What Makes You Want To Work With A Client?
I’ve been considering this a lot lately, especially after getting an email from a potential client whose tone immediately grabbed my attention and made me think “damn, I want to work with this guy!” I’ve also gotten quite a few emails from potential clients whose tone immediately turns me off. Some people are extremely good at dealing with difficult people, but I’m really not one of them. I like nice, easy people. With that in mind, I asked a few industry people about what it is that makes them want to work with or turn down clients. Thanks to all of you who took the time to answer!
Jill Whalen, owner of High Rankings and all-around most consistent-minded SEO
Joe Hall, CEO and Founder of 22Media, fellow Southerner
Paul Madden, formerly SEOIdiot, currently just
a big an average-sized ginger muffin and owner of Automica
Amanda King, freelance writer and fellow MySEOCommunity moderator
Gerald Weber, founder of MySEOCommunity and winner of “Nicest Man in SEO” award, if only in my head
James Agate, founder of Skyrocket SEO, raconteur
Shelli Walsh AKA Shellshock, design snob, Federer fantatic
Brian Waraksa from Raxa Design and Texan (yes that is notable…I’ve never had this many mentions of Texas in a post before, like EVER)
And myself, as with interesting guys like this, I felt the need to lower the tone to a more boring level. You’re welcome.
1. What makes you want to work with a client?
Rae: If I think that I can actually help them. I don’t care how big the budget is or who the client “is” so to speak – I only want to work with clientsnthat I believe I can bring a healthy ROI. Fun topics are also a plus. If I can think of 100 promotional ideas before I even get on the first call, then I definitely get excited about potentially having them as a client. I also have a soft spot for folks who have had bad experiences with prior SEO companies. I guess I always want to try and make their opinion of our industry “right” – which may mean taking them as a client or referring them to someone I know actually can help them if we’re not a fit for whatever reason.
Jill: I usually try to make sure that they’re a good fit. I specialize in particular areas of SEO, i.e., technical site audits and redesign consulting for the most part. Plus, since I’m a solo consultant, I mainly only do high level consulting where I provide the client with my thoughts and recommendations. They need to implement things on their end, so I try to ensure that they have that capability before taking them on. I only want to work with clients who are in need of my knowledge and areas of expertise, and who also understand exactly what my role and theirs is. This avoids a lot of potential problems later.
I also prefer to work with those who already “know” me to a certain extent, either because they have been reading my newsletter/blog posts for quite awhile, following me on Twitter or have taken my Lynda SEO Course. I find that it makes a big difference as they typically know my style and already trust me.
Joe: I generally look for three things: Do they have a budget we can work with? Can they demonstrate competency of the fundementals of SEO? Are they responsive to request for feedback and changes?
Paul: We tend to have a mix of client work and our own stuff so generally we take on work that is either a challenge (I love to either help influence a large brand or to fight in the trenches with a small site owner trying to punch above their weight) or we really buy into what the site owner is trying to achieve.
Amanda: I think the most important gut feeling when it comes to wanting to work with a client…it’s their passion for what they do. If a person really enjoys what they do and genuinely want to try and find ways to increase their reach, it’s a great feeling to be able to help them do that.
Gerald: I really enjoy clients who respect my team and I as professionals. This type of client allows us to do our job without trying to micromanage everything. Since we provide weekly ranking reports, monthly production reports and regularly have meetings with clients, unless we’re dealing with unusual circumstances, this should be sufficient communication. Good clients understand that and are respectful of our time.
Ann: I usually focus on projects, not clients. Since I am offering guest blogging services, I love interesting projects and start-ups I’d enjoy promoting! Also, some niches are much easier to “blog” than the others.
James: I am always keen to work with a client that above all else values me and my team. We appreciate input and collaboration with clients of course and we can do all sorts of educating when it comes to tactics (they don’t have to understand how guest blogging works before they hire us) but fundamentally if they treat us as mere “burger flippers” then it makes me not want to work with them.
