When It Pays To Turn Down Business


My first post for SEO Chicks and I am bricking it seriously excited and honestly a bit surprised. Not only am I not (by my own standards) a true SEO expert; but I never win anything.

Actually that’s not entirely true. I did once, aged 7, win an ICI health and safety competition for best poster. Mine alerted the general public to the very real and grossly under-estimated risks of overloading an electrical socket with too many appliances. It carried the immortal caption “Leads to danger”.  (Check out that polyseme! You are NEVER too young for semantics.)  In retrospect it was clear that that Little-Miss-Sunshine-with-a-mullet was never going to be a vet.

So… I’m not an SEO expert or a vet, (sorry to those hoping for “Top 5 Tortoise Vasectomy Tips”), so WTF am I doing on SEO Chicks? I guess if I’m any one thing I’d have to say I’m a business woman. (A business woman who understands search rather well. ) Hopefully my four years of experience in paid search at Yahoo! might be a source of interesting blog fodder too. On speaking to @lisadmyers about what I could bring to a generally SEO audience, one thing we did agree on (apart from ‘Mummys need wine too’) is that many SEOs and SEO Chicks’ readers are by nature, pretty entrepreneurial – often running sideline web projects, working freelance or running their own business. So yay! (Cos this is my shit.)

So without further ado, I thought I’d start with a bit of an empowerment piece – which looks at one of the hardest lessons to learn, when it comes to making a living from providing a service to somebody else. I’m not going to argue the toss here, just trust me that the hardest lesson I’ve learnt in twelve plus years of business development is that sometimes it pays to turn business down. Here’s when…

Time spent is greater than or equal to amount billed.

A challenging client is (99% of the time) a really good thing. A client that knows a bit about what you do and should be doing; a client that demands excellence and pushes you out of your comfort zone is better than a pro master-class. That said, it is absolutely essential that you have a forensic understanding of the value of your time (or staff time) versus the amount you will be billing your client. If you are paying your link builder a per annum salary of £x, divide that into units of days, and make sure that the amount you are billing your client exceeds the amount of time spent by your staff. If you are working on something yourself you may need to work a little hypothetical or forecast model into that. If it’s your start-up you may be paying yourself little to nothing. In which case this is an exercise in weighing up your future earning potential against time spent. If you’re spending two full days a week on a client that you’re billing a half day or day fee, not only are you working to a loss, but you’re tying up two whole days that you could be using to source leads, make phone calls and otherwise identify a more profitable client relationship. Cut your losses and be mercenary.

Great Expectations

When I say “great” I really mean completely unreasonable.  It is our job to educate our clients as to the nature of SEO, SEM, SMM, whatever it is that they are buying from you; however unless they are actually buying training, one can only go so far. If after some reasoned consultation and a few home truths they still brief you that www.contentshysemicons.com must be number 1 on Google for “laptops” then I suggest you walk away. Save yourself the inevitable grief, time drain and demand for discount.

Bad Karma

I truly believe that it’s not possible to like everyone. If you work for a large organisation (as until this year, I always have) then this isn’t a problem.  When a client complains that they hate your guts, they think you don’t *get* them and feel you’re not on their side, then that’s fine. Your boss can move them to another face and it’s all good. When you’re freelance, or running your own small to medium enterprise this truly sucks. My advice is trust your gut and act before that contract is signed. If you are not on the same wavelength as your client, feel more confusion than connection, shudder everytime the phone rings and cannot muster a gnat’s chuff of enthusiasm for their product, you will not be able to do an excellent job. You may be able to do an adequate or decent job – but who ever got more business from a review like this “yeah Nichola was okay. She managed to feign a modicum of excitement over our new social network for ex-cons, and the results were passable!”?

Can’t brief won’t brief

Are you a ‘full service’ agency? If so, then this final point isn’t so much for you to worry about. If however, you provide one or two services solely then my message is to draw some pretty hard lines. Let me be clear first. I am not saying that every single business should know how to write a design brief, or an SEO brief. Not at all! (Hell, I wouldn’t have a clue how to write a catering services brief, or a corporate hospitality brief.) My point is that if your client cannot construct a reasonable brief you must either factor in the amount of time you will be spending in honing a workable brief, and imparting knowledge on a consultation basis that many companies would charge dollars for; or be prepared to pass that business upstream to a strategic business partner that is of an operational scale to cope with that level of hand holding. In return, you should seek to reciprocate said relationship and get them to can pass on smaller clients that are below their billing threshold to you.

Now repeat after me “thank you for your interest in [insert company here] but on consideration we must decline your request to quote, due to a significant volume of interest in our services; meaning we are currently working to capacity and feel we cannot provide the level of consultation your project deserves”.

Easy eh?…

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