Endless contract revisions, bouncing initial deposits, a million pointless phone calls and micro-managing are just some of the red flags that are out there when it comes to signing clients for your startup marketing agency. The simple fact is—no matter the size of your company—some clients are just not worth the hassle. It may be difficult to walk away from a client, especially in the early years of your company when prospects are far and few between. But we promise that following the simple steps below can help you avoid a world of headaches.

There are more excuses than solutions

Missing one meeting? Totally okay! Being late to a Zoom conference? No biggie. Missing a crucial deadline that delays the project? Yikes. Not every company respects marketing efforts evenly—some will pour time and resources into investing into their company’s marketing, others are likely content with avoiding it completely. If the excuses start piling up, ask yourself where your agency falls on the list of priorities for your client. If it isn’t high, then walk away.

The micro-managing is continuous

It all boils down to trust. If a client trusts you, they will often delegate more creative freedom to your ideas. If they don’t trust you, be prepared to watch that freedom go out the door. In reality, marketing needs to have space for creative liberties and for experimenting with different ideas. If a client is unwilling to delegate a certain amount of creative freedom to your ideas, then it might be best to pursue other avenues. Be advised however, that sometimes that trust is built overtime and that a client may feel more inclined to micro-manage in the beginning before giving you full control of the reigns.

But if you find yourself in a situation where the client asks for revisions on every piece of content that you send their way, maybe it just isn’t a relationship worth saving.

 The only client syndrome arises

The only client syndrome is a phenomenon where a client thinks that your entire company’s resources, time, budget and creativity are solely devoted to them. Truth be told, your time is a valuable commodity when you own a marketing agency. Each unexpected call is a source of value that you’re providing to the client, and likely not receiving any compensation for. Additionally, that is time that is being taken away from other revenue-driving tasks. We’re not saying to ignore your clients, but it is important to clearly establish those expectations early on. If a client cannot respect those boundaries, the project will quickly spin out of control.

The mythical future work never arrives

I can’t tell you how many times a client has discussed all their ideas, dreams and aspirations during an introductory meeting. They want you to film their 9-season reality television show, redesign their corporate marketing campaign and air their small business advertisement during the Super Bowl halftime show. But first, they want you to travel 9 hours out-of-state to film a 30-second advertisement to make sure that your video reel was, well, real. Many times, new clients will promise future work in an effort to flip the script and make you have to sell your services to them—depriving you of any leverage at the negotiating table. Don’t be fooled by the fool’s gold and the mythical promise of future work. Look at the first contract you are offering them and ask: would it be worth it if that was the only thing you did for them? If not, then it’s time to walk away.

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The flame is gone

Does the client not look at you the same way anymore? Do you picture other clients when you’re with them? The content won’t glow if the libido won’t flow. Okay, we’re totally kidding, but losing motivation to work with a client is no joke. Marketing should be exciting—it’s the perfect merger of creativity and unpredictability for an occupation. Even the best clients can eventually change to no longer make sense for your company. If the motivation to work with a client is gone, that will soon become apparent in all the work you do for them. Ask yourself if you’re happy with the work you’re doing for the client. If not, maybe it’s time to move on to greener pastures.

The money no longer makes sense

Whoever first coined the phrase, “more money, more problems” clearly never owned a marketing agency. That is because—having no money—is in fact, quite a problem. Some clients expect the price for marketing services to go up with time, others expect discounts as the relationship carries on. It’s easy to get carried away with trying to maintain that relationship and constantly giving out pricing breaks and special services. But every now and then, it is essential to take a step back and figure out if the high costs of maintain certain projects are worthwhile.

Are you turning down bigger clients because of loyalty to an original client? We’re not recommending you abandon your long-term clients, but we do recommend you weigh the pros and cons of delegating your resources to newer, bigger projects from time to time.

The style is no longer a fit

Styles change. A year ago, the mullet was a relic of the past, until Joe Exotic singlehandedly brought it back. While you won’t quite see us rocking a mullet anytime soon, styles and preferences change overtime—as do the styles of companies. Maybe since signing the client, your company is trying to rebrand itself. Conversely, maybe the client is going through a “too edgy” rebrand of its own. Whatever the case, your clients are a representation of your company—they often share similar values, ideas and goals for the future. Every now and then it’s important to make sure each side is proud of that overlapping identity.

Truth be told, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to turning away a new or existing client. Some client-company relationships start rocky before smoothing over; others do quite the opposite. But what we can recommend is that you take a step back and holistically look over the clients you have. Which ones are valuable and worth maintaining? Which ones cause you to want to have a Brittney Spears-esque breakdown. We recommend you pursue the former rather than the latter.


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Mintleaf is a creative marketing agency based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It serves the greater Seacoast Region and specializes in videography, content marketing, social media and web design.


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