I don’t think it is an ego thing (it might be) but I find that deciphering how the client views us during the negotiation stage helps to avoid all sorts of crap later down the line. For example, clients who don’t value us or the work we do will typically squeeze us on price (bad), are unwilling to compromise (bad) and certainly are unforgiving should we make a mistake (really bad).
Shelli: Having the luxury of being selective is not always an option but I do turn away clients if they don’t have enough budget to realistically achieve anything. I like to work with exciting brands and I have a few personal interest industries that I am always pleased to be working within. Clients who are open to creative ideas and willing to try something new is appealing but mainly clients who respect and trust your knowledge so they let you get on with what you are best at (and having budgets to cover).
Brian: A client that respects my service, experience, and knowledge.
Julie: I love getting requests for information from people who approach this as “would you like to work together?” more than “give me your prices so I can see if I am interested.” If I have room and a potential client is pleasant, friendly, respectful…I’m good. There are also the occasional insanely interesting niches that pop up, and luckily, the contacts there tend to be nice too. I like a client who makes me think and go a bit outside of my comfort zone.
2. What makes you not want to take on a certain client?
Rae: As probably made obvious by my answer to the above, if I don’t think we can help them in whatever their goals are would be the number one reason Iwould turn a client away or refer them to a better option. If a client is overly needy in the intake stage, then it’s a pretty clear signal about what a working relationship with them will be like – and not a good one. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a potential client asking questions, etc. but if their level of care required is over the top before they’re even a client, I won’t go any further in the discussions. Another big reason we might turn a client away is our own capacity. If we’ve reached critical mass as far as work we can do internally, then we close down intake until we find amazing new additions to the staff (if you’re in the Houston area, we’re hiring!). We don’t want to hire anyone available simply to meet intake demands – we want to hire great people and then fill the subsequent openings they create – if that makes sense.
Jill: Mainly the inverse of the above. Trust is probably the biggest factor in who I want to work with or not. If they don’t fully believe that my recommendations will be beneficial to them or that I don’t know what I’m talking about, then it would be silly for us to work together. Also, while I think potential clients are smart to carefully question who they’re going to work with and check references, etc., unless it’s for a huge sum of money, I prefer not to deal with a lot of that at this point. This is why I prefer clients who already know and trust me. It cuts out a lot of the BS at the lead stage that I don’t have the time nor inclination for anymore.
I also won’t play the negotiating game with any client. If they want some sort of a discount or lower price, I pretty much tell them to hit the road. Oh, and I also ask for payment up front. If they can’t or won’t do that, again, I’m not interested. The funny thing is, those that really want to work with me, seem to manage to figure out a way to make it happen!
And the other thing I don’t like is telephone people! I’m fine with schedule calls as necessary, but if you tend to pick up the phone rather than email for most things, I definitely don’t want to work with you (or more likely you don’t want to work with me as my phone is set to permanent voice mail!).
I’m lucky in that I am only looking for a limited number of clients at any one time, so I can be choosy. I realize that it’s a lot harder when you’re an agency and have a lot of overhead and salaries to cover. It’s pretty scary to tell potential clients to hit the road under those circumstances. But I’ve also found (when I was in that position) that bad clients are often not profitable anyway, so even if you have to pay your bills, taking them clients who aren’t a good fit is still probably not worth it.
Joe: Well for all of the reasons above and if their business model comes in conflict with our values. For example we don’t do business with organizations in the military industrial complex, and organizations that advocate hate speech or discrimination of any kind. I know that those are very complex issues, so to simplify things we cut them out of the equation entirely.
Paul: The main reason we would walk away from a client is that they excert too much influence on how we want to work that is detrimental to our way of working. For example if a client wants us to work in a certain way to suit them and its not something that fits in with how we want to work with other clients we wont bend to their demands.
Amanda: Arrogance. Whether they think they have no competitors in their niche, or whether they think they know what I’m going to tell them to do for an SEO strategy, it’s just a turn off. You are talking to me because I’m an expert, so don’t assume you know what I’m going to say.
Gerald: There are only a few types of clients I generally won’t take:
1) A client who wants to be involved in EVERY SINGLE step of the SEO process. They call and email on almost a daily basis. This is the type of “micromanaging client” I referenced above. We simply don’t have the time to give constant attention to a single client. In this situation, we’ll recommend that they go with another firm who can provide the amount of attention they expect/need.
