition, will have higher CPMs than an awareness campaigns, and higher CPCs than a traffic campaign – so already you’re likely ‘above’ the industry benchmarks.
But then you might argue – okay, but as a conversion campaign, you’ll likely beat industry benchmarks for conversion, right?
Possibly – but again, let’s say the product we’re selling is $3,000, and the typical product sold in this industry is $300. Our conversion rate and CPA (cost per acquisition), will inherently be higher than average.
But at the same time – who cares?
If our CPA is $1000, and that is 2x worse than industry benchmark, but with our excellent margins we’re still able to make a clean $1,000 profit from each sale, while our competitors actually lose money – then who cares if we’re ‘worse’ than industry benchmarks.
Getting too hung up and focused on benchmarks can lead you straight down a rabbit hole of irrelevance, as you start trying to fix problems that aren’t really problems.
To be extremely honest and blunt – using industry benchmarks is just a cheap way of showing to clients ‘hey look at how great we’re doing!”.
It’s a way of pretending like you actually know what you’re doing – by comparing yourself to some irrelevant other players in your industry. It’s a way to beat your own chest and toot your own horn – without need to deliver any tangible results, like, say, helping your clients make sals.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your wife is part owner of your business, and then you split up, and she’s still part owner of the business. Guess what? you still gotta make her happy!
This just made me cringe.
I had a boss who co-owned his business with his wife.
Now don’t get me wrong – these were both wonderful fantastic human beings – but that inevitable thing happened that happens to all married couples: they split up.
Now I do need to give both these people credit – they managed to split up on amicable terms, and kept everything civilized and professional – nicely done.
However, how is this for a grim reality: you’ve just split up with your wife, and she remains co-owner of your business. Meaning, that every important decision – every hiring decision, every firing decision, every promotion decision, every office location decision, every business opportunity, every major client decision – still needs to get reviewed by and approved by, your ex-wife.
Literally it makes me sick to my stomach.
The thought that someone I’m no longer with, could have the ability to wield that much power over me.
Think about it – you then have an obligation to stay on good terms with her.
In fact, worse than that – there is now a complete imbalance of power – she has all of the power.
Think about it – as the primary business owner and operator, it is your duty to ensure the business remains successful and profitable.
But she has no incentive to care about day to day operations – she just wants to ensure the business overall makes money so she can get her profit share and ideally one day get bought out.
Which means – she has the ability to derail any conversation, any negotiation, and HR review – she can derail the whole process.
He now has to walk on eggshells and kiss her ass to keep her happy.
Imagine this for a second – they get into a huge fight and things deteriorate between them. A few weeks later, he then goes to hire a new staff member, who’s an absolute legend at his craft. All is going well – but before they can sign the final paperwork, she’s feeling a little moody and puts the breaks on the entire operation.
As co-owner she has the power to do that.
He then loses his new rockstar who of course immediately gets another and better opportunity.
This is what an imbalance of power looks like:
He needs to kiss her a** to keep her happy, and she has the power to ruin everything at the snap of her fingers.
Have you learned your lesson yet?
Never become co-owner with your wife.
Because you may wake up one day, and find out that she’s no longer your wife.
Signs your business is going to fail: when the client reaches the end of their management period and stops paying you, but expects you to keep reporting on their project while they deliberate on extending their contract. And you oblige.
I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cry at this one.
First a little context – we had a business consultant client who had asked us to run a Google ad campaign for him.
After reviewing his current Google ad campaign – it became obvious that we could do a much better job than they ad done – easy – no problemo.
So we dutifully put together a proposal that the client dutifully rejected.
“Why is it so expensive?” they came back with, “what can we do here to lower our costs?’.
First of all – I hate that – “what can we do to lower our costs” – there is no we here – you’re not actively participating, you’re telling me what to do and putting the entire onus on me to come up with a solution.
We then explained that our costing was based on managing the campaigns for a 3 month period, and that we needed 3 months to properly optimize the campaign.
The client said they weren’t interested in paying for 3 months, and what we could do in 1 month.
So we dutifully put together a new proposal (gosh darn, we are so good and dutiful!), with a drastically reduced price point and the client accepted.
We setup the campaign, ran it for a month – and thought “that was that” – that we’d fulfilled our obligations and were done.
We prepared a report and presented our findings to the client.
The client was more than a little disappointed with the results – they hadn’t gotten nearly as many leads as they hoped for – and were complaining again about those proverbial Tire Kickers.
So us being the good and dutiful agency that we were – we said “not a problem, we’ll get in there and make some important updates on your account – no charge!”.
So we made the changes and then presented the client with a proposal to extend our management.
The client hummed and hawed and never really came to any decision. They dragged their feet for months. Yes, literally months of this went by.
The client kept making a fuss about how the campaign wasn’t performing – so we kept making updates to the account because we wanted the account to be in good standing for the client to buy the bigger package.
Essentially, we kept working for free for months, because we wanted a ‘good news story’ to incentivise the client to buy the bigger package.
The good news story never came, and the client just kept dragging their feet.
Post script on this story: we ended up internally billing 5x more hours on this project than we actually got paid for. 5X. We didn’t just go over a little bit – we went so far over that the business actively lost significant amounts of money on this project.
This all comes back to a poorly managed agency, with no backbone or spine, who let’s clients push them around.
You gotta stand tall and proud and lay down the law – clients need to respect you, or they need to be gone.
If you let clients push you around – your business is going to fail.
Signs your business is going to fail: When you have no balls.
So here it is – everyone is always looking for the definitive answer in life and this is it: if you want to be successful in life, you need to have balls.
If you don’t have balls – your business is going to fail.
Important follow up question? How do you develop balls?
Answer: you develop multiple, diversified, unshakable alternative income sources that you can rely on, which mean you don’t ever (EVER) need business from any one client, and you can demand high prices, because if they say no, you simply laugh. It’s no shirt off your back.
Example: let’s say you’re a marketing firm.
Now, if you’re a marketing firm, then you should know all about marketing.
It makes me laugh when a company claims to be ‘SEO experts’ (or SEO Ninjas – that’s my favourite), yet they have no websites of their own that they actively manage.
The agency I worked for claimed to be good at SEO, yet their company website received virtually no organic traffic. To be honest, it was pretty embarrassing.
I’m a big believer in practice what you preach.
But I digress here – if you’re a marketing agency that is actually half decent at SEO – then why not spin off a few websites that generate massive amounts of organic traffic – that you can then monetize through selling ads or by selling some other scalable product or service?
That kills two birds with one stone: you generate an alternative income stream, AND you now have definitive case studies you can use to show off your SEO prowess – better allowing you to attract and win new SEO clients.
But here’s the key point that I want to focus on: by setting up and creating multiple diversified income streams you then become self-sufficient.
This means that you have no need and no obligation to take work from any one specific client.
If a client is being difficult, fire time.
If a client is dragging their feet on a proposal and complaining about price, don’t hire them.
By being self-sufficient and having your own income streams, it allows you jack up your prices, because suddenly you don’t NEED clients.
People who need clients drop their prices. People who don’t need clients raise their prices – and become pickier about who they work with.
Why would you ever want to run a business without having diversified alternative income streams?
You’re just shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t.
Especially if you’re a marketing agency and you should know better – you have the tools to make this happen!
Honestly it’s one of the biggest paradoxes I see in the industry: if you truly knew how to do marketing – why wouldn’t you just do it for yourself?
Probably because you don’t really know marketing.
Signs your business is going to fail: When you sell SEO services but your own SEO sucks
This one makes me laugh so much.
There’s an interesting paradox that exists uniquely in the marketing world:
How much time do you spend marketing for your clients vs how much time do you spend marketing for yourself?
As an example: if you know how to do SEO, do you get hired by clients to do SEO for them? Or do you dedicate your team’s resources to doing your own SEO?
In an ideal world – when business is slow you would get your employees to crank out the internal SEO, and then when business picks up to shift their focus over to client SEO.
The internal work is a great way to handle the ebbs and flows of market demands, without having your people sit around twiddling their thumbs.
Now, sometimes it takes a good story to see through the bullshit:
Imagine for a second that you were hired by a firm to do in-house SEO – your job is to boost internal site rankings to either generate more revenue from ads or by selling scalable digital products or by attracting new clients.
Let’s say the business hits hard times and your boss comes to you and says “sorry, business is slow, we don’t have the money to pay for you anymore – we’re going to have to let you go”.
Of course you’re sad and you cry – but I hope the reality is starting to present itself to you:
You weren’t bringing a whole lot of value. You weren’t generating enough revenue to cover your costs.
Let me just say this again to be more clear: good marketing is an investment, not an expense. Meaning that if you were actually good at your SEO work, you would be generating more revenue for the business than it costs to hire you.
This is why a subconscious schism would erupt silently in your mind if you were laid off. Your brain would be split between “of course, business is slow, there’s no more money for me, and I need to go” and “but wait, I’m here generating more revenue and business for the business – how can I be too expensive when I’m actively growing the business?”.
And this is the thing most business owners are too dumb to see – they fire of lay off revenue generating employees – what an oxymoron.
And I’m not trying to be an a**hole here for no reason, there is a point I’m trying to make here:
Most businesses that are headquartered in the North America, that hire North American employees and pay North American taxes – are unable to provide enough value to their clients to justify their costs.
So they use a whole bunch of smoke and mirrors and fancy charts, graphs and reports, and put on big happy smiles and pretend to be all excited and your friend – but the bottom lines is their expenses are too high, their employee costs are too high and their taxes are too high – to be able to provide the client with enough value to justify the cost of hiring them.
Wow – didn’t mean to be such a buzzkill.
But the truth hurts.
And this is my point: if you were actually any good at marketing, you would be making buckets of money, without needing your clients.
Even in slow times you’d still be killing it because you’ve so mastered your craft.
