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Guest Blog: Chris Measures - Knowing when to say no

Knowing when to say no

Bringing in new business is the lifeblood of creative companies. Whether you work for yourself or an agency you need new clients and projects to pay the bills, hire more staff, grow your organisation and keep busy.

But there’s a fine line between having a healthy new business pipeline and wasting your valuable time working with companies that are either never going to pay or will suck up so much of your resource that you’ll make a loss on the job. So how can you spot the companies and individuals that you should run a mile from?

From my two decades of experience/mistakes here’s six client types to be wary about when it comes to new business:

1 The Marketing Virgin

Plenty of people have never worked with a creative agency before, and there’s obviously a first time for everything. However be wary of clients that either think they are natural marketing geniuses or completely ignore your processes and procedures. I’ve had a client ask to cancel an interview with the BBC when they were already downstairs in reception and I’ve heard of horror stories of clients that want to change artwork after the brochure has gone to press. You need to be polite but firm – at your first meeting make sure you explain how you work and educate them on why a deadline is a deadline and, if you think it is appropriate, add in extra time to your cost for client management. Spell it out – if you’re not convinced the client will obey your rules, then my advice is to politely say goodbye.


2 The Junior

You have to feel sorry for the junior contact who’s been given the task of ‘sorting out our PR/website/brochure/social media’ (delete as applicable) without a clear brief or any mandate to make decisions. If they have to run everything past their boss (or worse, multiple bosses) then you have to find a way to talk directly to the organ grinder. If that’s not going to happen then be concerned that you’ll be led down creative blind alleys, ending up with something the client doesn’t really want – and won’t pay for.


The Timewaster

One of the most frustrating of all potential clients. Full of big plans that are just about to happen - when that multimillion pound investment/big order comes in they’ll hire you like a shot. Sometimes this is true, but don’t spend a huge amount of time creating concepts or plans on the strength of future promises. Keep in touch and stay friendly but don’t work for free unless you have a definite (contracted) promise of future projects.


The Brief Changer

Can never make up his or her mind about what they want or how it should be delivered. The project starts as a website and then becomes a Facebook page before changing into a full social media strategy. Or they want to amend the colour, font and design at the last minute. The rule here is get a brief agreed and make it clear when, where and how many sets of changes are covered – and what the extra costs are for additional amendments. Make sure you keep a written record of any new instructions and don’t be afraid to tell the client that they’re about to incur extra charges.


The Uncommitted

A contract is vital if you’re going to have any hope of getting paid if the relationship breaks down. So make sure that the client signs one and provides you with everything you need to successfully invoice (such as a PO). Don’t be afraid to play hardball and refuse to start work until the contract is signed. And ensure the contract is with a legal entity in the UK, that the client is senior enough to sign and that there are some assets that can be seized if they don’t pay the bills. If you’re worried then ask for partial payment up front or seven day terms.


The Haggler

As creatives, we’re not selling veg off a stall down the market. You get what you pay for, which means that haggling a price down to just above zero benefits no-one. Unfortunately there are always agencies or individuals who are take on jobs for below market rates, either because they are based in low-wage economies or simply that they are desperate. But losing money on a job is self-defeating – you could be using your time more wisely to bring in other business (or even working for nothing for a worthy cause). Negotiation is fine, but don’t simply slash your rates at the sniff of a job – if people are going to pay less, then the scope of work should be correspondingly smaller.

We’ve all met the characters above at some time or another and dealing with them essentially comes down to valuing your own skills, setting strict ground rules and having a business as well as a creative mind. That way you’ll know when to embrace a new opportunity and when to make your excuses and leave.

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