Are you a terrible client?
So, you’ve hired an agency to design you a new website, build your brand, or bring leads in the door.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that both clients and agencies have common complaints about working together. And let me be clear that agencies are not always perfect angels either – they need to take responsibility for their actions.
But most clients will often bring their own baggage, misunderstandings, and lack of experience into the agency relationship and it ends up being very counterproductive.
In short, clients, even those with good intentions, can get in the way of great work and valuable results.
How do you know if you’re a shitty client? Read on and see if any of these practices sound familiar to you:
Hiring an agency the wrong way
Don’t put out a public RFP and invite every agency under the sun to submit.
Most good agencies, the agencies that you want to work with, won’t respond to random RFP’s. The RFP process is usually being evaluated on price alone and they’re not going to waste days of their time putting together a proposal when you’re only interested in a bargain basement price. You’ll just end up getting what you pay for….a cheap-ass project at a bottom-basement price by an inferior agency.
Research a handful of agencies, ask for referrals, and then invite a few agencies to meet to discuss your needs.
Good agencies, the kind that you want to work with, know that a successful business relationship is based on a good fit.
They want to make sure that they can provide the right solution to your challenge, deliver results, and provide good ROI. They also want to know that you’ll all get along in the process.
You should have the same criteria when choosing an agency, but you can’t determine any of those things by emailing out a an 80-page RFP. You need to meet in person, or at the very least, have a phone call.
Don’t hire the cheapest agency.
Yes, hire the agency you can afford, but don’t attempt a bidding war or try to get the best deal in town. Again, you’ll only end up filtering out the best agencies who don’t want to deal with that cheap-ass bullshit.
Don’t ask them to submit speculative work. EVER.
If you haven’t hired an agency, don’t ask them for mockups for websites, logos or some other creative piece. That’s what they get PAID to do. You wouldn’t ask an architect to design you a house, and then based on whether you like the design, decide whether you’re going to pay them for their work.
If you want a sense of the quality of their work, ask to see their portfolio, or case studies and references from other clients.
Do ask for a formal pitch and proposal process.
While RFP’s and speculative work are no-nos, it is appropriate to ask for a proposal and pitch meeting. If the potential agency wants your business, they will happily prepare a proposal, and they’ll want to pitch it to you in person or via zoom.
Don’t just ask for the costs to be emailed to you; it doesn’t work like that. They want to wow you, so let them do that. It’s good for you to get a feel for the people you’ll be working with and be able to ask questions.
Make sure to invite other team members to the pitch
Make sure that you invite key people on your team to the pitch; people who will either end up working with the agency once the project kicks off, or who will be affected by the results.
That way they can ask questions about the agency’s process and expertise, plus they’ll get a feel for what the working relationship might be like. Your co-workers may also be able to provide valuable information to the agency that will help with the project.
After the pitch, thank the agency and tell them when to expect a decision. Make sure you follow through with the date, or at least keep them posted on any delays.
If the agency is in high demand, they may tell YOU when they need to hear a yes or no. Don’t be offended by this; they want to be sure that they can schedule the time to do your work amongst the other client projects they have on the go. It may be they can do your project in the next 4-6 weeks, but they’re booked for three months after that.
Discuss the pitch and proposal with your team members to decide if the agency can deliver what you need and that there’s a cultural fit – you want to enjoy working together. Price is important but not the most important thing — just make sure they articulate your return on investment in a way that makes sense.
Ghosting your agency when they need you
If you expected that once you hired an agency, you could go off on vacation or lose yourself in another project and the work would magically get done without you, you’re sadly mistaken. You’re also going to frustrate the hell out of your agency.
Just like any relationship, both sides need to contribute. They need you, and you need them. You’re in this project together.
To complete the work successfully, your agency may need you to answer questions to shape the direction, give feedback at certain milestones, and provide information for deliverables like copy.
Make yourself available for meetings and phone calls. When your agency sends you work to review, approve it or request changes in a timely fashion.
Here at Straydog, we find that 90% of the time our projects are delayed because the clients are late in providing feedback, approvals, or other resources, like website copy.
You don’t want the project delayed now, do you? Neither does your agency. And you certainly don’t want to be the one responsible for delaying the project.
If you’re too busy to talk to your agency every week or two, or get them what they need to complete the project, then appoint someone in your company to be the main point of contact and give them the autonomy to make decisions.
BUT: if you do choose a co-worker to take the lead as the agency point of contact, don’t come in at the end of the project and change everything, that’s the “Parachuting CEO” scenario. Make sure you’re staying up to date on the progress of the project. Otherwise, you’ll quickly end up on the Top Ten Clients to Hate list. You’ll also incur more expenses for changing the scope or delaying the project.
You’re either in, or you’re out.
Having unrealistic expectations
We often find that clients so often have unrealistic expectations when working with us.
What kinds of expectations are unrealistic, you ask?
You aren’t their only client
Like most good agencies, Straydog has multiple projects on the go at once. We’re not sitting idly by the phone waiting to hear from you. You also haven’t paid us enough to be the ONLY project we’re working on.
Clients often want work turned around in very short, and unrealistic schedules – expecting months of work to be launched in a week. But we have other deadlines to meet, other work to do. It’s an agency’s objective to meet deadlines they’ve committed to you, but you can’t expect us or any other agency to drop everything to only work on your project. There’s a reality to how long it takes to complete certain deliverables, and if you want quality results, that takes time.