This is why agencies rarely spend time doing their own SEO – because they know the time and cost investment is too high and they’d never recoup their expenses – so they hard sell their services to get clients to pay big dollars to SEO services that fall flat on their faces. Yikes.
And I say this as someone who worked at an agency with a high domain authority website. This means they had the ability to rank highly on Google IF THEY CHOSE TO – but they chose not to.
To me the true sign of a master is someone who practices what they preach.
If an agency is trying to sell you SEO services, then they better be damn good at it themselves, and be able to whip out the stats to prove it to you.
Always ask for proof.
Signs your business is going to fail: when cancelling your weekly productivity training session, is the most productive thing your management has done all week.
I worked for an agency that hired on a general manager to help us to be more effective and productive in our day to day business dealings.
I had nothing against her, she was a very nice person and easy to get along with, however she fell slightly short on helping us to be more productive.
In fact, the most productive thing she actually helped us to accomplish was to cancel our weekly productivity training.
See, she started running these weekly sessions to help us all to be more effective in our work.
Tips like better communication, email management, diversity, inclusiveness, caring about mental health, how to report problems, how to work more effectively with your manager, how to handle deadlines, how to handle stress – were all up for discussion.
In theory, I think this is a great idea.
Running an operation is extremely complicated with a lot of moving parts, and having some level of weekly meeting to keep everyone working together is fantastic.
However, as with most well intentioned projects, it fell apart in the execution.
Firstly, these were lunch & learns, so we were expected to give up our lunches to attend, and no lunch was provided so we still had to bring our own food – great, thanks.
Second, and more perverse, was that these sessions offering nothing of any real substance or value.
Everyone nodded along and talked about how good it was after the fact, however, as far as I’m aware, these sessions never actually changed anyone’s behavior in any significant way.
In essence: these sessions failed.
I believe they failed for one core reason: they didn’t offer specific action items to follow up with.
Theory is all well and good, but if you don’t know how to successful implement that theory, it is effectively a waste of time.
Over these lunch sessions we would be blasted with all sorts of information, overwhelmed like a firehose, and then sent off into the world – dazed and confused by all our newfound knowledge.
I believe that what would have made these sessions more effective would have been to just focus in on one specific topic – one specific problem, and the provided an action sheet.
The action sheet would have outline the specific steps and details to follow up with and actually implement.
That might have actually provided something and useful and tangible that we could have taken away to made us more productive.
I think one of the things that left me feeling the most let down – was that our CEO praised our general manager so highly. He talked about all the amazing experience she had, and how she’d been paid big bucks to speak in front of some big names – and so she definitely knew her stuff.
But I found the material to be outdated, irrelevant, and unclear how to implement.
Not exactly effective.
It put such a big smile on my face when she started cancelling our weekly productivity sessions – as I realised that that was arguably the most productive thing she’d helped us to accomplish.
Signs your business is going to fail: everytime you write a proposal it is completely different and is basically made up. Everytime you just whip words and numbers onto a page and hope for the best. There’s no consistency.
There are two things that businesses should not waste their time on: Report Writing and Proposal Writing.
As I’ve said before, report writing should account for maybe 5-10% of total project time. And similarly, proposal writing should account for no more than 5-10% of your proposed project timeline.
For example: if you’re proposing at 10 hour project – you shouldn’t spend more than 1 hour preparing the proposal.
Remember: you don’t get paid to write a proposal. You get paid when you win the project.
Now, arguably, the more time you spend writing a proposal, the better your chances are of actually winning the work.
And that is true to a degree.
However, I want to share with you a painful example:
We had a client we were eager to win work with. We knew they were well connected to other business owners, so winning their business would open doors to connect with other important business owners.
It was a small project, with approximately 8 hours of work to be done.
Between meeting with the client to understand their needs, writing the proposal, working out pricing, going through multiple rounds of revisions and then getting final approval – we easily spent a full 8 hours preparing the proposal.
On top of that to make matters even worse, we didn’t account for reporting in our proposal, and the client demanded some very detailed reporting.
Now of course because we wanted a happy client, we capitulated and gave them so excellent and very detailed reporting.
So here’s the math:
- Proposal Writing: 8 hours
- Project Delivery: 8 hours
- Report Writing: 8 hours
- Total Work completed: 24 hours
- Total Payment received: 8 hours
- Payment ratio: 33%
This means we went 3x over the allotted time to complete the work, and as a result we actually got paid one third, or 33% of our standard agency rate.
Let me repeat that again: in bending over backwards to win this work – we only earned the equivalent of one third of our billable rate.
And to add insult to injury, we did all this work to only get paid for 8 hours of billable time – which means we need to go right back out there again and keep hunting for new projects to feed the machine.
An utter embarrassment as far as I’m concerned.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your bosses and managers give spineless, vague answers to your questions
Have you ever asked your boss an important question, say, something like “hey boss, do we need to do SEO for this client?”
And they respond with something insightful like:
“yes I believe we were considering doing some SEO”
Except that it is a completely useless answer. It provides zero clarity or direction.
WHO specifically was considering?
WHEN will we do it by?
WHAT level of quality is needed?
WHO needs to approve?
HOW much time is needed for approval?
WHO is leading and managing this?
Managers love to hide behind the word ‘we’.
“We said we would do… we should go after this opportunity….we should consider doing things differently…”
What does that even mean?
One of my favourites is “we should make sure this gets handled”.
It sounds good when you hear it, until you quickly realise it’s as useful as a wet blanket.
A good boss, a good manager, a good leader – needs to provide coherent and clear directions and instructions. The classic – who, what, where, why, when, how.
Who is leading the charge? What are the expectations? Where are we going with this? Why are we doing it? When is it due? How are we planning to deliver.
Get clear – stop hiding behind manager speak.
The problem with manager speak is it is ambiguous and leaves the door open to misinterpretation.
When you say “we need to consider…”
I assume that you will be the one considering.
But you’re assuming that I will be the one considering.
Now we’re playing broken telephone.
Now we’ve got broken lines of communication.
And I would argue that one of the most important things in any business, are open and free flowing lines of communication.
Anyone should be able to ask anything they need to, and leadership provides clear instruction and direction that leaves very little to be misunderstood.
Because the other favourite game that managers love to play is the “but I’m tired of everyone trying to pass the buck!” game.
What they fail to realise is that employees pass the buck, not out of any kind of malice or ill-will, but because the instructions were unclear, and they don’t want to waste a lot of time doing something that likely they don’t need to be wasting their time doing.
I mean, don’t forget that as a manager you’ve also berated your staff for being behind and that projects were slipping – so why would an employee every play the guessing game and try to guess what your meaning was?
If they, get it wrong, you’re just going to yell at them again for letting things slip.
See how this just turns into a nasty and vicious cycle?
Signs your business is going to fail: when your clients tell you how things should be done, but they have no idea what the they’re talking about, but you’re too afraid so you let them push you around
Ah – I love it when clients push business owners around!
There’s just something about having money that gives people such a power trip, it’s wonderful.
One of my favourites is when clients who have no real experience or expertise in marketing, start dictating to marketing agencies, exactly how things should get done.
It is music to my ears.
Here’s an example from one of our clients we were doing SEO for: “we are actively investing in SEO so it is unacceptable that our SEO is not growing. What we should be seeing is a gentle, constant uptick in new traffic”
Now my biggest problem was with the last sentence of that quote, specifically “What we should be seeing is a gentle, constant uptick in new traffic”.
First of all – who are you to tell us what we should be seeing?
Sure, I appreciate that that is what you’d like to see, but who are you to tell us that that is we should be seeing.
Now I do have to accept here, that we as an agency failed to properly set the client’s expectations – and that is our fault. Likely we didn’t properly set expectations because we were too afraid that the client wouldn’t like the truth: there’s no way in hell you’re going to rank.
Because here was the reality the client didn’t understand:
- This was a brand new website, with zero domain authority
- We were competing against the big box stores like Amazon, Home Depot and Lowes
- SEO takes a solid 6-12 months to properly take effect
- The client was only willing to invest in 1 blog post per month – roughly one thirtieth, of what they actually needed
The client even had the audacity to tell us once “we know that site age is a Google ranking factor and this website has been up for a few months, so we can ignore that”.
Okay chief – are you suddenly the SEO expert now? Are you telling us what we can and can’t ignore now?
The truth was this was a site with a DA (Domain Authority) of 1 – meaning, for those who aren’t familiar, this is the lowest possible ranking on Google. As sites age and mature, their authority and trust score with Google start improving. If you have a 1, you’re effectively at rock bottom.
But secondly, what the client failed to realise (or at least appreciate) was that we were competing against some very big names in the industry – massive big box stores that have been spending years building up and optimizing their SEO.
Our client thought that it would be no problem to within a month or so start ranking on Google and actively compete on the first page of Google.
This whole sentence makes me cringe, so I’m going to say it one more time:
“we are actively investing in SEO so it is unacceptable that our SEO is not growing. What we should be seeing is a gentle, constant uptick in new traffic”
Again, a difficult reality for the client to understand was that you don’t get traffic from being on page 2 or 3 of Google.
Even on page 1, if you’re down at the bottom, you’re probably still not seeing much traffic.
So here’s the deal client: if we’re competing against the likes of Home Depot – it’s going to take us some time to hit those high page one rankings.
Now get your head out of our business so we can get back to work please.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you’ve put in your notice to quit your job, and your manager says “we’ve been having trouble finding a replacement for you…any chance you want to stick around a bit longer?”
Now, full disclosure: I’ve never run a business with employees before, so I’m no expert at hiring new staff.
However, when I was leaving my agency, my manager subtly mentioned to me that she was having trouble finding a replacement for me, and whether I wanted to stick around an extra few weeks until they could get someone in.
I said ‘no thank you’.
Now there’s a few important business problems here we need to discuss.
First one is on replaceability.