2) The next type is a client who proclaims to be an “SEO expert.” This is someone who says they know everything there is to know about SEO, but just don’t have the time to do it. I think the problem with this type of clients is they are similar to the “micromanaging client.” The few times we’ve taken on either of the these types, it has always turned out to be more trouble than it’s worth.
3) The last type is the price shopper. This is someone who calls quite a few SEO firms and makes pricing their primary focus. They have no regard for what they are actually getting for their money. They just want the lowest price. There are a lot of problems with this type of client. One is that they’re not loyal, they just want the cheapest deal. Another is that we don’t offer a “cookie-cutter” or “one-size-fits-all” SEO service. Every business is different, and if they immediately demand a price without at least giving us enough time to understand their business, their specific pains and goals, it would be irresponsible for us to give them an on the fly quote. I prefer to just let the price shoppers continue shopping!
Ann: I usually shy away from clients who put too much emphasis on keywords and SEO. Again, this is only the specifics of my services – but I would never take on a client if he needs to spam my blog connections with SEOed links.
James: Overbearing reporting and unrealistic requirements – “we need a daily activity report, bound and delivered by carrier pigeon to arrive no later than 2pm” I’m sure you get the gist of this one, sometimes clients just have to fit within the way we actually work, we’ll try to accommodate but it isn’t practical for us to switch to your suite of software and the expense of all our other clients.
Signs of being a clientzilla – “did you get my email?” emails 2 mins after the first one are a good sign in my experience that this person is going to be a bit of a nightmare.
Clients who want “best price” – I’m prepared to negotiate but we’re not haggling for a second hand lawn mower here, there’s only so far I go no matter how much “work you’ll put my way”.
Carrot danglers – can you just do this for me and then I will send you millions of pounds worth of work when this venture takes off.
Shelli: Clients who want to cut corners on everything and get a discounted price. In my experience they are the worst time vampires and suck the blood out of you with their constant demands and little ‘extras’ they don’t want to pay for. Being asked in for a meeting and wanting detailed proposals just so they can get as much information out of you for free – a real pet hate! I run a mile if I smell the cheapskate. If someone had a project that was seriously opposed to my own ethical and moral views I would not work with them, eg. racist, prejudice or oppressive in any manner.
I also turn clients away if they haven’t invested enough in their website design or are not prepared to.
Brian: A client that is looking for a deal. Or those that want to hire me and tell me how to do what I do… I don’t like taking orders.
Julie: Rudeness and arrogance. I can’t stand dealing with people with big egos who think that I’m sitting there just waiting to get their email so I can eat something other than Ramen noodles. Even if that were true, it’s no way to treat someone who you’re basically asking to make more money for you.
3. Gut feelings…have you ever been wrong about a client, thought he/she was fantastic at first, then it became a nightmare?
Rae: Yes. I once took on a client that had said they’d had a bad experience with a prior SEO consultant. It wasn’t long before I figured out that the client was the actual issue in the scenario. For the most part though, my gut is usually pretty dead on. I had a friend who was in talks with a client for quite a long time before they signed a deal. My friend heard his gut giving him grief, but it was a big deal, so he ignored it. The client turned out to be an absolute nightmare. Bottom line? If you get a bad feeling, you should absolutely listen to it, because you’re probably right.
Jill: I don’t think I’d say I have had clients that were quite that extreme. I’ve had some that seemed fairly normal, only to turn out to be total jerks, but it’s truly been very rare because I always have been careful who i take on as a client. I’ve actually had the opposite happen where I think a client may be trouble, who turns out to be a dream client! (Like the one who filled out my contact form in ALL CAPS using a hotmail email account!)
Joe: Yes one time in particular when we did strictly development work we took on a large project. My gut wasn’t wrong about the person I did most of the communicating with, it was wrong with her boss. When fine tuning your gut you really need to put out feelers deep into the chain of command.
