Consulting Less: A True Client Horror Story

During my years running a brand and marketing business and consulting in Japan I had my share of challenges. One that I remember, and in particular found quite tough at the time, also provided a great lesson I’d like to share with you.

It all started when we just landed a big contract from a large advertising agency. They hired us for our expertise and to help their Japanese client communicate their advertising messages more effectively to their global customer base.

The project started off well. In fact, I was told that our contract may double in size as a result of the initial work we did.

But the good vibe didn’t last too long.

Not long after, the agency took a sharp turn and decided they wanted to completely control the direction of our work.

In effect, they wanted us to implement and execute ideas that we disagreed with. Not only because we had pretty strong egos, but because they made no business sense and would harm their client’s reputation in the international market.

That didn’t jive well with us.

It caused a lot of stress. I dreaded every call from this agency – as the result was always unpleasant. But we were making good money. We had to make a choice.

The Final Decision…

In the end we decided to end the contract. Even though the money was great, the stress and discomfort the project was causing us just wasn’t worth it.

Do I regret that decision now? Not one bit, in fact, looking back I should have ended that project earlier.

While I’ve always valued my clients, both at that past company and my current ones, sometimes you have to draw the line. Life’s too short to let people trample on. You gotta do what you can to make sure you’re enjoying the work you do and that you’re doing what you believe is right.

So what do you think? Ever had a similar situation? Or another kind of client challenge that you’ve learned from?

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  • Probably back in 2002 I was contracted to work with a nonprofit organization to assist them with the regular maintenance of their database.

    Once we agreed on the contract and a reasonable rate, that would include fees over the expected hours worked, they proceeded to forward me the latest version of their database in an Excel spreadsheet. That was one of the requirements I had.

    Before I began any work on it I reviewed it from top to bottom, beginning to end, and notified them right away that there were problems with it that needed to be corrected before I could do anything more with it.

    As it turned out the database had not been updated in over a year or so, and a lot of the addresses on it were out dated and email addresses were no good. The response I received (and from what is supposed to be a big organization) was “we’ll fax you over current business cards we have.” That was fine except that the faxes were never clear, the documents were always ineligible, poorly prepared via faxed, and this went on and on until I stepped up and recommended using a form that could be sent to everyone on their list to request them to update their information. They loved the idea, except that the problem that came with that was they decided they wanted to do a huge mailing in a short period of time. At any rate the form worked out great. Everyone who received the form was doing what was expected.

    After a meeting I had with the group expressing my concerns with the database, the status of the address update form, and the timeline to which I felt they should hold off on the large mailing to avoid any unnecessary complications with the database, they later accused me of inaccurately keying in the wrong address information and that it was my fault that many of the addresses were incomplete. This was after a director decided to take over the project, wanting full control of the project and the work I was doing. She threatened to freeze any future payments to me until she was satisfied the database was up to par (to her liking rather).

    Her words were very unkind, harsh, and downright rude. Because I was a business contracted to do a job for them, I had to make the unfortunate decision to cancel the contract citing unprofessional conduct on their to include poor presentation of their database, how I received it in the beginning; I forwarded them all of my notes concerning the condition of the database, and why the address update form was even suggested.

    Other members of the organization were sorry to see me have to make such a drastic decision, other apologized for her behavior, and other just didn’t care.

    Do I regret having made that decision? I never regretted it. I was confident in the work I did and felt I held my end of the contract by performing as expected. It wasn’t worth the time and stress I suffered for such a short time.

    I value the work I do for my clients. If there’s a problem I have no problems with making those problems known, providing sound and solid solutions to solve them. A good working relationship with my clients is always better than one that is poorly handled.

  • Rene – thanks for sharing your story and looks like you handled that situation very well!

  • Just a few days ago I had to change a working relationship with a client.

    I’ll spare the details, and explain it this way: Part of my work with the client was to bring in a technical person for some HTML work. I was the contact point between the two. It became apparent that the technician and my client each had a different understanding of how things were working, and it was creating a problem.

    I don’t have enough technical depth to be part of the solution, so I suggested that the two work together directly. There wasn’t much income loss for me, but if there had been, it would still have been the right thing to do.

    I continue to work with the client in a different capacity.

    • Steve – I’m glad it ended up working out. Thanks for sharing!

  • That’s one of the toughest things about starting and nurturing a business relationship with various clients, as you may encounter those few who’d be outrightly difficult.

    The best business-client relationships are the ones who allows each other to meet their ideas and actions half way.

    • Social – in some cases yes. However, meeting half way isn’t always the answer. It depends on the goals of the business … and then figuring out how to reach them most effectively and efficiently.