Don’t make your agency a scapegoat
Clients are notorious for blaming their agency when bad things happen, things beyond the agency’s control.
Your website got hacked? Sales are down after a market crash? Software the agency recommended had a bug or experienced some downtime? It’s not their fault. That’s like if a flood happened at the hotel you booked for a corporate event ends up ruining your product launch, and then you blamed the person who booked the venue.
Shit happens, and sometimes that shit is outside of your agency’s control. Stay calm, ask them to do whatever is in their power to fix it, but don’t blame them.
Thinking you can do their work for them
Having an agency is like having a dance partner. If you want to get the best work from them, you need to let them lead. Don’t step on their toes.
Remember why you hired them – you needed help. You need outside expertise and resources and even if you think you can do better, you don’t have the time. If you know better, why did you hire an agency to start with?
That doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable ideas or opinions to contribute to the project, but you need to respect the agency’s expertise enough to let them do what they’re good at. Let them do their job. You wouldn’t tell a plumber how to plumb your house, or a mechanic how to fix your car. So don’t tell a designer how to design a website, or there will be a murder.
Design is not just an end result. It’s a process that involves discussing problems, coming up with ideas for solutions, talking to end users and testing prototypes. That’s how they get to the beautiful result, your project.
There’s nothing creative people hate more than being handed a paint-by-numbers worksheet. They want to find the solution, not have it handed to them. And frankly, that’s what you’re paying them for!
Accept that you aren’t going to have all the answers at the beginning, and that’s OK. Don’t come to your agency with solutions — come with challenges. Your agency won’t think you’re dumb. That’s what they’re here for. That’s their business.
The only other time you get to sit around and complain about your problems is with a therapist, so just enjoy this.
Having crappy taste and offering subjective feedback
Part of hiring a creative agency usually involves a creative deliverable, and guess what? You’re not always going to like what you see.
That doesn’t mean they suck. It doesn’t mean you hired the wrong agency and need to find a new one. It means you don’t like it.
Great design doesn’t happen in one go – it usually takes feedback, further dicussions and iterations to really knock it out of the park. So don’t flip out if you don’t like the first version.
Here’s a mental process you should follow to review and critique creative. Ask yourself:
Does this align with the strategy you’ve already approved?
If the strategy was to highlight a particular feature of your product or facet of your brand and the creative does just that, then it’s on strategy.
So if the work is true to the creative brief you approved, but you now realize you screwed up and approved the wrong strategy, then say so. Your agency will have to redo the work, which means it’s going to cost more and take longer. But that’s your fault not having your shit together, not theirs.
Is your personal taste interfering with good work?
The fact you don’t like the red doesn’t make the creative off strategy; it just means you don’t like red. This isn’t a car you’re going to be driving around everyday, it’s a creative solution designed to get you business results. It’s targeted at your customers, not you.
Don’t ask your mother or the next-door neighbour for their feedback on the agency’s work. These people are not experts, they don’t know anything about your project and probably even know less about good design. Trust the process, TRUST YOUR AGENCY.
Feel free to ask the designer why they made certain choices, but listen to their rationale as objectively as possible. If you don’t agree with their decisions on an objective level, tell them.
Does the work make you slightly uncomfortable?
If so, then it’s probably going in exactly the right direction. Do you know why the majority of ads suck and aren’t memorable? Because the agency gave the client what made them feel comfortable. Safe. Passive. Forgettable.
The market doesn’t care how you feel.
Work that stands out is raw, funny, authentic, transparent, and sometimes pushes the envelope. It takes a stand for something. It says something not everyone agrees with. It alienates some people.
So if you feel a tightness in your chest about the work, that’s you feeling something. And if YOU feel something, your target audience just might feel something too. When you can elicit a positive emotional response from your target audience, then it’s time to hand your agency a bottle of champagne because they did their fucking job.
I’m not saying this doesn’t backfire sometimes. When you make yourself stand out, you can offend certain people and this can cause a public relations issue. Use good judgement, but don’t let yourself become such a slave to pleasing everyone that in the end, you please no one, not even your own bottom line.
Being an unforgiving asshole
Before you go above your account person’s head to complain to the owners or decide to fire the agency altogether, give them time to correct the situation.
Agencies want to do good work, and you should expect good work. But you should also expect that shit happens sometimes. It’s not necessarily the end of the world, or the end of your project.
Not paying invoices on time
There’s almost nothing worse than a client who doesn’t pay their invoices on time.
Agencies run businesses with narrow margins, long sales cycles, and a lot of clients who wait until as long as possible to pay. Yes, that’s the nature of the business, but contributing to the problem won’t help you either. In lots of agencies, clients who are consistently slow to pay their invoices are dropped way down the priority line when it comes to completing work.
Just pay your damn bills on time.
I’m really not trying to paint all clients with the same asshole paint brush. But if you ask 1,000 agencies about their biggest frustrations with clients, I guarantee all of of these points will come up almost 100% of the time.
I don’t think you were born an asshole client. You just have no idea what you’re doing. And by not knowing what you’re doing, you’re ruining your chances of getting awesome work that will deliver awesome results.