No one on your staff should be that irreplaceable that you can’t immediately find someone new to replace them.
That is just garbage business management.
Your business needs to function like a very well oiled machine. And if an employee either leaves, or gets fired or laid off, you need to be able to replace them – pronto.
This means having a good hiring mechanism that you can turn on like a switch. Having a place and a job description ready to go should the hammer drop.
Also, it means that if you DO have an employee that is irreplaceable, that you need to pay them heavily. You need to give them whatever compensation and benefits they need to keep them around.
In short: you need to keep them happy.
Why? Because if they leave it has the potential to create absolute havoc in your business.
Now look, I’m not here to say that I was really all that special, or unique or amazing. I was decent at my job and had good relationships with clients. I was good at my job, but I was no Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.
But if me leaving caused that much of a disturbance at the company – that they were having trouble replacing me and getting some new staff in there to handle the workload – that speaks to bigger problems going on behind the scenes.
Michael Gerber in the e-Myth, talks about the importance of having a ‘turnkey’ solution.
This means having systems and protocols in place that you can train up new staff very quickly should somebody leave.
Think of McDonalds for a second – do you think the business is sweating or losing sleep if one of their burger makers suddenly quits?
Because they’ve developed an onboarding process that gets new burger makers up and running in no time.
Now, I’m about to say something that is going to sound very conflicting and contradictory: it is important as Seth Godin points out in the Linchpin – to be indispensable and irreplaceable.
So how do I come to terms with those 2 realities?
Easy – YOU need to be a Linchpin. To have any real value in our modern economy you need to be completely irreplaceable.
By contrast, your BUSINESS, needs to operate as a Turnkey, with systems and processes in place to hire and train up new staff as quickly as possible.
See the difference?
If you can’t easily replace new staff when they quit, your business is going to fail.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager says you need to work more billable hours, so you do, then they scold you for ‘burning clients budgets too quickly’.
A classic chicken and the egg: what came first, the high charge-out rate, or the burnt up budget?
This one is fun.
Your manage will come to you and say “you need more billable hours! We need you to charge more time to client projects so that we can keep our business profitable and afloat”.
So you say “righty-o boss! Charging more hours coming right up”.
So you work more on client projects and less time on admin or checking your emails. And a few weeks go by and your manager comes to you and says “what have you been doing?! You’ve billed all those hours to the project, and now we’re out of budget! Why did you charge so much?!”.
Um..because you told me to?
Let’s be honest, the whole system of billable hours is messed up. If you don’t work enough, the company doesn’t make any money, if you work too much, your client’s budgets evaporate.
There’s an uncomfortable push-pull dynamic going on here.
You need to bill more hours to keep your business profitable. But if you bill too many hours your clients budgets suddenly evaporate, and you need to go back and start requesting more money.
Not a pretty situation. Another one of those classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The most sinister part though is what is not being said: we expect you to work copious amounts of unpaid overtime.
The only possible way we can get this project done on time and on budget, is if you ‘volunteer’ your evenings and weekends.
We (the management) were too afraid to charge this client what it would actually cost to get the work done, so we’re expecting you to work plenty of overtime to make it happen.
Like, just go f*ck yourself.
Management makes poor decisions all the time, especially when it comes to pricing out new projects – but who bears the brunt of those bad decisions? The front line employees who actually have to deliver on the project.
They’re the ones who suffer the most and are expected to give up the most.
Because does management work unpaid overtime?
You better believe they don’t.
It is your job afterall to actually deliver on the project, even if it was someone else who made those completely unrealistic promises.
And that is why the system is broken: you as the employee are responsible for cleaning up someone else’s irresponsible mess.
Nah, I’ve had enough.
Signs your business is going to fail: don’t hire a money coach unless they make gazillions more than you, and don’t hire an SEO agency unless their DA is a gazillion times higher than yours. If an agency can’t even get their own authority up, what business do they have helping you anyway?
I know I’ve been harping on about SEO, but I’m going to keep going.
In the same way that you would never hire a financial coach unless they made significant sums of money, you would never hire an SEO expert unless they made significant money from their SEO.
As an easy example: let’s talk about DA (Domain Authority).
The DA is a single metric that measures the trustworthiness of your site according to Google’s ranking factors. If you’re curious, you can find your DA for free using the MOZ Link Explorer.
In essence – the number is a reflection of how much authority that Google believes your site deserves.
The more authoritative your site, the easier and quicker it will be to rank your pages high on Google. The lower your DA, the tougher the slough it will be.
DA is measured from 1 to 100, with 1 being the lowest (least authority) and 100 being the highest (most authority). Anything under a DA of 15 is essentially considered amateur hour in Google’s eyes.
The simplest ways to increase your DA are to:
- Post content regularly
- Attract backlinks
- Be a publisher with a long track record of publishing content (many years).
Now why am I harping on about DA?
Because if you’re looking to hire an SEO agency, you should be very concerned about what their site DA is.
And now it’s story time again!
We had one client who was considering hiring us for more substantial SEO work, however, at the last minute they switched direction and went with another firm that ‘specialized’ in SEO.
Now, for the record, I don’t know much about the other firm, so for all I know they are actually quite good at what they do.
However, the reason I used ‘specialized’ in quotes, was because their DA was quite low. In fact, their DA was under 10.
Now not to toot our own horn, but the agency I worked for at the time had a DA of over 25. Which is considerably higher.
Now, just because we had a DA of over 25, does that make us SEO experts? Absolutely not.
However, if I was hiring an SEO firm and away they had a DA under 10 – I would immediately think ‘amateurs!’.
And this goes back to a point I made earlier about doing marketing for yourself vs marketing for clients.
In this case, I believe that agency needed to invest considerable more time and effort to improve their own DA and their own rankings on Google.
It just doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence if you’re speaking with a rep and they say “oh yeah definitely we can raise your DA!” – and yet they can’t even do it for themselves.
Practice what you preach brother.
If you want expert advice, hire experts, don’t waste your time with amateurs (unless they’re considerable cheaper and you want to go the price saving route – also totally acceptable).
Signs your business is going to fail: when you try to run a ‘give away the team day’ but the concept gets overtaken by management – and what was supposed to be a simple, low cost, easy event, then gets bloated, over complicated, with ‘perfected’ brand messaging and gets delayed and delayed and delayed because now the perfection police are involved.
This one broke my heart a little bit.
We had a great idea for a business promotion – “give away the team day”.
For a little context – it was 2020 and the pandemic was raging.
We wanted to run an event that would help us to reconnect with past clients, and to attract new clients.
So we developed this ‘give away the team day’ concept – where for an entire day – we’d open up our agency, and provide free marketing services.
Paid ad campaigns, SEO, security, website updates – whatever you want – we created 1 hour time slots that clients could book a session, we’d go through their issue, and follow up with a report and an upsell to a more comprehensive package.
Overall I loved the concept – not only was it a way to give back to the community but it was a way to reconnect with old clients, remind them we were still around, and to build up everyone’s businesses.
We were having a lot of fun planning and setting up the day until, you guessed it, management got involved.
Suddenly, what was supposed to be a relatively easy exercise, became a big deal. We needed to have lengthy discussions about our strategy, our messaging, create a special page on our website, organize how the sessions would go, coordinate who was doing what, get in touch with clients, run the sessions, follow up, generate the reports and then get a few of them to sign up for the bigger packages.
Now initially, our plan was that if it went well, we’d end up running the event every month or at least every quarter. We wanted this to become a thing that would be repeated – that would get people talking about it – possibly even getting some news coverage.
However, once management stepped in, the whole thing become such a big deal that the event essentially died.
We ran the event and everything went well – we even signed up a pretty significant client – however, because of the sheer amount of person power required to run the first one – there was never any talk again of running a second one.
Management won the battle but lost the war.
Management did a great job of making sure the event was expertly run. Everything went smoothly and professionally. So in that sense, it was a success.
BUT IT TOOK SO MUCH EFFORT to run the event, we were all exhausted after, and never again discussed the idea of running another one. The idea was dead in the water.
We had envisaged running as a monthly or at least quarterly event, but the idea completely died.
And this is my point: managers lose perspective of the big picture – they have no concept of what a reasonable amount of effort is for the task at hand.
‘Give away the team day’ was supposed to be a simple event – that we could easily repeat.
However, management got so insecure, and their fear of ‘looking bad’ and ‘not being perfect’ caused them to lose perspective on what a reasonable amount of effort would be to pull off an event like that, and as a result, ended up killing what could have otherwise been a very successful and ultimately profitable initiative.
Sings your business is going to fail: when you’re a client and you hire 5 different vendors to manage your digital marketing – and they all trip over each other, double up work (4 GTMS) and screw up other people’s work. There’s no central control, no intelligence, just a mess.
We had one client who was a lawyer. Or more specifically, they ran a law practice with 10+ lawyers – so bigger than your mom & pop law shop.
Rightly so, this client had a pretty large and significant online presence.
They had Facebook pages, paid ads, Google ads, LinkedIn ads, SEO, Google My Business (maps) and a website with over 30,000 pages – just to give some context of scale.
To manage all this, they had hired over 5 different vendors.
One vendor to manage Facebook Ads, one to manage Google Ads, one to manage SEO, one to manage the website, one to manage TV ads and one to manage writing blog content.
It was a mess. As they say about too many cooks in the kitchen…
Now the problem, was they had all these different vendors, and each vendor was operating completely independently from the others. There was no central management or control.
I mean, our client tried to act as that central control, but again as much as they were great at running a law practice, they weren’t exactly marketers.
So we had vendors running all over the place and doing their own thing.
As an example, the site ended up having 4 GTM (Google Tag Manager) accounts setup – and let’s just suffice it to say that a website should only have 1 installed and each additional one just ends up slowing down the site.
So you get redundant and unnecessary work getting done.
