We’re pretty open about the fact that Alex and I don’t have a ton of “big agency” experience. Neither of us came out of a advertising agency or media sales. Typically, agency principles do.

That’s ok. Looking back, I think it gave us an advantage. We had to come up with our own “agency model” from the ground up.

Now, we weren’t super confident our “agency model” was going to work back around 2008. Mainly, because we didn’t know what the “agency model” was. So, we followed an extremely basic business mantra to get our agency off the ground. We asked ourselves…

“What do clients HATE about advertising agencies?”

We made a list. Then, we tried to avoid what we wrote down. I’d encourage any creative entrepreneur to do the same.

Here’s a few from our list:

  1. Don’t bill for meetings or phone calls. Clients HATE it. And if you are just starting out, chances are your clients aren’t fortune 500 companies. They are small business owners like you. These guys hate it the most. Of course, we bill for our time. That’s how we value creative work. And, most clients have lawyers that bill for their time. So what’s the difference? YOU’RE NOT A LAWYER. No diss, young graphic designer. I know the value of your work. The problem is, most clients don’t. Lawyers have been around for centuries. They went to a bunch of extra expensive schools. They wear suits and drive fancy cars. You might be reading this from a Panera Bread waiting on your next meeting to arrive. Lawyers come with a pre-conceived understanding of value. Their brand has been established. We gotta work a little harder. Our industry is newer. And most folks can wrap their minds around the value of legal advice before the value of a sans vs a serif. Here’s how you get around it. Build that time for meetings and phone calls into the project cost. Don’t go crazy, but add a day or two. Then, bill 50% up front and 50% when the project is complete. Don’t bill like 2 grand for the entire job, then an extra 40 bucks in phone calls. That’s a great way to piss off a client. You’ll need them to come back. Recurring clients are incredibly important to young companies and freelancers.
  2. Avoid retainers. You can grow into retainer relationships, but their tough starting out. So why do clients HATE retainers? Somebody loses every time. One month, you get beat up by the client because you spend 2x the hours on their project. The next, you win because you hardly did anything and they still have to write you a check. Is this fair? Yes. Do all clients care? No. Retainers are tough to manage certainly if you are a one-man show. Early on, you’ll want to work on a project-to-project basis. That way, there will be less opportunity for a client to ask, “So what did you work on this month and why am I paying you?” If you do get into a retainer relationship, make sure the project parameters are clearly defined.
  3. Do not change the price. No shit, we didn’t create a single Change Order for like 5 years. And buddy, we got our asses kicked like crazy because of it. Most creative entrepreneur blogs will TOTALLY disagree with me here. “Know your worth. Don’t be taken advantage of.Get paid like crazy for your unbelievable abilityfrom God to draw shapes.” Blah blah blah. BE EASY TO WORK WITH. The job is going to grow on you. Be ready for it. Add that into the price. Change orders and cost changes are poisonous to a lot of clients. They HATE it. I’m talking about the folks that have never hired a designer, firm or freelancer before. Those guys want a total cost and not a penny more. Within reason, avoid writing change orders if the scope wiggles a little. Figure out ways to save time without compromising the end product. If you can deliver, word will spread and you’ll get more business. You’ll get your ass kicked some too. It will be worth it though.
  4. No jargon. Don’t worry about “shifting paradigms”. Talk to your clients like they’re buddies. Good clients will appreciate it.
  5. Don’t try to look bigger than you are. Tons of design firms and agencies have a complex about how “big” they really are. A lot of times, if an agency doesn’t list their team on the site they either have a team of a hundred or two. Those two person firms probably feel like they won’t land big jobs or clients if they don’t puff up like a grizzly bear is in their campsite. Trust me, the client will see through this technique. In my opinion, it’s just not a good look. It’s like having a Porsche keychain with no Porsche.

At the end of the day, it’s just important to understand who you are. Be that. And some aspects of “that” might not be “all that”. That’s ok. Clients aren’t looking for perfect people. They’re looking for passionate people.

Now excuse me, I’ve gotta go put some water in Buc Nasty’s momma’s dish.

PS – If you’ve got hate in your heart, let it out.