Problem solving

3 lessons I learned from a client relationship going VERY wrong

- August 11, 2016 4 MIN READ

It’s pretty embarrassing to share this story – because I admit I made several mistakes with this client relationship. I hope business owners will both enjoy a laugh at my expense and learn to manage clients better than I did.

This story starts with a testimonial:

“It has been an absolute pleasure working with you Kate, you are very easy to talk to, reachable, understanding and have delivered on exactly what I asked for. Your style is very relaxed and relatable and I would highly recommend you to anyone looking for a copywriter. I’ve really enjoyed working with you.”

Nice right?

Unfortunately, from there it went south.

Antarctica south.

But let’s go back to the start.

Early last year, I was contacted by Janet (not her real name), who had received a glowing recommendation about my website copywriting services.

Janet had invented a clever product, but her website sucked. The website copy was overlong and waffly. Worse, she had no e-commerce – customers had to email a request to place an order like it was the 1990’s. This was obviously unacceptable to her target market of busy professionals who expected to purchase online with a few fast clicks.

I spent hours on the phone with Janet, pushing her to add e-commerce to her site. I learned that she was a savvy inventor, but inexperienced about online retailing, marketing and SEO and was confident I could help.

Mistake 1: Not specifying my level of SEO services

I never made false promises to Janet. But in hindsight, I misjudged Janet’s level of SEO ignorance and, thus, could have been clearer. From those hours she spent on the phone with me came the assumption I would get her to the top of Google rankings. Unfortunately, this was news to me!

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Lesson learned: I am now CRYSTAL clear about my SEO copywriting services, and I specify that I make no SEO guarantees in my terms and conditions, emails to clients and within proposals. I either get a written brief, or I write it myself and get the client to approve it.

Mistake 2: Not specifying exclusions

I quickly decided that keyword research for Janet was not necessary. Let’s say Janet invented mermaid tails (she didn’t). Clearly, the keyword is ‘mermaid tails’. Why bother spending hours on keyword research at Janet’s expense? Janet had a very limited budget, so I simply left keyword research out of the quote, feeling confident that ‘mermaid tails’ and other associated keywords would be fine. That was another mistake.

Lesson learned: I now specify exclusions in quotes, and I definitely include options for keyword research and let the clients decide for themselves.

Mistake 3: Not questioning Janet further post website launch

After I delivered the website copy, I spoke with Janet frequently. She told me orders were coming in. She gave me the fabulous testimonial. Great! I was satisfied that the keywords, SEO titles and descriptions I’d provided to her must be working. But I didn’t double check that she had installed the necessary plugins along with actually inserting the keywords, titles, and descriptions into her site. (Because she told me all was well I had no cause for concern.) As it turned out, Janet had never activated the necessary plugins and her website was not performing well in Google rankings. If only I’d know that I could have fixed it for her in a jiffy.

Lesson learned: Help clients get the best of their website copy by asking more specific questions, as a value add.

Where things went really pear-shaped

About three months after the site launched Janet sent me an email, demanding a refund of the fee (which she had paid in full). She claimed that because her site was not at the top of her Google rankings, my work was worthless. She had advice from a SEO specialist who thought my work was rubbish. She had engaged this specialist to rewrite her site and implement SEO. She needed the refund to pay the SEO expert to sort out the mess.

Here’s some of the comments Janet made in her request:

I made preparations for an increase in traffic and sales; I purchased stock, set up systems, added e-commerce, PayPal features, etc, but still … nothing! There are no online sales. I put my full faith in you and believed I was going to become found on Google but unfortunately I am actually ranking very low.

I am within my full rights to ask for a refund, as the site is not actually search engine optimised and this is what I paid for. You clearly did not do a keyword search.

Well. I was gobsmacked. Janet did not pay me to get her to the top of the rankings. Whilst I have a very solid understanding of SEO and I’m a very good SEO copywriter, I would never dream of offering SEO services, particularly the techy side of SEO and the backlinks—a service best left to SEO experts.

How the story ended:

  • I refused Janet’s request for refund as I had delivered every service outlined in my quote, and had not promised SEO results.
  • Janet sent more insulting and emotional emails, accusing me of deliberately misrepresenting myself
  • In my responses to Janet’s correspondence I avoided insults (several came to mind) and kept my responses professional, factual and emotionless. I refused to get into a back-and-forth-email battle over minor points.
  • I gave her a small refund and some free copywriting to make her go away, (which, admittedly, still irks me a bit).

In the end, as harrowing as the experience was, I learned a lot and tightened up a lot of my processes. So I’m thankful.

The worst thing? Janet’s site is still ranking poorly, confirming my suspicion that she got played by my ‘replacement.’ She was a clever inventor and a really nice lady (except when abusing me) and I truly wanted to see her successful.

I hope this story helps anyone working with clients avoid making the same client relationship mistakes I made, and I hope it helps entrepreneurs learn the importance of properly briefing your copywriter (or other service providers).

Meanwhile, this case of assumptions and poor communication? It’s now officially closed.