As Marketing Professionals, We Assume Our Clients Have a Keen Understanding of Marketing — But Sometimes They Don’t!
When did freelancing turn into a battle to avoid the crazy client landmines out there?
Do companies know less about marketing than ever before?
Is it just me finding these losers?
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had my share of nightmare clients over the years (30!). But it seems that I’ve been hitting new lows of late.
In fact, I’m three for three so far this year.
Case in point: I recently lost a freelance writing client for an entirely new reason — they are marketing idiots.
This is especially odd, since the company claims to have a “marketing agency” component to its business, along with selling marketing software to its customers.
And indeed, they do offer marketing services. However, it’s little more than templates of things like press releases, direct response emails, and banner ads.
Then they hire writers like me to fill in the content. While the work was a bit demoralizing as it required little creativity, it was good money because they pay by the piece and I could crank those puppies out like hotcakes at a greasy spoon. As a result, I was making more than my hourly rate.
Lesson learned: This mass production of meaningless content (albeit, at a high hourly rate) was a big crimson red flag.
In the end, the company’s shockingly lack of fundamental marketing knowledge put me is a no-win vice grip.
A Two-Headed Dragon Blocking the Gate
Along with churning out “marketing” projects for its clients, the company also asked me to write content for its company website.
The partner I spoke to said they wanted someone from outside the company to write the content, “to bring a fresh perspective.” And since I was the new writer on the block, they chose me.
I believe his exact words were, “I need someone who hasn’t been writing our bulls*** for a long time.” (Oh. kay!)
Then he tossed in this zinger: “We already had one writer on the project, but she didn’t work out.”
Okay. Seriously. This should have been the second BIG bright crimson red flag bleeding “warning” all over the place.
My problem was that I failed to heed the warning signs waving at me like a flag bearer in a marching band.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that there was a third flag. The two people running the company were not only marketing idiots, but also butting heads on the direction they wanted the company to take.
Literally. One wanted to be a marketing agency. One wanted to be a software company. Seriously.
Even knowing this I soldiered on, believing in my well-honed marketing skills and ability to create the best possible copy to sell their services would bowl them over.
Ahhhh, the trials and tribulations of hubris.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place from the Get-Go
Here’s how my disaster went down.
1. My first meeting with “the team” is a complete waste of time.
This was the hands-down worst meeting I’ve ever attended in my entire 30-year career.
In attendance were the company’s two partners, the software product manager, and one of the marketing services managers.
It was supposed to be a one-hour meeting. It turned into three HOURS.
And not even three productive hours.
I assumed they were ready to discuss content—otherwise, why invite me?
Not even close.
The meeting, from my perspective, consisted of three hours of me listening to the other four argue about which direction the company’s website needed to focus on — the marketing services or the software.
2. I revealed my (albeit, understandable) frustration.
Near the end of the meeting, one of the partners asked me — I kid you not! — “So do you have what you need to get started writing content?”
Naturally, I’d had little input up to that point. I hadn’t even had a chance to ask a single content question.
Now it was my turn to speak. By this point, I couldn’t hold back my frustration—which, of course, led to some tense moments.
“No, I do not have enough to write any content. You haven’t even agreed on a direction for your company yet.”
“Well we have a lot of existing content I can send you,” the partner who hadn’t hired me said.
“I’m not reading anything until we have a clear content direction.”
He seemed taken aback by this (perfectly logical) statement.
There was some more dialogue that was so ridiculous and idiotic that I won’t bore you with it. But suffice it to say, things went downhill from there.
3. I should just have walked away.
Right now you might be thinking (and rightly so), don’t just walk, but run away from this impending disaster.
Actually, I assumed that I would be out anyway after my brisk reply. So in the elevator as we were leaving, I told the partner who hired me what I thought (in the nicest way I could manage).
“I thought this was going to be a content meeting. But you guys aren’t even ready to discuss content.”
“I know, I know,” he said flustered and seemingly apologetic. “I’ll talk to the team later and we’ll get you better information.”
Somehow I doubted it.
The only saving grace is that I was billing them by the hour.
4. I actually thought of a brilliant idea.
As bad as the meeting was I am professional enough to have gleaned what I could from the mess.
Out of the rubble I actually came up with what I knew was a brilliant headline for their home page.
I also had a strong sense of what direction I thought the content should take — no matter which direction they agreed on (if they ever did).
However, I’m also seasoned enough to know that I was facing an uphill climb to get these people to agree on a direction.
What I didn’t know was that the hill was actually a steep cliff.
5. I sent them a list of content questions.
Even though I had already thought of the perfect headline for their website, no matter which direction they chose to focus on, I still wanted to get them on the right track (and maybe hold their feet to the fire a little bit).
So I sent them 20 content-related questions.
I never did get their answers.
6. Useless virtual meetings.
The website development project devolved into a series of virtual meetings, each one more useless than the last.
I finally presented my brilliant idea to them.
It hit the floor like a cow patty.
They ignored it. They didn’t see the brilliance—and proceeded to pitch their own lame ideas to each other.
7. I detached from the project.
At that point, I just decided to accept whatever idea they agreed on and go with it.
However, they never agreed on anything.
They did each keep mentioning different websites that they said they wanted their website to emulate. So I studied each of them.
I kept pitching content, but never ever got any feedback.
Finally I stopped working on the project and waited for them to get back to me.
8. The pain is finally over.
After two weeks of waiting for “the team” to get their act together, I got an email from the partner who hired me: “I need to talk to you.”
I knew what that meant.
I emailed him, and didn’t hear back. Then I called him. No answer.
I didn’t hear from him until the end of the day. How rude to keep someone waiting to fire them!
When he finally called me at the end of the day, he said: “I think we’re going to go over budget by the time we get the content we need from you. We’re going to give the project to a writer we’ve worked with for awhile, after all.”
Then we had some dialogue about whose fault it was.
Luckily, he accepted most of the blame. However, it was still an ugly experience.
But the upside is: The painful experience is over for me.
It’s been three months since they canned me and hired their third web content writer.
To this day, their website is exactly as it was the day I was hired.