Be prepared; when things don't work out

I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to running my own business.

While I've run my own business for almost five years now (four of those with a partner), during that time I have endeavoured to build upon my skill set of all aspects of editorial production, which I have honed over 12 years in all. But no experience (except perhaps, that of the negative kind) can prepare you for a working relationship that doesn't work out. 

Once, my former business partner and I chose to work with an agency that had pretty much courted us. Drinks and lunch meetings were taken in good faith; these guys really seemed to get us. Especially after they discovered that we had recently obtained a small amount of investment. In the early stages, no question was too silly, no request too inane and meetings went well. The first slightly concerning moment occurred after we had made our initial payment; communication levels dipped from daily to weekly, and that was only at a push from our side.

Communication has always been a big thing for me. Whenever I am working on a client project I will let them know, they’re going to be hearing from me! I don’t care if the client has no time to reply – that’s often to be expected – but when it comes to me, the service provider, I like to let my clients know what is happening and guide them through the process, especially if this is their first investment into their brand.

So, for the next development phase, our expectations kind of dipped; we basically just really, really wanted our site, so hey, if it meant that we had to call in weekly for updates, we could deal with it. By this point we had already decided that it was highly unlikely that we would work with this agency again, which, looking back, is kind of sad. We all deserve the final product that we imagined.

As site development wound down to a close, we were quite satisfied with the overall look of the site, and I personally spent many hours adding new content. Soon, the new site was up and receiving rave reviews, but we also discovered that now we had to go through the agency for even the smallest of things, such as updating widgets on WordPress. Having been used to doing such menial tasks ourselves, we requested that the site be fully handed over to us so we could process those tasks -  we would obviously go back to the agency and pay for any assistance that was beyond our skill set.

Instead the agency not only insisted that they should and would continue to take care of these issues, but that we would also have to pay monthly for that service.

After numerous emails and weeks with zero response, the agency gave in, very begrudgingly, and said they would indeed hand everything over to us.

What they failed to tell us however, was that, rather than building our changes/improvements onto our pre-existing site, they had actually built a completely new site. No big deal right? But it was, as once we had paid our final invoice, and moved our ‘new’ site to a new hosting company, it pretty much disappeared overnight. Instead of our new and improved look, the site had gone backwards several months, therefore losing all of the new content we had created too.

Long, and sad, story short, we spent months going back and forth with this agency. We even ended up taking the site down. The whole experience really made me think about how I would never want a client of mine to feel. I truly believe I would lose sleep at night to think that I had driven a client to near madness and taken their site/content away from them. Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence; listen to any business or money-related podcast or webinar, and there is always a story about a dodgy service provider in there.

To avoid this happening to you and your brand, here are some things to think about:

  • Ensure you ask every single question you have - no matter how small/silly it might seem
  • If an agency courts you, feel free to look up their competitors and do comparative research - perhaps there's a better fit out there for you. Ask them, 'why me/us?'
  • Follow your gut - if you feel that this isn't going to work, or you don't like the vibe, go elsewhere. It's that simple
  • Ask about the handover process, and where possible, ask for it to be given in writing