Paul: Yes a few times, you start off on the same page and they head off straight away in another direction. If its detrimental to the general ethos of your business, let them go.
Amanda: A few clients I’ve worked with have been a double-edged sword; amazing most of the time, but when things fell to pieces it was Armageddon. These clients have tend to be the more emotional ones (not emotional as in crying all the time, but emotional as in the opposite of goal-oriented). Much more focused on building a rapport, both with the agency and their customer base, than with the ROI of our efforts.
While this is great for building a very happy customer base, it’s not great when you need to hold their hand and explain how to add images to a post in WordPress because you’re someone they trust to explain technology, or when they freak out ad threaten to leave because their main point of contact at the agency was moving on to a new venture. While from a personal standpoint I appreciate this kind of attitude and approach, from a business perspective it can become a time suck, and as an SEO that’s never good, because you can always do something more to help your efforts for any given client.
Gerald: That doesn’t happen very often, but yes, it has happened. Although it occurred a few times early on, after doing this for quite a few years, I think I have dealt with enough problem clients that I tend to see the warning signs early on and avoid taking them on as a client. Bringing on a new client is kind of like dating. We have to get to know them a little bit so we can be sure that we can actually help them. But beyond that, we also have to make sure they have realistic expectations. Most importantly, the relationship has to “feel right.” That’s why my gut feeling goes a long way in our process of deciding whether or not we decide to take on a particular client. Every single time I’ve taken on a problematic client, I’ve always said to myself “I should have listened to my gut on that one!” There are almost always some telltale signs before a contract is signed.
Ann: I was once but in a good way. I took on a client and thought I’d soon wish I hadn’t (he seemed to be too detail-focused and thus potentially a trouble-maker). But in the end, I liked how careful he is about promoting his site and how he makes me actually better!
James: God yes, I think some clients have been through so many agencies that they have learned to hold back their personality initially until everything is underway before morphing into clientzilla.
Shelli: Oh yes! One client actually put me off ever wanting to produce websites again. I can’t even think about them without revisiting the stress, frustration and anger at this persons lack of ability to communicate, to know what he was talking about and his relentless pursuit to get everything for nothing. Easily the worst client I have ever encountered. The funny thing was his wife was very nice and we worked very well together but the thought of him is like nails on a blackboard to me.
Brian: Yes, and I’ve had the opposite happen where I felt like the client was going to be a nightmare and they end up being fantastic.
Julie: I don’t think I have. I am not the sole decision maker when it comes to clients so to throw blame at poor Jay (ha!) there have been some occasions when I wasn’t comfortable with someone for some reason and the person did turn out to be hell on wheels later on.
4. Have you ever had to fire a client? If so, why? How did the client react? Did you make an effort to try and place him or her elsewhere?
Rae: Yes, a few times. If a client hires us and then gives us no support (i.e. doesn’t make recommended on site changes or hinders the promotional process at every turn) then I will end the relationship. No one wants to be set up to fail, especially when the reason you’re in this line of work is because you “love the game” so to speak.
Jill: I don’t do a lot of ongoing work, so this doesn’t come up much for me. Many times I’ve sent clients on their way, but mostly because they didn’t need me anymore and I didn’t want them to waste their money. I do have a friend in the industry (PPC) who has tried to fire a client, but then they promised to be good, so she kept them on. That sees to give her a bit of leverage if/when they start to act up! (The secret is in being so great that they need you more than you need them, of course.)
That said, I did once give the payment for a site audit back to a client when they were asking too many questions and just generally being a pain in the butt before I had even started. It seemed like too much trouble to work with them as I had an inkling that they were going to take much more of my time than would be profitable for me considering what they were paying. I think I had charged them for one of my lower end audits when I should have charged for the higher end one, so it was more of a mistake on my end of not evaluating the situation properly to begin with. Interestingly enough, this client has recently come back after getting hit by Panda/Penguin and I’ve now charged them the appropriate amount to figure out what’s going on and they’ve been fine!
