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Why your digital agency should say no to clients

December 14, 2018

Clients. The currency with which every digital agency ultimately judges themselves by. We’ll do everything to land them and just about anything to keep them. After all, the customer always knows best, right?

Well no, not necessarily. Traditionally, operating a digital agency has meant growing at just about any cost. Customer-centric strategies for bringing on board new clients rapidly, and keeping current clients happy were often seen as the only way to grow.

The problem with bowing to every demand, or new client, is that it prevents your agency from growing in the long term. Taking on new clients or pointless tasks from existing ones often leads to unnecessary stress, dysfunction, and failure to meet KPI's on their projects.

Jules Ehrhardt, from ustwo, probably says it best:

“To make more money you need to make the hamster wheel bigger. To get to ‘bigger’ and maintain it, everyone including you needs to run furiously faster.”

Sure, saying no to a client at first will feel a little unnatural and even counterproductive. Turning away new clients might make you feel uneasy, who doesn’t want the extra income right? Well, that added income for your digital agency might seem great at first, but not every new client is a great fit for your business. Not in the long term anyway.  

The same can be said for existing clients, who are accustomed to your team asking ‘how high’ each time they shout ‘jump’, regardless of the consequences each jump has for their brand.

Why you should say no to prospective clients

Before you go ahead and minimise this tab, and begin furiously typing out emails to each of your new clients, turning down their every request, it’s worth remembering that saying no shouldn’t be the norm, but simply a necessary measure to guarantee the success of your agency and your client’s projects.

Before you say no to a prospective client, or an existing client looking to propose a new project, for example, you’ll need to establish some of the following...

Are they an ideal client?

The prospective client might be a multinational conglomerate, or a small town startup looking to make their mark. You’ll still need to decide whether they’re the type of client that makes sense for your brand today, tomorrow and possibly in 10 years time.

What an ideal client looks like will differ from one digital agency to another, but chances are you’ll get a better understanding of whether they’re an ideal client or not by asking yourself questions similar to these:

Digital Agency

It might seem frivolous or unnecessary at first to question that level of detail of a new client, but it’s exactly that type of detail which will provide your digital agency with an identity in the market, and reputation for delivering value to each of your clients. Isn’t that what we’re all aiming to achieve at the end of the day?

Is their budget big enough?

Possibly the easiest reason for turning a prospective new client down will be the budget. When times are tough at an agency, it’s easy, tempting, understandable and often necessary to accept lowball offers from clients. Some money coming in is far better than none.

The problem with that attitude, however, is finding your agency stuck doing perpetual low-wage work for years. Making it impossible for an agency to grow.

Before bringing a new client on board, consider whether their proposed budget is big enough to meet their expectations. A client might be expecting you to build them a Bentley, but only provide enough budget for a bicycle.

digital agency

Unfortunately for every digital agency, there is no quick fix or magic wand we’re able to use to achieve results. It’s no coincidence that some of the most successful projects agency's embarked on, usually have the biggest budgets.

If a prospective client is unwilling to pay the premium your agency requires then it’s probably not worth bringing them on board.

Can your digital agency provide them value?

The balancing act every digital agency undertakes, of keeping your clients happy whilst keeping your agency profitable, never seems to end.

The trick to achieving both is undoubtedly value. Remember, your clients hire your agency because you're the expert. As the ‘expert', your team's job is to identify the value of ideas your client may bring to you.

Your agency is hired because you’re expected to provide your clients with that value after all. What each client may determine as valuable, may differ from one industry to the next, but what remains is your agency’s identity and reputation for providing value.

There may be occasions when your team’s methods might not make sense to your clients from the word go.

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How to tell your digital agency’s existing clients, no

Existing clients might be harder to say no to, especially those who’re used to having your team perform every action they suggest. Long-term relationships are the staples that every agency’s success is built on. Digital content is almost never an overnight success, having clients who stick around to reap the benefits of sustained, valuable, hard work is critical.

So how do you say no to them?

Well, it’s probably easier than you think. So long as you remember the following:

Being firm doesn’t mean being mean

There aren’t many clients out there who’ll suggest an idea, method or strategy because they thought it was doomed to failure. Instead, their suggestions are usually born out of good will, and even pressure on their end. It’s worth remembering, after all, even the decision makers at your clients are human. They have their own deadlines and internal pressures just as any other company does.

The biggest mistake a digital agency can make when telling an old client their idea won't work is not being empathetic.

digital agency

You may be right in your reasoning, but being demeaning to a client when explaining why you’ve said no won’t help the project in the long term. Undermining the success of a project or the client's future with your agency by being offensive is a mistake that few agencies are likely to afford or welcome.

Appealing to your client’s feelings and understanding their motives for suggestions will show them you understand and help explain your reasons for saying no. Likely increasing their confidence in your team’s role as the expert’s in the matter.

Never say no, without a viable alternative

Think about it, who enjoys hearing the word no? No one right? Especially when you’re paying someone to say it to you.

Turning down a client’s ideas is best handled tentatively. They’re unlikely to accept your answer unless you’re able to prove that there is a valid reason an alternative to what they’re suggesting.

Again, the long-term success of your clients’ projects when turning down their suggestions boils down to how you’re able to provide value using your methods. Focusing on what your agency can do, and is best at, will likely keep your client happy and help them understand your reasons for saying no in the first place.

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Explain the reasons for saying no

Misunderstandings and miscommunications are some of the most common downfalls of every digital agency. Often, grievances between clients and agencies can come down to one side not understanding the other, or not being told what’s taking place.

Your digital agency was hired at the end of the day because you’re the experts. This is what you do, what you’re best at. Not your clients. Educating them on your methods and reasonings will lend weight to your reasoning for saying no to their suggestions.

It’s unlikely that your clients will spend their days using software like HubSpot, or AHREFs. They may have an overall understanding of what the software does, but they’re unlikely to know the detail of your methods when using it. Explaining your team's methods and understanding will often appease the clients and allow you the space required to make their projects successful in the long run.

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