This one story/lesson that I’m going to share with you in a few seconds is one that almost lost my client a client and so had the potential to cost me my biggest client and my livelihood…
For most of my freelancing career, I worked as a sub-contractor to a larger Marketing Agency.
It was a simple job that provided me with a stable income and a predictable workload for many years, yet, things didn’t always go as I wished.
See, this incident came about as I was tasked with testing out hundreds of keywords in Google Adwords for this one client we were working with.
They didn’t a product that aligned well with running Google Ads so we wanted to see how much search volume we would actually accumulate on these hundreds of words over a month so that we could then prioritize which to focus on for SEO.
The task was straight forward and at the end of the briefing meeting I ask the required: “So what’s the allocated budget for this experiment?”.
The answer… “Unlimited”
Now, this was the first mistake, but we’ll get to that later.
I accepted that answer and got to work.
Turned out that unlimited didn’t actually mean unlimited
Then at the end of the month, I received a VERY ANGRY email from my client asking me to explain what the hell I was thinking of spending this much on this campaign, before continuing to tell me how they were most likely going to lose this important client of theirs when they would report how much money they’d spend.
Naturally, receiving such an email is never fun.
What made it even worse was the situation I had put myself in.
At this point, I was sitting down in southern Spain, living the good life as a traveling freelancer, but I had made one serious mistake in being reliant on two clients to maintain this lifestyle and if only one of them would cut me, I would be serious trouble.
So given those circumstances, I was literally shaking when I got this email.
My first reaction was pure fear, then followed by anger.
They had told me, and I confirmed this in my meeting notes, that we had an UNLIMITED budget. Sure I had spent roughly 10X what they were used to, ending up just north of $5K that month, but given the assignment that to me didn’t seem out of proportion.
The thing is though, nothing ever comes out of playing the blame game.
I manned up and wrote my client back that:
- I was sorry.
- Based on our conversation where the unlimited amount was mentioned I didn’t see this as being too much but
- I took full responsibility for the mistake of not demanding a better, quantifiable answer.
Also, I came up with some ideas for breaking this to the customer, as in:
The $5K wasn’t for nothing. We did indeed have some good data to continue working with and they had also gained some subscribers and landed some sales based on this extra spending, so it wasn’t a pure loss.
Now, this third part was the really important one. Sure my client had F’ed up telling me that the spending cap was unlimited when he knew it wasn’t, but it was also my responsibility to make sure that everything was 100% clear. I should never have accepted it when he said it was unlimited, but I did…
Luckily the end-client didn’t fire my client and I continued working with my client for many months after this episode, but it doesn’t take many episodes like this to end a relationship for good.
Moral of the story
Don’t ever put yourself in a situation like this. Whenever you get a task, make sure the scope is 100% clear before you start working. Vague descriptions and expectations that are unsaid will only lead to headache and problems down the road.
Second, always take responsibility for what happens, let your client understand that you understand their pain and most often everything will work out. Play the blame game and I’ll guarantee that your relationship is over.