Joe: Yes, the client mentioned above actually! I can’t get into the details because of contractual obligations, but basically there was a violation of our contract, on top of months of zero feedback, and they more or less lied during the preliminary stages of the project, which in turn made us loose lots of money. They didn’t act surprised, maybe because they knew it was coming. I did not find them a replacement, because I value others in this industry to much to subject them to that behavior.
Paul: Ha, I’m too British to call someone up and say “take it outside, we dont wanna do that no more”. Typically I will say “Im very sorry but we can’t fit that work in from next month, can I check in with you in a few months if we get capacity back?”
I tend not to try to place people elsewhere based on the fear that they might feel they have to send someone my way and to be honest I dont need anyone else to say no to.
Gerald: Yes. This actually happened fairly recently. In this particular case, it was the micromanaging aspect combined with a twist of some craziness. When this happens, we simply explain that we don’t feel the relationship is working out. I did ask a few friends if they would like the referral, but since I was honest about the fact that this client was a major handful, there were no takers. The client didn’t really have a reaction. She just walked away and accepted that we decided to end the relationship.
Ann: Yes, I did. He seemed to react pretty well because I said I had run out of blog connections in his niche, so I couldn’t work for him any more (in reality, he was a bit of a trouble-maker to my team).
James: Yes, after about 8 months in business it became clear that we had perhaps picked up a few less than ideal clients who were taking up more time than they really should. Some of this came down to the fact that they had temper tantrums as soon as they found out they would no longer be dealing with just me and they would put unrealistic demands on my team just to make a point.
This was rectified pretty quickly but it was definitely tough to lose revenue but in the end it worked out for the best. We found replacements for all but one.
Shelli: Fortunately no. I have been close but have always finished a job with consummate professionalism haha : ) I also follow the law of never saying anything negative about a person as you just never know when it will come back to you.
Brian: Yes, because the client thought she knew better than us and gave us unreasonable requests and tasks. Never responded to our termination letter. We had every intention of placing her elsewhere.
Julie: Yes. It had happened to one client before actually…and based on what we were put through, no I did not try and make any referrals. I took one for the SEO industry with that client. I have fired a couple of them when it seemed that we were losing money on labor and not actually doing anything beneficial for them.
5. Have you ever had to deal with a former client (or current one) who spoke very negatively about your services?
Rae: No one can please everyone 100% of the time – and I think that’s especially true when you’re running an agency with staff. I had one instance =where a client was very unhappy with a specific member of my team. Bottom line is that if things aren’t working for whatever reason, clients want to know someone is listening and someone actually gives a damn that things aren’t working. I personally reached out, took responsibility for the situation (even though I was unaware of it until that time) and did everything possible to move them to a company I knew they would be happier with. They appreciated the honesty, the taking of responsibility and we ended up parting ways on very good terms. Sometimes personalities clash (or any myriad of other reasons that cause client strife) and a client isn’t happy. My job is to make sure that they are, whether that is at our company or with a different one. Then we go back and look at the reasoning behind the client’s unhappiness. If the reason is on our side, then we handle it internally (and quickly) to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In the above case, the person is no longer a member of my team.
Jill: Thankfully I’ve never had that happen. I think my turning away more clients than I actually work with strategy has prevented that. The couple of clients I’ve had through the 17 years I’ve been doing this–who told me they weren’t 100% satisfied–I offered to refund their money. I believe that’s a good strategy to avoid being talked negatively about, even if you don’t feel they deserve a refund. To me, it’s money well spent.
Joe: Yes they didn’t speak negatively publicly at least. But did directly to me. Their site got hacked and they were looking for someone to blame, and didn’t want to admit that it might have been the shitastic hosting company they went with, so they automatically came after us.
Paul: As we work in a business where we basically sell our ‘opinions’ for cash its impossible not to get into situations occasionally where your opinion isnt the one they want and they say so. I am confident enough in what we do and how we do it to explain to anyone who asks what we believe in and why.
Gerald: No, fortunately this has never happened.
Ann: I don’t know of any former (or current) client who has ever spoken negatively about my services. They all seem to be pretty happy.
James: Only once, it got back to me that a current client was spreading inaccurate statements about what we “had done to her website” which was suffering not because of anything we’d done but because we weren’t solving the technical issues related to her eCommerce software setup (which we hadn’t actually been paid for and wasn’t included in our brief).