On top of that – each vendor ends up being extremely secretive, and not sharing with the other vendors.
As an example, we were running SEO for the client, and we wanted access to the Google Ads PPC campaign. A PPC campaign that has been running for several years, can provide exceptionally good data on what keywords and search terms perform the best.
Both in terms of search volume, but also more importantly in terms of conversion rates.
Now, normally this would be super simple – load up the PPC campaign and take a look, however in this case the other vendor straight up refused to give us access to the account.
We pleaded our case to the client, and while they were initially reluctant, they did eventually agree that we should have access.
We even conceded that we could get by with viewer access only, and wouldn’t need admin access.
Everything was set to move forward, and the client even sent us an invite to the account, however, at the last minute the other vendor kiboshed the arrangement, and refused to give us access.
Concerns over intellectual property and proprietary information.
Okay grease lightning, cool your jets.
We’re not looking to steal your secrets, we just want to know what PPC keywords are performing well.
People get so defensive. Like they really had anything so secretive worth protecting anyway…
And so if you run a business that is being swarmed by 5+ different vendors, each working in their own silos, and having no real opportunity to communicate or coordinate with one another, your business is going to fail.
Or if not fail, at least become extremely inefficient.
Signs your business is going to fail: when the most significant thing your general manager proposes is “meetingless mondays”
Now while cancelling the productivity sessions as we talked about above was a significant improvement, this one really took the cake.
Our general manager, in her quest to forever improve our productivity and effectiveness, came up with this gem of an idea:
And while I’m on board with the concept, once again it failed in execution.
The first thing that bothered me here was the sheer amount of pomp and circumstance that was used for this announcement – it was being treated like this idea was the best thing since sliced bread.
As if this was just some paradigm shifting alternative reality – some ninja level exploits on how to radically improve performance across your workforce.
And then they dropped the bomb of their announcement: “we’re starting meaningless mondays!”.
And I think we were all supposed to cheer and get really excited or something. But it fell pretty flat.
So here’s the idea: we all get so bogged down with meetings that we often run out of time to get actual, you know, work done.
I’m a HUGE believer that meetings are generally a waste of time, so anything that eliminates and removes meetings I’m all for it.
And let’s just take a quick second here to digest that thought further: most meetings are just an excuse for managers to get everyone into a room and talk about all the things that people already know they should be doing.
Meetings are very rarely effective, and meetings very rarely actually get anything useful done.
So I liked the idea of Meetingless Mondays.
However, in reality, what happened?
You guessed it, all the meetings from Monday just got rescheduled to Tuesday.
Now management did warn us about this, and recommended that we really review each meeting and properly determine whether it was really necessary or not.
However they were all basically determined to be essential.
So the end result?
Basically no change.
Monday became free and wide open to get work done.
But as a consequence, Tuesday just became overly crowded.
I’m so glad we had such an effective strategy for combating meeting creep, and really getting everyone good and productive.
Well done management, chalk up another win.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your CEO takes off two days within a year to help his son move back and forth from University
Let’s just be honest here – if you’re the CEO of a company – you don’t have time to take off to do unnecessary things.
Our CEO legit took two days off within one year to help his son to move back and forth to Montreal.
I’m just going to say it: if you’re the CEO of a serious business, you can’t just take time off for something that can be outsourced. Hire a moving team, tell your son to get some friends – whatever you need to do – but your time is way to valuable to take two whole days off to help your son move.
It is irresponsible and lazy.
As your seniority level increases, the amount of outsourcing you need to do, increases exponentially.
Now, I need to be clear here – I’m not actually mad that our CEO took two days off to help his son move – what I am saying is that it showed me in that moment that he wasn’t actually serious about his business.
If you want to be a CEO who’s serious about his business, and puts his business before anyone and anything else – then nothing should cause you to take your eye off the prize.
Outsource, outsource, outsource.
Yes, it costs money, but I’ll ask you the question that most people refuse to answer: what is the cost of not outsourcing?
What is the cost that you didn’t make a big sale that day?
What is the cost that you didn’t resolve a major employee issue that day?
What is the cost that you weren’t there to handle a major client explosion that day?
You’re the CEO for a reason.
You’re the CEO because you’re very important to the business. In fact, you’re the most important piece of the business, and if you’re not there, even if that is only one day, your business just fell apart a little bit.
If you’re regularly taking time off to do things that could and should be outsourced – your business is going to fail.
I know that outsourcing is hard and often there is an emotional cost – we don’t want to do it because we either enjoy it, or because we feel obligated to do it.
Maybe our CEO decided that helping his son move would be a great bonding experience for the two of them or maybe he felt like he could save a few dollars.
It’s a similar thing when we talk about outsourcing things like video editing, or blog writing, or website development, or accounting, or taxes – we don’t want to do it!
We’ll feel attached and we feel like we should be the ones doing it.
But that emotional response will stop you from actually accomplishing success in your life.
Get over your emotions.
If you don’t, your business will fail – or at the very least, stagnate.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your CEO makes a fuss to your clients about having to pay 3% credit card fees on their transactions.
Fix your sh*t margins you f*ck.
There are some things in business that are just unacceptable.
And complaining to your clients about paying 3% credit card fees is one of them.
I worked with a CEO who when a new client was signing up with us and they asked us whether they could pay with credit card, told them that “yes, you could, pay with credit card, but we prefer debit so we don’t have to pay fees”.
If I’m a client, I don’t give two f*cks about whether you have to pay fees or not. That’s your problem, not mine.
But here’s the more sinister and troubling problem: if your margins are so tight, that paying a 3% fee to your credit card is a concern for you – then you’ve got bigger problems in your business.
A healthy business needs to have healthy margins.
In fact, your margins should be so healthy that paying 3% fees should feel so insignificant, it’s like a kitten with no claws trying to scratch you – it’s cute.
As an example – let’s say you sell a $100 item. 3% Fees means you pay $3.
Now, let’s say your cost of goods is $90, meaning you make $10 on each sale, then have to pay $3 to the credit card – yeah that $3 feels painful because your profit just went from $10 to $7 – a 30% drop in profit.
But instead leads say your cost of goods is $10, so out of $90 from each sale you’re paying that $3 fee – meaning your profit went from $90 to $87, or a 3% drop in profit. Boo Hoo.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all about making cost savings in your business wherever possible (taxes being a BIG one), but if you’re fussing over 3% – you are barking up the wrong tree.
Think about it for a second – what are you paying for with your 3% anyway?
You’re paying for convenience – you’re paying for the fact that your customers find it easy an enjoyable to pay you.
It seems dumb to me that you could put in so much hard work on a sale – and then fumble up the finish just because you made a fuss about credit card fees.
Now in fairness, I never actually saw a deal collapse because of a concern around credit cards – however, why even risk it?
If clients prefer paying with credit cards because they get air miles, or they get cash back, or they have the security of knowing their transaction is secure (credit cards will fight tooth and nail to fight fraud and protect their customers) – then be damn sure to accept credit cards (or bitcoins, or whatever new cryptocurrency is hot these days).
The point is: a) make it easy and frictionless for your clients to pay, and b) if 3% is a concern for your business, you have bigger problems. You need to fix your margins so you’re making a healthy profit off each sale. If your margins suck, then your business sucks. And your business deserves to fail if you can’t fix your margins.
It used to be in the past that you could run a business purely on volume and get by tight margins (McDonalds being a great example) – however in 2021 – the costs of running a business in developed Western countries has become so astronomically expensive, that you’re giving yourself a death sentence by subscribing to the low margin, high volume game.
Stay the hell away from it. And if your margins are razor thin – your business deserves to fail anyway.
Signs your business is going to fail: When your manager gives you a report to update and then berates you for updating the table of contents.
True story: my manager gave me an important report to update and I noticed that there were several items in the table of contents that were either incomplete or just straight up wrong.
So like the dutiful employee that I was, I got in there and I made those fixes to clean things up.
Talking with my manager later, I proudly declared that I’d fixed up the table of contents. I was expecting that she’d be thrilled. She wasn’t.
She gave me that look of disappointment she was so fond of giving me: “why did you change that? the table of contents is my job – your job is to do the work I assign you”.
Okay easy killer.
Can you feel the insecurity oozing through her every word?
How is it possible that me making some minor updates to the table of contents can be so threatening to her sense of power and control?
And here’s my point: she wasn’t actually concerned about getting quality work done, she was always more concerned, and felt it a higher priority to maintain her sense of power and control – she was the boss, she made the big decisions, and all her minions were simply there just to do her bidding – and never to question or to deviate.
To question her supremeness, was tantamount to a hate crime and punishable by death – or rather passive aggressive vibes and dark stares.
She was so insecure, she could not handle anyone taking initiative to questioning her decisions, because such a sin would suggest you didn’t trust her fully (which I didn’t, if you couldn’t tell).
Leaders need to be flexible and accommodating – and a true leader should never feel threatened by their team taking initiative – if anything it shows how deeply loyal and excited they are for the project.
She further went on: “I expected you to work on this for 2 hours per day each day, we’re now 2 days into this week and I haven’t seen any progress – do you not understand how important this is??”
I love management. They are such wonderful people.
She had clearly forgotten that for the past 2 days, she had given me a pile of urgent assignments and reports that needed to get done ASAP – it must have slipped her mind.
And this is the thing with bad managers – they have no sense of prioritization – everything is urgent, everything is important and everything needs to get done yesterday.
A true leader can see what is truly urgent, sets the priorities, and does not get mad at you if you missed other deadlines that they agreed were less important.
Get your priorities straight. If you’re going to get mad at me no matter what I do, then I’m not going to stick around much longer.
Oh right – I didn’t’ 🙂
Signs your business is going to fail: when clients call you directly to complete a task and then your project manager berates you for 45 minutes because they weren’t involved.
