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Costly mistakes: Lessons from running a boutique marketing agency

Lessons from running a marketing business

Costly mistakes: Lessons from running a boutique marketing agency

As The C4E Collective, we work in many niches including books, films, gender justice, sustainability, podcasts. Most of our work is helping brands and companies with their marketing communication and brand strategy needs.

We are currently in the early years of our business, and if you are one or remember that phase of your business, you will understand how every gig, every project is incredibly important, and you are tempted to say to work coming from anywhere. But some yes’s are more expensive than others and we recently had a bitter one, that taught us hard lessons that freelancers, agencies would benefit learning from.

Communicate clearly, and in writing

A former client, with whom we had a challenging past, approached us after a hiatus. They presented a substantial project requiring numerous creatives. We suggested a retainer model, ensuring flexibility in deliverables over a 45-day period. Given the scope and our commitment to quality, our fee was premium, a fact we communicated transparently. An agreement was reached for a 50% advance, with the balance to be settled post-project. However, a formal written confirmation of our terms was conspicuously absent. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, we commenced work without a formal contract, a decision we’d soon rue.

Check for patterns, trust your instincts

Our previous engagement with this client had ended on a sour note due to payment issues. We had internally resolved to tread cautiously in any future dealings. However, their industry reputation and advice from a trusted mentor nudged us towards reconsideration, against our instincts about it.

Take a step back from work and observe the signs

Our dedication to excellence saw us going the extra mile, even bringing onboard additional resources to meet their expectations. But as the project progressed, the client’s commitment wavered. Delays in advance payment and an unsigned contract raised alarms. While our team was quick to spot these red flags, we pressed on, believing in the project’s importance to the client.

Our attempts at communication were met with silence. Upon project completion, they resurfaced with a narrative starkly different from our understanding, wanting to revert to a rate card payment model. This echoed our previous engagement with them.

Finally, be transparent with your team

The financial implications of this project were significant. But the unwavering support from our team was the beacon in this storm. Their understanding, even when their compensation was at stake, showcased the strength of our collective spirit.

TL;DR on the lessons

Instincts matter: If collective intuition signals caution, it’s worth paying attention to. They have been honed by lessons learnt in the past. Don’t ignore them.
Documentation first: Trust is foundational (it’s all about that handshake!), but clear written agreements are indispensable, especially when past engagements have been rocky.
Prioritise the team: It’s paramount to shield our team from the repercussions of challenging client engagements.
Hold your ground: While we opted for closure this time, we’re resolved to address any future discrepancies, be it through dialogue or rightful dues.

This journey was among the costlier lessons we have learnt as we build C4E, and we hope our narrative serves as a guidepost for others in the industry.

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