She assumed that because we were “doing her SEO” that all of a sudden that meant we were responsible for the entire management of her web business. I phoned her, she was shocked that it had got back to me, we straightened it out. I’d like to thing she just misunderstood the situation or that she just wanted to take her frustration out on someone. Either way, water under the bridge now.
Shelli: No (not that I am aware of). I think that is down to having a lot of clients referred to me on reputation and always remaining professional, even when I didn’t feel like it. I give a lot to my work and clients (probably too much); and I think that reflects in your reputation.
Brian: Not really. We’ve had the arrogant managers that like to throw their titles around try treating us like we are some peon that works for them. You know that type that appreciates a job well done but never gives you credit and wants you to know that they have the power to “fire” you.
Julie: We have had partnerships that didn’t work out well and a few ex-clients didn’t have very nice things to say but considering it just didn’t work out, I can understand that I guess. In one case, a hug at the bar made up for all the agony.
6. Do you ever get second opinions when you are thinking about taking on a client?
Rae: Absolutely. As an affiliate, I collaborate with other affiliates all the time. I see no reason for consulting to be different. Our industry is not exact and sometimes I just want to make sure I’m on the right track -especially in “weird” situations and will get input from other smart minds. However, I have an NDA between my company and the members of the very short list I will go to for second opinions. This protects both myself and the potential client.
Jill: When I had employees I would take into consideration their feelings about a potential client, for sure. If there didn’t seem to be a good connection with them, or if they thought something was a bit “off” about the client, I would usually take that into consideration. Sometimes I’m not great at judging character in that I don’t always notice if someone’s being rude to me (and/or I really don’t care!). These days, I don’t get second opinions about the potential client themselves. Occasionally, however, if I’m not sure I’m a good fit regarding the types of services a client may want me to do, I may discuss it with a colleague in order to get their opinion on whether it’s truly a good fit or not.
Joe: Yes I do. Sometimes that’s a good idea, and sometimes it isn’t. It all just depends on the client and who you are asking.
Paul: There is only one person I would ask for an opinion on and she knows damn well who she is.
Gerald: Yes. I trust and rely on my team. Since I value their opinions, I always involve them in the decision making process.
Ann: No. I think I am the only one to judge because I have the access to all the information and details. I am not the smartest in my team but I am the one who knows all the angles of this business.
James: Quite often yes.
Shelli: Not had to so far but I am expanding and if I don’t know who the client is then I will put in plenty of research to make sure I find out more about them.
Brian: Yes, sometimes I asked a friend in the business or even my wife to make sure I’m not out of line or off base regarding a situation.
Julie: If we do have space and I feel very comfortable with a potential client, as horrible as it is to say this, I don’t always ask anyone else what they think. I just kind of do it. If there was one space and we had multiple potentials, I’d ask Jay what he thought and probably talk to the link builders to see how they felt about it. They’re the ones doing the hard work so they should have a say.
7. Have you ever asked a potential client for recommendations from people who have worked with him or her previously?
Rae: No. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at getting input from and listening to my gut. I usually let is guide me when choosing which clients to work with.
Jill: I don’t believe I have. Certainly, if someone I know refers a client to me and they’ve worked with them before, I might ask how they were to work with, but I would hope people wouldn’t be referring big old meanies to me!
Joe: No, but that’s an awesome idea.
Paul: No, did I mention I’m British! ? That would be rude in my book…
Gerald: No, doing that has never crossed my mind. Might be something to think about though!
Ann: Nope. I don’t think that would be polite (just my opinion. I know I may be wrong). Besides, like I said, I pay more attention to his site rather than the actual person.
Shelli: No. But as above I am now taking more care who I will accept as a client. My aim is to get to the stage where I am dealing with a core of clients I want to work with and being more selective in what I will accept.
Brian: No but that sounds like a good idea.
Julie: I have not…I came up with this question after realizing that lots of potential clients had asked me for recommendations or work samples, but I have never even considered asking them the same.