Gather ‘round kids, it’s time for another of Uncle Arthur’s Tales Of Woe From Corporate Monsters™:
This was such a mess, I’m not even sure where to begin – but let’s start from the beginning.
We took on a client who was a small local business – very nice guy and easy to work with.
At the time I was part of the sales team that had made this sale – and I wanted to ensure a smooth onboarding.
I helped the client get setup, and then I assigned a few pieces of work to our team to make sure that things moved forward smoothly as they should.
I was feeling pretty good and deserving of a pretty solid pat on the back, no only had I helped make a sale that was several $k, but I was taking the initiative to make sure the project started smoothly. The client even emailed me back and mentioned how pleased he was with how things were moving forward.
Nicely done Arthur! Great work!
Was my manager pleased? You bet she wasn’t.
“I’m the manager here, I’m the one who tells our team what to do, that is my job, not your job – why are you doing this?”.
So you’re like, ‘cool’, and you backoff. Obviously your job isn’t to be the PM – that is her job and you’ve overstepped your boundaries. I mean, cool your jets, but if you’re the PM, fine, you’re the PM.
Except – that was also a lie. Because remember: when you take initiative, you’re wrong, and when you don’t take initiative, you’re also wrong.
A few months later, the client called me up directly (remember, I’m not the PM here), and asked me to do a very specific task – he wanted an email to go out.
Simple enough I thought – I reviewed the proposal and sure enough the client had paid for emails, so this seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.
The proposal only included an hour to prepare the email so being the quick problem solver that I am, I decided that “okay, if there is only 1 hour budgeted for an email, then it is going to be a ‘quick & dirty’ – let’s get something simple together fast”.
So I reached out to our team member who could handle that, and I assigned him the task, asked him to prepare a draft and get back to me.
Was my manager pleased with all this initiative? You bet she wasn’t.
Remember, there was only 1 hour budgeted to complete the email. My manager then called me up and spent an entire 45 minutes berating me because I didn’t have a ‘clear plan’.
She was upset because 1 hour clearly wouldn’t be enough time to complete the project (cool – except you’re the manager who approved the proposal – so if you had a problem with it – you should have said something before the client paid for it) – and also that the team member I assigned the work to was clearly much too junior and couldn’t handle a project as complicated as this (remember, we’re just talking about writing a simple email).
The manager then asked why I hadn’t put together a more comprehensive plan here, and I mentioned that I wasn’t the PM and I didn’t feel like it was my job.
She then berated me about “well who else is going to PM this project? Who else do you think there is??”.
Okay cool your f*cking jets – you got mad at me when I took initiative to took on some PM duties because that ‘wasn’t my job’, and now you’re getting mad at me because I’m not fully taking on PM duties? What the hell is wrong with you? Make up your mind.
My manager then took on the project herself stating ‘I really don’t want this to be a sh*tty agency’, and out of the 1 hour budget, she ended up blowing over 5 hours to prepare the email.
Nicely done PM – you’ve just destroyed our project budget. Well done.
I don’t even know how else to say it, other than everything is wrong:
- When I take initiative, it’s wrong because ‘that’s not your job’
- But When I don’t take initiative, it’s wrong because ‘that’s not my job!’
- When I do the work myself, it’s wrong because ‘I’m too expensive’
- But when I assign work to the interns, it’s wrong because ‘they’re not experienced enough’.
- When I take too long to complete a task it’s wrong because ‘we need to deliver on our timelines’
- But when I’m too quick to complete a task, it’s wrong because ‘we need to ensure higher quality – I don’t want this to be a sh*t agency!’
When everything you do is wrong – there’s a good chance it’s your mangers fault.
Remember: if there are consistent problems that keep recurring in your agency – it’s management’s fault, not yours – they are the ones responsible for handling company problems – remember?
And just to circle back here to the original point: remember – it was the client who called me directly to ask for the work to get done. If I’m not the one who’s supposed to be taking orders directly from the client, the MANAGER should be stepping in to tell the client – ‘hey, call me first, I’ll help you to get issues resolved’.
Otherwise – we just get caught up in this sick game of broken telephone: client calls me, I report to manager, manager berates me, I report back to client, client berates me, I report back to manager – and around and around it goes!
Stop making me play broken telephone. And stop shooting the messenger.
If you can’t even decide who is PM’ing a project – your business deserves to fail.
Signs your business is going to fail: When your manager keeps saying: “And ‘I don’t think you appreciate how busy I am, and how many projects I’m juggling, and all the things I have to keep track of. I’m so busy that I can’t spend all my time solving your problems’
Firstly, if you’re a manager, then yes your job is to manage and solve team problems. That is your job, that’s why you were hired, so do your damn job.
I don’t care how busy you are, that’s not my problem, you are responsible for managing your teams projects.
But secondly – what is this condescending attitude of “and I don’t think you appreciate how busy I am”.
Seriously – what the hell is that?
If you’re too busy to do your job properly, then maybe you should grow a pair and make some noise to your superiors about how busy you are, and you’re not able to cope with your work.
Why are you making it my problem? Why is it my concern whether or not you can do your job or not?
Take some responsibility please.
Have you ever noticed people have this fake self-less attitude, where they act like they are so noble for taking on the burdens of the world – they’re just so willing to ‘work hard and sacrifice for the greater good’ – but then they take on too much and suddenly their irresponsible self-lessness becomes your problem?
It makes me sick.
Get your sh*t together.
Your job is to manage – so do your job.
- Signs your business is going to fail: PM keeps saying ‘that’s my job, that’s my job, you do what I tell you‘.
Managers love to play this game. They love to lay down the law whenever you take initiative to tell you how all the things you’re doing are actually their job and how you’re making them look bad.
On top of that, you should get back in your little cage and ‘do what I tell you’.
When you take initiative, you get yelled at.
So you stop taking initiative, and then your PM says ‘why am I the only one who thinks about these things, why does everything keep getting dumped on me??’,
And my favourite: ‘I don’t know where you want to go with your career, but if you ever want to be a manager you need to start taking more initiative and taking these issues seriously’.
Yeah – because I’d sure love to grow up and become YOU.
I love when managers give you unwanted and condescending life advice.
It almost feels like being ‘mansplained’ to.
Like, I didn’t ask for your opinion because I don’t care what you think. The last thing I want is to become more like you.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you tell your manager that you’re not the PM on a project and your manager says “we don’t have any PMs, who else do you think should be PM’ing this project?”
Let’s just be clear here: that’s not a f*cking answer.
If I’m the PM then tell me I’m the PM. If I’m not the PM, then tell me who is. Stop giving me this guessing game sh*t.
Seriously – have you forgotten that we’re trying to run a legitimate business here? This isn’t playtime on the school ground.
People’s livelihoods are at stake here, and you’ve been put into a position of power and authority – meaning it is on you to make sure everything gets handled properly and responsibly.
This isn’t hard. This isn’t rocket science.
Assign a PM, and make it clear to them that they are the PM.
“Who else do you think would be PM’ing this project?” – is baby talk. This sounds like words that would come out of a petulant child. It is passive aggressive. It is non-decisive.
I’m not here to play games with you and I’m not here to guess.
Either I’m the PM and you get out of my way, or I’m not the PM and someone else handles this stuff.
But if you’re forcing me to guess whether I’m a PM or not, guess what? Nothing is actually going to get done.
And then you’re going to blame me for ‘passing the buck’ and ‘letting projects slip’.
You’re in a position of power. Get yourself together. Stop messing around. This is just an embarrassment.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager is responsible for approving proposals, and then later complains the budget was too small.
No joke – we wrote a proposal that was approved by the CEO and my manager that the client purchased.
A few months later the client asked us to complete one of the items agreed to in the proposal.
When I told my manager, she nearly lost her sh*t.
My manager asked how much time was quoted to do a task, and I told her the proposal says 1 hour.
She then said ‘that’s not enough time’.
I’m then feeling lost and confused.
What do you mean that’s not enough time? I think to myself. You agreed to and approved this proposal – it has been agreed to by the client – I don’t care whether it is enough time or not – we agreed to it.
She then said we needed 5 hours to complete the task. Which, I agreed – we probably did need 5 hours to complete it – so why did you agree to 1 in the first place?
So I said back “yeah,but we only quoted 1”.
And she deflects “I never knew that, we should have quoted 5 – there’s no way we could do this for just 1 hour”.
Great, except that both you and the CEO reviewed and approved this proposal before we submitted it. If you weren’t happy with the numbers we submitted 2 months ago, that’s not my problem today!
Classic management – doesn’t do their job properly, then dumps it on you.
Final result? We ended up burning 5 hours completing the job and told the client we’d gone significantly over budget, and would have to take hours from other parts of the proposal.
Needless to say – the client wasn’t exactly thrilled.
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 our 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 my manager was sick so I stepped up to lead.
In my calm and thoughtful 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 remember thinking to myself “see, that wasn’t so hard – why does my 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 my manager returned, she asked me about the meeting. I walked her through all the important things we’d accomplished. My sense of pride was apparently unfortunately leaking through, as she felt compelled to sh*it all over my good mood.
When I told my manager about some of the things we’d accomplished, she 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 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 my manager, who felt it somehow threatened her power.
She made it very clear that the issues we had discussed in our meeting – she had already brought forward to the team two weeks earlier – great – except they never took action on it – so clearly your instructions and management 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.
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 your manager and everything falls apart. Like a sledgehammer, it hits you.
Everything is wrong, everything is bad, nothing was done well enough and ‘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 your 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 your manager.
Why does this happen?
Because your manager is insecure. Your manager can’t stand the thought of you having any power or autonomy, and she feels the need to beat you down into submission.
She needs you to know that she’s the boss, because she is terrified that you might ever rise up against her, or god-forbid – leave your position.
So what’s your manager’s strategy? That everything you do is wrong.
She needs to find a way that everything you do is wrong, too slow, not good enough quality.
