An Uneducated Client Is An Unhappy Client

It started with a lot of compliments. 

My mom’s friend hired me to help rebrand her eCommerce business. She told me how much she loved my vibe, how impressed she was with my knowledge of her market, and how much she enjoyed my writing.

With a background in journalism, my client, L, openly admitted to not understanding digital marketing/branding. She was thrilled to take the burden of something she didn’t understand off her shoulders and spend more time developing the actual business.

The spec of the work was pretty basic: managing the redesign of the website, including finding the designer and developer; creating a new sales funnel; writing weekly email campaigns, and managing social accounts. Overall, nothing out of my reach.

She adored me. I was going to make her life better. Nothing could go wrong.

Except, everything did.

Over time, however, our relationship began to shift. She began to use me as her overseas personal assistant, having me reach out to potential partners and take over email chains.

She thought this was all a part of the process. I began to dread any interaction with her. It ended with her feeling misled, me feeling burned out, and a project that achieved no progress.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

Getting naked with your client

When L first reached out to me about this project, it sounded like my dream project.

The rapport between us felt totally natural, and she was very clear from the beginning that I was free to work at my own pace using my own workflow.

This is completely and totally the wrong approach.

Before you start working, send your clients a roadmap of what you’re going into.

Task-by-task, with milestones and dates, make sure your clients know what to expect from you and when. Even if they don’t understand what it means on a technical level, they should be able to explain to themselves (and you!) how it fits into the big picture.


Blind trust and money are a bad combination. Relying on trust to get paid makes you vulnerable to anything going on in your clients’ life – never mind how the project is actually progressing.

Instead, be honest from the start. Even if they don’t care, make sure your clients have access to what you’re working on and when — so when they do care, you’re not scrambling to prove yourself.

Setting expectations – and limitations

Beyond vibes, my client and I never discussed her expectations of my work.

That was stupid.

Numbers are scary for creatives, but success can’t be measured in vibes alone. Had I set KPIs with L — new visitors to the website, percentage increases on our social pages, etc — I would have been able to tell her objectively whether my plan was working or not.

Instead, I relied on her taste and satisfaction. That meant that when her dog got sick and she had spent all night awake at the dog hospital, I got stuck with rewriting two weeks of social posts.

Had I been prepared to show her engagement statistics for the two weeks prior, maybe I could have convinced her my posts were working; but because I wasn’t prepared, I was at her beck and call.

Then, one day, I got the call.

Why aren’t more people buying?

We’d had two weeks of record sales, so I didn’t know what she was talking about.

Those record sales weren’t enough. L wanted more — and I didn’t set expectations and limitations that would have kept her informed about whether that was possible.

Had L and I discussed what kind of growth is reasonable with a certain period, then I would have avoided that phone call. I could have shown her growth stats that hopefully would have been in line with my predictions, and she wouldn’t have had to make a phone call she also didn’t enjoy.

The big lesson: what I could have done better

When L and I parted ways, it was ugly.

It probably didn’t have to be. What could I have done differently?

  1. Talk numbers. Whether it’s news visitors, time on the site, engagement increases, or sales growth, figure out some objective KPIs.
  2. Have a transparent workflow, including dates and KPI-related milestones. Set up some kind of project management system with your client so they can track your progress. They’re paying you — it’s their right. This not only will save you the ‘how’s it going?’ phone call, but will also reassure them that the work they’re paying for it getting done.
  3. Define your role, and don’t be afraid to stick to that definition. Along with growth and $$ expectations, make sure you and your client are on the same page about what you’re around to do. Once your client views you as their bitch, it’s pretty difficult to come back — so don’t let your relationship go to that place.

You’re a creative, and you’ve been hired for your talent. Do the not sexy work at the beginning, and then enjoy yourself for the rest of the project.

What’s Next?

Whether you’re ready to charge more or just getting started, if you’re ready to work hard and stay organized, The Pricing Class is for you.

Learn what you’re worth and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Keep your head straight and your business right — and your bank account will be singing in no time.

Post by Shayna Hodkin

Shayna is the Head of Friendship at The nuSchool, doing all things blog/community/biz dev/fun. She's a freelance copywriter working in art and design, and has two dogs named Chuck and Alma.

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