How to not be a client from hell

A few years ago, a good friend working at a local ad agency turned me on to the website Clients From Hell. The site is a collection of submitted stories and conversations from agency people and freelancers about awful and usually funny client experiences.

ME: The price for the project we’re talking about will be $XXX.

CLIENT: Really? I had another designer work on this for me last year and he did it for free.

ME: I’m sorry, I can’t work for free. You may want to try going back to him and seeing if he’ll do it for free again this year.

CLIENT: I can’t. He’s no longer in business.”

(Source: Clients From Hell)

If you have ever worked in an agency or freelance, you will quickly find yourself familiar with many of the posts on the site. In fact, that same friend of mine submits clients of his regularly.

As a client working with an agency, what can you do to not become a client from hell, though? As I have written about before, I have sat on both sides of the agency/client relationship more times than I care to admit.

I’ve tried as a client to manage my agency relationships to get the most out of the agreement. On the agency side, I try to set expectations early with a new client. Through that process, I’ve come up with 3 keys to not ending up on Clients From Hell (so far I have been successful).

Acknowledge that you are using the agency for a reason.

The first thing to acknowledge is you are here for a reason. It may be lack of internal expertise, lack of capacity to execute projects, or just wanting to combine an agencies talent with your own. The fact is that you as a client made a decision to start the relationship. Sometimes as a client, you have to let an agency do the work they are good at doing. If they produce bad work, then fire them.

Agencies are only as fast as the slowest link (and sometimes that is you).

Second, an agency is like a machine with a million parts in constant motion. A project requires precise timing of all the moving parts to make a deadline. Because of that, a slow part often delays the whole project. It never fails when working at an agency that the customers who complain the most about the speed of a project are also the ones who are the slowest to give me materials. If, however, you always provide your side on time and they still miss deadlines, then complain.

You are not the only customer.

Third, in your own business you likely have multiple customers. It does not matter if you are cutting hair or selling computers. Chances are you are constantly shifting resources to meet the most critical demand. Agencies are no different. Some days you are the most important client, some days the least; you are never, however, the only. In fact, if you are your agency’s only customer, chances are they will not be around long. It is balancing and moving importance that allows an agency, much like your own business, to work for the benefit of all customers as a whole. Sometimes pushing you back to finish another project early means being able to keep a great freelance designer on another week to work on your project. But if you are the client constantly being pushed back with no long term benefit, find a new agency.

Making the most out of an agency/client relationship will help you, as a client, get the most value for your money. Agencies are not always perfect; in fact, there probably should be an Agencies From Hell, too. Patience as a client can help you better evaluate if the agency values your relationship. Managing your side of the relationship will lead to better work from a good agency when you find one.

For more on identifying different types of crazy clients – and advice on how to deal with them – check out Central Desktop’s Usual Clients infographic.

Greg Henderson
Post by Greg Henderson

Greg Henderson is a digital marketing professional. He specializes in transforming traditional marketing departments into the digital era. He currently works with a digital agency focused on transitioning traditional trade publications into digital content sites.

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