It’s not enough. She needs you to know that you are not enough. She needs to crush you self-esteem, so you grovel and plead for forgiveness and for her approval.
She needs you to know that she’s got you in her web. And just like a fly, you are helpless and powerless.
When your manager insists that every conversation with her is a trap, get the hell out of there. Seriously, get the hell out as quickly as you can.
She has no business being a manager, and you have no business letting her have any power or authority over you.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager says ‘you’ve been here for over a year, you’re one of the most experienced on the team, you should really know better than this, you really should know your role by now’
Oh go f*ck yourself.
What kind of an attitude is this anyway?
I hate when managers talk down to you like you’re less than dirt.
I’m going to go back to a common theme here: Leaders are people who inspire you, Mangers are people who make you want to rip your freaking hair out.
“You should really know better than this – you should really know your role by now”
Are you serious?
Maybe if I’m not clear on my role its because you haven’t explained it very well.
Or more accurately – you keep changing it on me.
How exactly am I supposed to understand my role here, if every 30 seconds you’re changing the definition?
When I take a project manager role – you put me down and tell me not to.
When I sit back and don’t take a project manager role – you put me down and tell me to take more initiative.
You can’t keep changing the rules of the game, and then be confused when I’ve lost the plot. It’s like we’re trying to hit a moving target.
Good luck with that.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your boss promises everyone that you’ve got fast servers and you run ‘light, fast, expertly optimized code’, yet all your websites fail speed tests left and right…
So we had a CEO that loved to promise how fast our servers were, and how our developers use specialized code that ‘light, fast, and expertly optimized’.
All of which is great – he was an excellent salesman.
However, we quickly ran into problems.
See, our company had two different functions, building websites, and then optimizing them for SEO.
Now the website dev team was great. But once we got into optimizing for SEO, we hit some problems.
See, part of SEO is ensuring that your website is running fast.
Google likes to serve fast and quickly loading websites.
So we would run speed tests, and discover that the sites were failing speed tests. Badly.
Now this put us in an awkward position – if we went back to the client and said ‘yeah, your SEO sucks because your website is slow, pay us to speed it up’, the client would say ‘um…you build the site – why did you build a sh*t site?’
Now of course our dev team had eaten up all their budget designing and preparing the site, so they would push back when we told them we need them to speed it up ‘with what budget?’ they’d push back, ‘give us budget and we’ll do it’.
Now of course the SEO budget had also been eaten up – so the only options left were to either tell the client that we were shit at building sites, or to do the work for free.
And guess which one it was?
Yep, we did that work for free.
So happy that our CEO was able to sell our fast and light our websites were…
“Signs your business is going to fail: when nearly every client you have is upset or disappointed because they went through their ‘allotted hours’ much faster than they anticipated and they’re demanding a ‘detailed reconciliation of hours used and explanations of what was done’.
Now I’m all for testing new services and new offerings to better understand the market and understand what people are looking for.
In fact, if you’re an entrepreneur it behooves you to test and experiment with new solutions.
But by the same token it behooves you to listen and adapt when the market is explicitly telling you that your idea idea is no good.
Keep your ears wide open – do not buy your head in the sand.
We had one program in particular where clients would effectively hire us on retainer for an entire year. The intention was that they would have access to our services at the drop of a hat throughout the entire year.
The benefit to the client was that they knew that an any point if they wanted to run a marketing campaign or needed an update to their website – they knew they could reach out to us to get the job done.
The benefit to us was having the security of a client paying us throughout the year. Win-Win.
Or so we thought.
Things were going smoothly until they suddenly weren’t.
Namely clients started complaining that they had gone through their hours way faster than expected.
See the program was designed to give each client a certain number of hours each month, however, they could go through those hours as fast or as slow as they wanted.
Except that, they all went through the hours way faster than expected.
Clients had no idea how long it would take us to complete tasks, so what they thought maybe should have take 2 hours, ended up taking us 6. And at that rate – it doesn’t take long to burn through a whole years budget.
It wasn’t’ long before the house of cards started falling. One client complained, then another, then another.
I was starting to see the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, it seemed like no one else in the organization could.
Now in fairness, I do believe we had a fair amount of responsibility here.
See it is on us to communicate to clients exactly how long a given task should take – that’s on us.
But not only did we not do that, but as we worked on tasks we burned through hours like someone had started a bush fire.
Someone please call the fire department!
So this is where as a business owner it is your responsibility to keep an eye on your business – and to understand the subtle nuances of client behaviour, desires, demands, expectations and project results.
If a project is not working – either adapt or ditch it.
In this case I could see at least two major improvements: Firstly, to add more hours to the program. If the program is designed to be spent over a year, its obviously a bad sign if the client is running out of hours by month 3. Build a bigger and more comprehensive program.
Second – have a better system for estimating hours to the client beforehand. When they ask for something to be done – have a system to provide a quick quote to let them know what you think it will take, and then have a follow up system to let them know what it actually took.
Ideally for good client relationships you should be coming back and saying ‘hey we estimated 5 but it only took 3!’.
Or, if it looks like its going to be an overly complicated project with lots of moving parts, provide the client with regular updates – saying ‘hey, we’ll work on this for 5 hours, if it’s going to take longer than that, we’ll stop at 5 and provide you with a detailed update’.
Clients need to feel like you’re looking out for their best interests.
They need to feel like they’re getting the best value you possible – and that you’re not just arbitrarily screwing them.
Clients need to know that the hours you’re estimating are genuine, and that it actually takes that much work, and that you’re not just bloating it because you’re lazy and just work slowly.
Clients need to feel secure that you’re provide the best.
And the problem in the case of this program – is that it wasn’t made clear to clients that they were getting the best value possible, and in fact, many of them clearly felt that they weren’t getting the best value possible, are were starting to cause a stink.
Clearly, the program was broken, and it was deserving of an overhaul.
Businesses that keep doing things that don’t work, are going to fail.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you promise the world and repeatedly fall short. When you make promises that are overly complicated, overly vague, too open to interpretation, make it sound like ‘they’re getting a lot’, but really they’re not getting nearly as much as they think they are.
Don’t get me wrong, our CEO was a great man. I had a lot of respect for him and what he’s accomplished in his life.
However, one of his greatest strengths and simultaneously greatest weaknesses is that he’s a through and through salesman.
What I mean by that, is that he lives to sell. He loves selling, and he’s great at it.
This is great from the point of view keeping the business alive and afloat, however is obviously challenging from the point of view of running a successful business.
See, the reason he was so good at selling is that he would make wild promises. He would very convincingly convince the client that we could accomplish overly complicated projects.
Huge projects, that were vaguely described and very open to interpretation.
They would make it sound like the client was getting a lot, but the reality they weren’t getting nearly as much as they thought.
Classic Sales 101.
So while our CEO was excellent at making sales, the delivery and execution of the projects then invariably would fall on me.
It was then my job to weed through the proposal and try to understand what exactly had been promised to the client, to understand where the gaps were, and what still needed to be done.
Now unfortunately, the proposal would often be vague and unclear.
For example it might say “run a campaign with a variety of ad creatives”.
What the hell does that mean? Does that mean 2 stock photos, or does that mean 10 full production videos? There is a very large difference in cost and effort between those.
Worse still, the client is likely expecting the 10 videos, and then will be severely disappointed when we show up with 2 stocks photos.
See the problem with vague terminology?
Proposals need to be highly detailed and specific as to what exactly they include.
There should be no room for interpretation.
Other vagaries included “we’ll monitor the campaign through the month” – uhh…so what does that mean?
Does that mean you check the campaign once for 30 minutes each month, or does that mean you do a 20 hour deep dive into what exactly the campaign is doing, come up with recommendations, and then execute on those recommendations? Again, very different level of effort.
Or one of my personal favourites: “we’ll do SEO for you”.
Are you kidding me? Could we get any more vague?
What SEO? Are we writing blogs or just updating title tags? Are we doing a whole backlink outreach or setting up guest posts? Or are we just setting up Search Console and optimizing the page speed a little bit?
Now even if our proposals were more detailed than that – they still often left much to be desired.
There were so many gaps and so many ponts for interpretation.
And let me just make this clear: any time there is an opportunity for interpretation and misunderstanding, the client will take it. they will always expect that you’ll have done more than you really have and cause a real stink if you under-deliver based on their expectations.
But again – that is entirely your fault.
Signs your business is going to fail: when nearly every client you have complains and is disappointed in your service. It’s not a reflection of your employees, but a reflection of your managers who can’t manage sh*t. “
I’ve touched on this point before, but we’ll look at it from a slightly different angle here.
Look – if you run a business and nearly every client you have starts complaining about your service – either because it took way too long to deliver, or they were billed way too many hours, or usually both – you’ve got a problem on your hands.
But here’s the thing: managers love to blame employees.
It is always the employees fault for being too slow, or too incomplete or too inadequate to complete the job properly.
But, if it has become a recurring problem, that keeps happening over and over again, regardless which employee is ‘leading it’, then you’ve got a management problem, not an employee problem.
If there are systemic problems within your organization, that stems from management not setting clear foundations and expectations.
Management never made it clear to employees, what exactly was expected to them, how to go about getting it done, and more than that, actually hiring new staff when there was clearly a deficit and a need for more hands to complete the work.
Managers are responsible for making the organization work, and if the organization isn’t working, that’s your fault.
I’d recommend to management they actually do your job properly.
Or, the alternative is watch your business fail.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you try to be clever and rename your ‘blog’ page the ‘cache’ but no one gets it, and they fumble around looking for the blog.
We had a client that wanted to ‘do things differently’. Now as an avid think-outside-the-box’er, I’m all for doing things differently.
However sometimes there are conventions and best practices for a reason.
Our client thought they were being clever when they renamed the blog on their website to ‘the cache’.
However things clearly backfired.
