New client relationships usually start off all rosy and pink-cheeked, like a new bride walking down the isle, full of joy and excitement about what lies ahead once she slips that ring on her finger.
Then, like a couple married in Vegas by an Elvis wanna-be, sometimes the ink isn't even dry on the certificate before those emotions turn into something darker.
I fired a brand new client last night. Like most relationships that turn sour, the problem was rooted in communication issues. He either didn't listen to what I was saying, didn't believe it, or didn't understand it - but failed to tell me any of those things and I didn't notice it was happening.
DO A SITUATION AUTOPSY. Some client relationships are bound to go sour - it's inevitable. Was it the client? The agency? Both? Was someone at fault and could it have been prevented?
Thinking through and understanding exactly what happened can give you the street-smarts to prevent it from happening again.
So what happened? He hired me to handle his online digital presence, starting with organic SEO for his website to boost visibility and website traffic.
It was a very small budget for what he wanted to accomplish, and my minimum retainer size, but enough to accommodate some very solid results, if given a little time. We had a good positive status meeting just that morning, but he called me later in the day foaming at the mouth. Someone searched for his business name on Google, and told him they couldn't find him.
Instead of calling me to discuss what was happening, he verbally attacked me via email and phone, practically foaming at the mouth. He told me not to say a word, ranting at me, mocking what we had done so far and telling me to do whatever I had to do to rank on page one. Then he hung up.
I think I said three words during the entire call.
I was shaken and upset, then completely furious. I hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, he had gotten some truly stellar work from me. And while I understood his frustration, the verbal abuse was completely unwarranted.
I hadn't gotten him a formal written report yet of how we were doing with search ranking results, but only because it was too soon. I had just told him this during the status meeting that very morning. If he had waited a few more days, the site would have been properly indexed by Google and I could have sent him a report. We would have then sat down to review the results and discussed next steps.
Clearly he had expected to immediately rank on page one for his business name.
And ranking on page one for a business name sounds like a reasonable expectation, yes? It is. It sounds completely rational and logical. But his business name was the equivalent of "grocery store" with the expectation of ranking on page one in thirty days, even though the name competes with every grocery store online, and against everything ranking for the words "grocery" and the words "store."
And accomplishing this with a website that had very few pages and almost no content.
AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK.
I hung up the phone, did a Google search for his business name, and discovered that despite the obstacles, we were ranking two listings down on the top of page two.
In my opinion, that was pretty amazing. It was a solid foundation to work on; a great starting point.
Because I felt his anger was unjustified, I sent him a screenshot of the page two position, re-explaining why it was difficult and outlining what it would take to succeed. I also briefly mentioned why the second tactic we were implementing was so important. The strategy we had agreed upon was balanced between optimizing his website and building up content on it (with building up his email database as the end game), and quickly bringing in new business.
It was far from the first time I had told him that top rankings would be difficult and that organic SEO for his company name would be more difficult than ranking well for keywords that would drive new business - but apparently he either hadn't heard what I was saying, he hadn't understood it, or he heard it but simply didn't believe it.
Rather than trusting in the experience he hired, he either didn't listen or comprehend what I had been saying all along. Then, when it happened exactly as I told him it would, he was angry. Instead of hearing what I was saying, he dismissed it as excuses.
This attitude makes me unbearably sad, because it's either a sign that he's been burned by someone who talked big but didn't deliver, or that his unrealistic and unspoken expectations had set us up for failure.
Successful client-vendor relationships require solid, two-way communication about expectations, tactics and ongoing results. It means being unafraid to put everything on the table - good and bad - and work together toward goals and expectations.
After stewing on it for an hour, I sent him a second email cancelling his retainer contract with me, giving him the option for finishing the 60-days notice he was entitled to or effective immediately.
I fired the client.
Frankly, I hope he chooses immediately. I don't tolerate unprofessional, disrespectful behavior. Nobody should. But I was left feeling very sad for him, still upset at how he chose to handle the situation, and overthinking what I could have done differently.
