Sahail Ashraf posted on 24 November 2017
As a member of a digital agency, you’re part of a growing industry. It’s an exciting one too. But part of that growth can be problematic. The biggest and most enduring agencies are able to stay objective, and this is most obvious in the kind of clients they go after, and work with.
Being able to say ‘no’ to a client is probably one of the most essential skills an agency can have, especially if it is growing at a pace. You don’t want to end up with a difficult client, or a client in an industry that doesn’t fit with your ethos and purpose.
We are going to look at some ways in which you can refuse new work offers, for the right reasons.
Sometimes you may have a chance at landing a client and it all gets rather exciting. You’ve spent a while building or helping to build a great digital agency, and the clients are coming in at a good pace. But then you find a potential client (or they find you) that has a context you just can’t be part of.
At the less extreme end, it could be a client that is in an industry that doesn’t fit with your values. Maybe it’s a client that doesn’t have a sustainable approach to its work, and that doesn’t work for you. Or maybe it’s a health issue, and the potential client sells products that are potentially dangerous in the long term, or at least not ‘good’ for consumers. This second kind of client can be found in the recent boom of the electronic cigarette industry, for example.
At the worst end of things, we are talking clients who deal in offensive stuff, or have an approach to business that is simply unethical.
We have put this ‘reason to say no’ at the start of things because going down this road, even if it seems more ‘business’ than personal, is not good for the agency. If it doesn’t feel right on a gut level, the client is not worth having.
Sorry about the drastic subhead there, but money does make the world go round. And in digital agency work, it is a problem.
Or it can be if you start accepting projects that simply do not make you a sensible profit. Your agency needs to have standards, and only pitch or entertain work offers that meet those. Getting your price point right is vital, but perhaps even more vital is the need to stick to it. If you start letting discount requests pile up, and offering special deals to all of your customers who have been with you longer than a couple of weeks, your bottom line is going to suffer. But that isn’t the only consequence.
A digital agency relies upon having a strong brand, supported by principles and approaches that scream ‘quality’. As soon as word gets around that you are cheap, your brand will start to dip in perception. The one thing that ‘cheap’ gets is a bad reputation. It means you don’t respect clients, and you don’t even respect what you do.
If a client (long term or otherwise) tries to pull you way down under when it comes to price, you should be instinctively saying ‘no’.
Being in the creative sphere means that, every now and then, your clients will require changes to the output. This is quite common, and it is also quite common for the number of changes and updates to be specified in a contract. But that doesn’t mean they won’t keep asking.
If a client starts to go down the road of asking for numerous changes, time and time again, and the work isn’t included, cost-wise, in the contract, then you need to start saying no. This is for two main reasons. The first concerns value. If you are updating and changing work constantly, you’re working for free. And as soon as people hear that you’re doing this, you will come across as desperate, and worse, poor quality. No one likes to hear about an agency that always makes changes to work.
The second reason is that it takes up a lot of time. You can’t keep making changes and waste valuable employee time, time when another project could be worked on. Your clients need to know you are confident about what you do, and that you expect your work to be seen as high quality.
There is only one real reason why clients choose to work with you. They feel that you know what you are doing, and that you have expertise. This is especially true for established, professional agencies.
The most obvious time when this is happening is when a client comes to you and says that they want to replicate what one of their competitors is doing on social media or online in general. You, as an agency, need to quickly audit what the client is talking about, so that you know if the behaviour or element of strategy will actually help your client.
They are coming to you for guidance, and if what they want will hurt their brand, that’s when you have to say no. It works out a lot better for the client in the long run, and again it shows that you value what you do, to the extent that you know exactly what you shouldn’t do.
If you’re struggling to say no to clients, think about the points above. Sometimes it is the only word that will help your agency grow.
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