Say No to (Some) Clients

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If you have worked in SEO for any significant length of time, you’ll no doubt have come across clients who’ve driven you crazy! The kind of client who demands to be made “number one on the Google for cars.” The kind of client who has three pages of content and a $300 per month budget, yet wants to take on Citibank for the term “mortgages.” In my time, I’ve had to deal with countless clients like these, so I want to share some thoughts with you on how to handle them.

Set Proper Expectations

The easiest way to deal with problem clients is to not take them on board in the first place. Avoid feeling compelled to accept every piece of work you come across. Some clients are truly not worth the extra effort spent on managing them. Over time, you actually lose money.

Luckily, there are ways to identify potential clients with unrealistic expectations, and a big one is to gauge their reaction when you answer the standard preliminary questions:

How long will it take to rank for [insert keyword]?
It’s difficult to give a definitive answer as it relies on the level and nature of competition for that keyword and that region. As a general rule, though, any SEO campaign should run three to six months to gain significant traction, but there will be wins along the way.

Company X has promised that they can build [insert crazy claim] backlinks to my site per month. Can you match their offer?
We focus only on high-quality, valuable links. One single high-quality link can be worth more than 1,000 automated directory submissions. Quality always wins out over quantity.

Can you guarantee that you’ll deliver number one rankings?
Nobody can guarantee a number one ranking. SEO is about undertaking thorough research, picking the right targets, and applying solid principles over time. The more time you invest in SEO, the greater the benefits will be.

I have a small budget, so I can only afford one month’s worth of your service. What can you do within a month?
A one-month SEO campaign will encompass research, analysis, and some initial site development and changes. It would make more sense for you to come back when you have the budget to invest in at least three months’ service, so that you can derive a proper benefit.

These answers will very likely deter some clients; however, the clients you do end up with will have more realistic expectations and will understand how you conduct campaigns. My experience has shown me that being up front and honest from the start means you retain these clients for much longer.

Deal with Issues as They Occur

I had an epiphany recently. I realized that I quite often over-promise and under-deliver on deadlines. I set unrealistic deadlines and then fail to meet them, because I haven’t been taking full account of all the factors that influence my ability to meet a deadline.

If a situation arises where a client issue needs to be addressed, be up front about what has happened and respond with a realistic deadline for resolving the issue. Don’t be afraid to admit that you were at fault, and remedy the situation as soon as possible.

Lack of information or action can turn a puzzled client into an angry customer. I’ve always found that when responding, it’s best to avoid ”buttering them up” and telling them what you think they want to hear. Clients that deal with virtual service providers they’ve never met tend to lose faith quickly, so giving them stories will not win back their support.

Being honest and managing your clients’ expectations with realistic deadlines and answers to their questions will go a long way towards building trust that endures. How you react to negative situations is more telling than how you deal with positive outcomes.

Be Prepared to Let Go

Let’s be honest: it’s impossible to make all your clients happy all the time. There will be clients who feel they’re not gaining what they want out of your service.

They may have misunderstood your campaign strategy, altered their views over time, or read an article that changed them overnight. They’ve become dissatisfied customers and will progress to being problem clients as they drain your time and stamina, forcing you to address issues that will never be resolved to their satisfaction.

You can, and should, develop an exit strategy for terminating a working relationship in a way that is respectful, clear, and firm. But even before that, you need to develop the attitude that you make a choice to provide your service to a client, so you have the right to stop providing that service, taking into account legislated requirements and contractual obligations.

Make sure you’re clear in explaining the reasons for your withdrawal from the campaign, and give your client the opportunity to respond. In SEO, it’s not in anyone’s interest to continue to work with a problem client.

Think Long Term

Running an SEO business is a long-term prospect. You need to focus on clients that are sustainable and profitable.

Screen and choose your clients carefully, and make sure they understand how you work. Stop problems escalating by addressing them promptly, and be prepared to implement an exit strategy if the relationship becomes unpalatable.

Learning to say no to some clients could be what guarantees your future success.

Kristen HoldenKristen Holden
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Kristen and his team at Marketing Partners manage the digital businesses and marketing for a select group of innovative and disruptive startups with a focus on long-term domination of their markets, not quick and nasty wins

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