As I was doing a review of their site, I mentioned to the client that they should think about adding a blog – as a blog is a great opportunity to enhance their SEO.
The client was a little taken aback, with a slight stunned look on their face.
“What do you mean?” they said “of course we have a blog!”
I was confused.
“Where?” I said, “I don’t see it”.
He said “it’s right there in the corner – I renamed it the cache – pretty clever right?”.
For reference – a cache is a hidden storage of goodies.
Our client thought he was being so clever.
Except, for the part where it didn’t work.
See, I knew the client and I knew the website, and as an experienced marketer, I was reviewing the site in minute detail – if I got lost, and if I had no idea where the blog was – then there was no hope in hell, that any average user would have any ability to find the blog.
On top of that – Google has certain standard protocols that it follows. Google knows what a blog is. But Google has no idea what a ‘cache’ is. What does Google do with that? Does it understand how to index it.
For the most part – absolutely not.
So they’ve shot themselves in both feet – they made the user experience worse by confusing their users, and they’ve confused Google.
Well done, mission accomplished.
I’m so happy you did a great job of being creative, and really thinking outside the box there.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager demands that you start connecting in a quick meeting every morning to establish priorities and then declines every meeting and doesn’t show up because they’re ‘too busy’
Classic management. This made me laugh so hard.
So I had a manager that in my final 3 weeks at the job, demanded that we setup a daily 9am meeting, just to ‘check in’.
She wanted to keep tabs on how things were going, what I was working on, and what I had coming up.
I mean, it felt excessive to me and a complete waste of time, but okay boss, let’s have a daily morning meeting.
Except that, she cancelled every one.
I setup a recurring meeting in our calendars, and each morning, without warning, she would just cancel at the last minute.
Then I’d be sitting there in the meeting each morning like a moron, and finally she’d message me and be like ‘oh yeah, something came up and I cancelled’.
And then she cancelled again the next day.
And the next day.
And the next day.
In fact, out of 3 weeks, we maybe had two meetings.
Now I’m not sure, it might have just been her idea of a sick joke, but more realistically, I think this is just another case of hypocritical and contradictory management that became just way to prevalent.
The kind of management that says one thing one day, then says the complete opposite the next day.
The kind of management that in the heat of the moment panics and says ‘we need to do something about this!’ – but then when things calm down the next day has either completely forgotten it, or their attention has gone to something else entirely.
The kind of management that demands that you jump when they say ‘jump’, simply because they want to know that you’ll do it what they say.
And here’s the sick reality: most managers aren’t actually interested in solving any real problems. Most managers simply enjoy the power trip of being able to tell other people exactly how they should rearrange their own schedules.
It’s not about being productive, it’s about control.
But I’m sure they’ll wake up one day when they realise that all their ‘loyal’ employees have deserted them, because they realised they don’t need to take it anymore.
Or in the words of the Legend Jay-Z:
“So poof – vamoose, son of a bitch!”
Signs your business is going to fail: when Sr. Leadership loves to puff their chest and rant about how important Sr. Leadership is.
Sr. Leadership exists to serve us and keep the business running. But they get it confused. They think they run the show or something.
Think about it – if Sr. Leadership doesn’t put their employees first – their employees can just leave.
And they will.
Now I have no problem with hierarchies and the fact that some people have earned the right through hard work to be up at the top, and others are at the bottom working their way up. There’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about that to me.
However, what I do have a problem with is when you join an organization that has no real Sr. Leadership Committee when you start, but after a few months the CEO hires a whole bunch of new senior people above you, who are suddenly in a position of power and authority over you, and it’s like ‘uhhh…I never signed up for this – who the hell are these people??’.
So that was the first problem – I never consented to granting them the authority to lead me – it was just given to them. And you cannot lead without consent. Or you will have a mutiny.
But the second problem as the sheer level of aristocracy that rose up. Suddenly there were secretive ‘Sr. Leadership Committee lunches’ where only the top brass would be invited – this felt entirely exclusionary – like who the hell are these people to not include me in these significant business conversations?
What are you talking about? What are you discussing? What decisions are you making?
I mean you probably didn’t talk about anything more impactful than how to use spreadsheets to track employee project progress, but still – who the hell do you think you are to be keeping secrets and running secretive meetings?
I didn’t consent to this – I’m out.
Signs your business is going to fail: when Sr. Management wastes all sorts of time developing processes and flow charts that look cool but are ultimately useless.
Seriously – we had our amazing Sr. Leadership Team put their heads together to come up with some processes to optimize and enhance our business.
The goal was to help everyone to be more effective in their jobs, and to guide everyone as to the desired workflows.
For example – after we make a sale, what is the next action to onboard the client? Then what is the next action to notify everyone on the team? Then what is the next action to kick off the project – that kind of workflow.
Now in theory I believe this is a great idea. It is absolutely something that all important businesses need – a clear workflow, and details whos responsible for what.
Why is it so important?
So that any time you have a new hire, or any time there’s any confusion on the team, they have a document to refer back to that shows them exactly whos responsible for what, and what order it needs to be completed in.
So it’s great in theory – so what’s the problem?
Where things went wrong was that no one used them.
(Even Sr. Management).
So they wasted a helluva a lot of time – preparing this workflow document, then it effectively got forgotten about and tossed aside.
See, this is another one of those Classic Management Blunders – where management gets all excited and creates the processes – and they get all high and mighty about the amazing work that they’ve completed, but they fail to realise that it has not properly been designed to be used and implemented.
You know when management gives you a document and you read it, and you’re left scratching your head thinking ‘what the hell am I supposed to do with this?’.
Yeah – that was they workflow documents. They didn’t actually make any sense in practice. The items and tasks and who they were assigned to didn’t make any sense. And even when I pointed these things out to them, they failed to actually update and improve them.
There was a complete lack of accountability, and complete lack of actually reviewing the processes to ensure they’re actually being updated and optimized.
Garbage In = Garbage Out
You can create the greatest system in the world, but if your employees aren’t clear on how to implement it – it is effectively garbage.
Management loves to come up with all sorts of ‘management ideas’ – but they’re rarely effective at actually bringing about any real and significant change.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager demands out of the blue an urgent meeting, so you screw up your day to get ready for the meeting, only to have them cancel without explanation 20 minutes before the meeting starts.
Building on an earlier point here. I had a manager that would make these demands completely out of the blue, demanding that I schedule an urgent meeting with her.
Of course, I was already in the middle of something (working to complete her last demand which she had declared urgent, of course), so scheduling a meeting with her meant rearranging and screwing up my day.
I like to do this crazy thing called ‘be productive with my time’. And so every morning I sit down, figure out my top tasks – those urgent tasks that need to get done most quickly – and the I line ‘em up and knock ‘em down.
But I schedule out my whole day, from 8am to 5pm – it’s all booked. So if a manager comes around and demands an urgent meeting, that means my whole plan goes to shit.
I know have to rearrange work periods – work gets spilled over to the next day and everything gets out of whack.
But hey, this is my manager, and she’s demanding an urgent meeting to discuss an urgent matter, so this must be urgent right?
20 minutes before our ‘urgent’ meeting, she cancels, with zero explanation, and no attempt to even reschedule.
It’s almost like the meeting was never that important anyway.
It’s almost like, she just wanted to tell me what to do.
It’s almost like, she was just enjoying the power trip.
It’s almost like she didn’t’ really care about us accomplishing any of the urgent and important tasks, but rather was just enjoying the fact that she could tell me what to do, and have power over my day.
It was more to test her sense of power, than it was about actually getting anything useful done.
Now, maybe I’m just naive, but I’m a very pragmatic person, and I’m all about just getting done the things that need to get done.
We’re here to work after all, right?
I’ve never been into playing power games. Not because I’m ‘nice’, but because it’s just never been part of my reality. I guess I can thank my parents for not being emotionally manipulative while I was growing up. Thanks mom & dad.
But power tripping managers are bad for business. It serves zero value to the client.
And seeing as the clients are the ones footing the bill, anything that offers no value to a client, are irrelevant and a waste of time.
So if you have a manager who’s simply out to appease her ego, and tries to silence those screams of insecurity she feels inside by lashing out and externally using her position of power to self-validate, that business my friends, is going to crumble.
It’s not sustainable.
Because any employee who’s actually decent at their job and has any sense of self-respect won’t put up with it for very long.
That manager will find it very difficult to retain good staff over the long term (and good staff are worth their weight in gold – hiring is an expensive and time consuming process – not to mention risky, as you’ll never be sure who exactly is on the other side of the desk, until you hire them, at which point, it’s kinda too late if you made a mistake).
This means, that the only staff who will stick around and accept the managers abuse, are those who either have extremely low self-esteem (or maybe they secretly enjoy being told what to do), or are so desperate for cash, they’ll put up with whatever they need to.
And in a sick way, that actually fulfills the managers deepest fantasies. She doesn’t really want productive employees who are good at their job and get sh*t done, she wants an army of drones that are too terrified to speak up or resist her. An army of dutiful subordinates who do exactly as you demand.
That is the ultimate power trip.
Too bad it’s bad for business.
Your pathetic ego brings zero value to the market.
And the market always corrects itself.
If you think I’m bad, the market is ruthless.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager wants a marketing plan that is so unnecessarily complicated, that it is doomed to failure.
So I do need to take a moment here to show my manager some appreciation – she planted the seed of a marketing idea that had the potential to be extremely powerful and lucrative, but it had only one drawback:
It was so insanely complicated and expensive that there was zero chance that it could ever be successful or that clients would be willing to front the investments required to make it happen.
Dead in the water as far as I was concerned.
I’ll keep this simple, but here’s a quick taste of the plan:
Run a cross-channel remarketing campaign, across all the major platforms like Google, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.
