Anybody who’s ever started an agency or business or been self-employed knows how it goes. When you start out, you’re desperate for clients. You say yes to everyone and everything they ask. You want to learn, grow, and take on new challenges. And you’ve got bills to pay ― you can’t afford not to say yes.
Little by little you do grow ― and change. And one day you start to realize that, just like in any romantic relationship, that one perfect client you were so happy to win just might not be such a perfect fit anymore.
You look in the mirror one morning and wonder: is it me? Is it them? What’s changed?
You’ve got different goals than when you started
Maybe you thought print was your first love, and from posters and flyers to business stationary that’s all you thought you’d ever do. Or maybe it was the opposite ― the web was your world, and you loved every pixel of it. You found the client that was perfect for you and started churning out the happiest work of those honeymoon years. But little by little things changed.
You got involved in other areas ― maybe print projects, or user experience design ― and project by project it came to represent a bigger and bigger part of your portfolio. Now it’s what you do, who you are and how you want to be seen, and that work that you took such joy in early on just isn’t where you want to spend your time ― even if it’s your client’s whole world.
They don’t see who you’ve become
You pull out all the stops to win over a client. They reward you with their favor in the form of a nice package of work that keeps you humming all through the year. And the next year. And the year after that. But along the way you’ve grown, and are still growing, and you’ve got all sorts of new talents and interests and capabilities you’d like to show off ― if only they’d listen.
But you just keep doing that same package of work, one that suddenly seems rather small compared to what you’re used to these days. You hope they’ll take notice, but they never seem to see you as anything other than the cute little agency they’d come to love so many moons ago. They’re happy to have dependable little you right where you’ve always been. Even though there’s so much more to who you are now.
They can’t afford you anymore
It’s a fact that salaries make up a huge chunk of any agency’s spending. As your agency grows, the graphic designers, web developers and copywriters ― whether they’ve grown with you or you’ve hired them as you’ve gone ― need to get paid commensurate with their talent and experience. Which means, inevitably, you’ve raised your prices as you’ve grown.
This will probably have priced you out of many potentially small clients’ budgets. But there also comes a point when your legacy clients, those first loves of your young career who’ve stuck with through thick and thin, can no longer afford to pay the prices you need to charge to support your team.
They’re not growing with you
Some clients are small and will stay small, even when you grow. They paid you what you were worth when you were just starting out, but now you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt and you can command higher prices.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye. In fact, small clients may be just the right people ― more friendly and more forgiving ― to start your new guys on and also add diversity to your portfolio. But it just may be that at this stage in your growth, they’d benefit not so much from you as from someone just like you were a few years back.
The terms of your relationship no longer work
When you’re small and young you might promise your client the moon ― and deliver it. But over time the cost to do it just might be too much for you or your agency, especially if, as noted above, your experience and capabilities increase. And if you’d managed to secure a contract rather than doing just project work, maybe you’re suddenly finding that contract is constraining your workflow to the point that it doesn’t make sense to keep the relationship going.
What should you do?
Before you have The Talk it’s important to make the effort to show them that you’re no longer the person you might have once been. Send them your newsletter. Ask for a meeting. Pitch them on new work. Ask them to include you in upcoming calls for pitches. Get them to take a look at your portfolio. Who knows? They might actually be open to reassessing and repositioning the relationship from oh-so-familiar to oh, let’s try something new.
But if all that fails ― or if the client isn’t capable of responding to the changes in you, then it might just be time to say goodbye.
When you do say goodbye, do it with grace, good feeling and appreciation for all they’ve done. After all, if they’ve been with you for a long time they’ve contributed not just to your bottom line but to your growth and experience as an agency.
So thank them for it. And say goodbye.
End of story. Or is it?
In most cases, that means case closed. But who knows ― the break-up talk might be just what they need to really open their eyes.
Deciding to be “just friends” may leave the door open to being much more than that again later on.
What’s your story?
Have you said goodbye to a client? What were the circumstances? And how did you know when it was time?
At Moskito Design we know that clients are people who deserve respect, honesty and sometimes, for everyone’s benefit, need to be told goodbye.
[Image by Diana Borghesan]