The idea being that if someone does a Google search one day, they’ll see an ad on their Facebook feed the next day, and then LinkedIn the day after that, etc etc. Basically, wherever they go online, there’s our ads again.
Great plan in theory, but once again it falls flat on its face in execution.
Because of that silly thing called privacy.
All the major platforms introduced restrictions on remarketing – specifically that any remarketing audience requires at least 1000 members before you can use it.
So let’s just say we wanted to target: 45 yr old yoga moms with 3yr old daughters who are vegan, trying to lose weight, love travel, use an iphone and don’t like waiting in line in the grocery store, loves soy frappuccinos but hates when they’re too delicious, who clicked a link to a Whole Foods ad and is fighting to end white privilege – I mean how many of those f*cking karens do you think exist anyway??
So we’d make a remarketing audience for that list.
Oh, but then in addition to the 45 yr old karens, she also wanted separate audiences for the 25, 35, the 55, and the 65 year old Karens, so now we’ve got 5 different audiences.
And instead of just yoga lovers, she also wants cat lovers, so now we double to 10 different audiences.
So let’s be kind and assume she stops there (she doesn’t).
That is now 10 audiences that we need to populate with at least 1000 people. That is 10,000 people.
Let’s assume it costs $1 to get a person into in a remarketing audience, that is now a $10,000 investment.
Oh right, and that’s just for 1 platform, let’s assume we’re doing this across 5 platforms, that’s now a $50,000 investment – just to begin.
Remember, filling the remarketing audiences is only the first step, then you have to actually, you know, use them.
But what’s the client’s budget? $500.
Maybe $1500 if we’re lucky.
Another example of Classic Management – where they get over zealous and overly excited on an idea – but they are completely disconnected from any semblance of reality, and what can actually be achieved within the client’s budget.
Again remember – my manager was simply trying to pad her sensitive ego – she wanted to run a big and complicated ad campaign, not for the client’s sake, but for her own sense of accomplishment and expertise.
This was all about her, and trying to pad her resume with all her amazing achievements, so she could show off to her friends or make daddy proud or something.
It makes me sick.
Maybe I’m just a very pragmatic person, but once I understand the client’s budgets and their limitations – the question I ask myself is: great – now with this limited budget, what is the best possible thing I could achieve, that would show them some results and success?
And I work from there.
It isn’t about me and my ego and padding my resume, it’s about them – it’s about the client.
Remember: the market smells bullsh*t, and in the long term, the market always wins.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager says ‘these timelines are too tight there’s no way we can do this in 4 days like the client asked, let me think about it’. And then wastes at least 2 of those precious days thinking about whether to do it or not.
Another classic case of amazing management.
We had a few examples where client’s came to us and said “hey, we need to get this thing done in 4 day – we have a deadline/event/whatever coming up – and we need to get this out the door”
When I conveyed that message to my manager (I mean has everyone forgotten the concept of ‘don’t shoot the messenger’??), she’d lose her sh*t and say ‘wow! Those timelines are so tight! There’s no way we can deliver in time – let me think about whether we should do it or not’.
She would then sit on it.
And sit on it.
And sit on it.
Like she was trying to lay an egg or something.
But out of our 4 day window, she would sit on it for 2 entire days, and then suddenly would come back to life and scream and shout about how far behind we were and how ‘we really needed to get this done yesterday’.
Right on boss. Except do you think maybe you actually could have told us yesterday?
Then we might actually have time to get this done.
So here’s the deal: if the timelines are too tight and the client is being ridiculous, then we need to go back to the client and tell them that.
We need to have a certain level of dignity and self-respect to be able to come back and say: ‘hey client, we’re doing everything we can to make this work for you, but these timelines are not feasible, and we cannot complete the work as requested – would you be okay if we either achieved a deadline [further in the future], or put this project on pause?’.
Yes our job is serve clients, but serving clients doesn’t mean getting pushed around and bullied by clients.
Clients do not have the right to dictate our schedules or how we operate our business – if client demands are interfering with our business operations, then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.
We’re no longer a marketing agency, but suddenly we’re just a puppet being abused by the puppet master.
And I don’t stand for abuse.
If you’re a manager, it is your job to grow a pair and have the balls to properly represent your business.
Because if you don’t, rest assured that your business is doomed to fail.
Signs your business is going to fail: when your manager is perfectly comfortable emasculating the CEO, and has basically started running the company herself.
This one pains me to no end.
I had a CEO and I loved the guy. Good guy, warm heart, always trying to do the best he could, and care for his team and his family.
But he hired this Senior Manager, who seemed to have less than noble intentions.
She was out for power and fame above all else.
Now things started amicably enough on all fronts. But it didn’t take long before the manager was really the one who was calling the shots.
Now in fairness, our CEO was trying to step away from the day-to-day operations, and have less involvement in the daily decisions.
Yet, the manager saw that as an opportunity for a power grab.
If the CEO wasn’t running the show, then maybe she could.
It wasn’t long before I noticed her attitude towards him started to shift, and the lack of respect started growing, like some kind of malignant cancer.
We would have team meetings, where the manager would call out the CEO. Saying things that made him look bad, or things that made it look like he had no idea what he was talking about.
Effectively she was being confrontational, without trying to problem solve. She was starting to play the blame game.
She was working to frame the CEO to the rest of the company as someone who was effectively incapable of properly doing their job.
Sowing the seeds of doubt and resentment in everyone’s mind.
I’m not saying that she staged a coup, but let’s just say that within a year, she was the one calling the shots.
She was the one making the big decisions. And often whenever the CEO would speak out, she would shut him down.
She was on a mission to emasculate him, and strip away his power.
Again – this was a manager with a massive ego and massive insecurities – she fed off the power trips.
Now when I left the agency – the CEO was still technically in charge – however it became clear that the manager was really the one who was running the show.
She had effectively usurped the power from the throne. I mean, well done to her, that’s no easy feat.
But the real lesson here is to demonstrate the importance of having a back bone and solid principles – if you let someone start to push you around – it is game over for you sunshine.
Time to start a new business.
Signs your business is going to fail: when you work with simple clients, who want simple results, but you massively overcomplicate things.
If you want to be successful in business, you need to get good at reading your clients and understanding what is truly important to them.
Some clients love a show and they love big complicated solutions to their problems – it makes them feel all important.
However, most clients (and I don’t mean this condescendingly) are simple people who just want simple results.
Many clients prefer speed over perfection, and they want results they can understand.
For example: a report that clearly states how much money they spent – and how much money they made. Simple.
For example, we had one client that we told we could turn around a project in a couple days, no problem.
But then I told my manager the situation and she’d lost her sh*t and berated me for ‘proposing a sh*tty design’ and ‘you should have known better’.
Now, this project which I believe could have been completed within 1 hour, my manager then ‘took the reigns on’ and turned it into a 5 hour behemoth. Slightly destroying our budget, ever so slightly.
Instead of it just being a 1 person operation, she demanded that the whole team get involved – that we get the design team and the dev team and the marketing team and get ALL the cooks in the kitchen.
Of course, despite my manager taking control of this project, she failed to actually communicate with the client and tell him what was going on.
So of course the client checked in to see ‘why is this taking so long? I just want something simple, I need to launch this quickly’.
And this is the point: the manager had completely misread this entire situation.
I knew what the client wanted – the client wanted simple, no frills, just get it done and get it launched, and that is what I was working on delivering.
However, when the manager took over, she didn’t care about any of that, she just cared about stroking her ego – she wanted big and fancy and complicated!
But she completely misread the situation and just overcomplicated the project – she stepped in and made a mess – that of course then became my problem to clean up.
But the key point here is that is did not understand what was truly important to the client – she misread the entire situation.
And in the process – made us all look bad – she made us look like we dind’t know what we were doing, that we had no coordination, and the we didn’t have a clear understanding of the clients needs.
Oh, then when we delivered the work – the client obviously wasn’t happy, and sent back about 3 rounds of passive aggressive revisions – just as a stab at taking some power back, and showing us exactly who was boss here.
She just wants to fulfil her own ego of creating ‘high quality content’ so we ‘look good’ – but has zero concern for delivering what clients actually want: simple work that is effective and gets the job done, and on time.
Signs your business is going to fail: you hire someone to do SEO.
This might sound slightly contradictory – I mean, afterall, if you’re a marketing agency, don’t you sell SEO services?
Yes we do. But if you’re a business and you hire someone to do SEO for you, your business is going to fail.
Because proper SEO is an insanely time consuming (and I’ll admit, personal) affair.
It requires blood sweat and tears.
The cost to hire someone to do it is astronomical if you actually want them to do it properly.
As an example, I have written and published 260,000 words in the last month – how much would it cost to pay someone to do that?
I write at about 25 words per minute – meaning I’ve put in about 170 hours of work so far (not even including time for brainstorming, editing, and uploading). At an agency rate of $150 per hour, that’s about $25k costs so far. And what has been my total income been to date? 33 cents (yikes…that was slightly embarrassing to admit outloud).
Yeah, not exactly a great ‘ROI’ so far.
Imagine if I had paid someone $25k to write those articles, and I’d only seen 33 cents back – how f*cking pissed would I be?
And that’s my point.
I love writing, and I love my craft – I do it for the love – but in the short term, the economics of it aren’t really that great.
Even a 500 word post from fiverr costs like $20. So that would be at least $10k. Have I earned anywhere close to $10k of revenue yet? absolutely not, so how the f*ck would I hire someone to do this?
People forget that North American companies and employees are extremely expensive.
Like, extremely expensive.
And I’m not trying to say that SEO is ineffective or a waste of money or doesn’t deliver a good return – what I am saying thought is that the cost of hiring a North American employee to do the work, is going to absolutely destroy your return on investment – and you’ll be cursing them as your business slowly heads towards its watery grave.
If you’re a new business – you need to do your own SEO. At this point, you likey have more time than money – so get to work cowboy.