Today is a fresh new day and I still feel my decision to end our relationship was the right thing to do. I want to surround myself with the right kinds of clients - ones that I enjoy and can communicate effectively with, not ones who cause stress, panic and unjustified defensiveness.
After processing through what happened, I regret that it didn't work out, but don't blame myself for doing something wrong. In fact, I did a GREAT job and was starting to get some fantastic results despite a small budget with big challenges.
But putting emotions aside, the entire situation was a reminder of how a business name can sabotage marketing efforts no matter how much expertise you hire. It can also require vast amounts of money to fund success, all because of a too-hasty decision on what to name a fledgling company.
Let me explain.
Problem #1: Your Business Name Is Too Generic.
It's hard to name a company or product. Not only are available .com domains few and far between, but there are SO MANY companies that the majority of names you like are already taken. This makes them unavailable to trademark.
Every FANTASTIC name you come up with is not available.
Because of frustration, or because the name is chosen by an entrepreneur or new business owner that simply doesn't realize the impact of a poor choice, they settle on something generic. Their business name includes words like "solution," "management" or "service," maybe it even includes an industry name and/or a common word. Choosing my own industry - PR - with no intent to name specific companies or identify anyone in particular, examples might include "public relations solutions", "pitch" or "online marketing consultants." Using the dental profession as another example, maybe the name is "great smiles dentistry," "clean teeth dentistry," or "top tooth repair." It's a business name made of common, everyday words.
How does this hurt you?
- It's so common that it's difficult for people to remember. There is no sticky factor. It's also very unimpressive, doing nothing for your credibility.
- Using it in a sentence sounds like a personal statement instead of a brand name. This makes it extremely difficult to build awareness and reputation.
- Searching for it online competes with every common use of the phrase AND each individual word in your name. You could spend years and thousands of dollars on SEO with slow-to-no success, no matter how talented your SEO expert is.
I'm going to explain the last one, since it's a little more complex than the first two. Searching for a business named "public relations solutions," for example, means that having your business show up in search results requires you to compete with every blog post, article or website online using the phrase "public relations" OR "public relations solutions." Those two phrases are so common that the competition is in the millions. Good luck ranking. Choosing "public relations solutions" means you can spend years and thousands of dollars on SEO, and STILL NOT RANK WELL.
The pool of competition is simply too big.
If your name combines a noun and a verb, and they are both common to your industry - or it is just one common word - you are in deep trouble.
A noun names a person, place or thing, and a verb is an action word showing what the noun is doing.
Because the business name is so generic and common, you've set yourself up for marketing failure before you've even begun. At the very least, you've committed yourself to spending a LOT more money to be visible - dollars that could have been invested in something else if you'd been more careful.
And sadly, this problem is far more common to small businesses and entrepreneurs that don't have that money, simply because they didn't seek expertise in selecting their business name. They find out the hard way, or never realize it's the problem, instead blaming it on "bad marketing" or saying "agencies don't work." It's not always that simple.
Problem #2: Your Business Name Is Too Long
When a business name is made up of three or more words, unexpected problems come up when you think about SEO and branding.
Say the name is Public Relations Management Solutions. That's a mouthful and there will be times you want or need to shorten it. So do you go with PR Management? PR Solutions? Public Relations Solutions? PR Management Solutions? All of those are still long, still far generic and not the true business name. Not only does it dovetail right into all three problems listed above in Problem #1, but how will customers and target customers even know what to call you?
You are expecting to much for them to rattle off that long, boring name. They'll arbitrarily shorten it or change it. Even if you shorten it and use it, people inevitably will shift things around.
This leads into branding problems, because any derivative of your name can be mentioned in a customer review or on social media. Are you going to track them all? How will you separate generic mentions from actual brand mentions? Yikes. You'll be wasting a ton of time doing this, even using very sophisticated tools.
It also leads to massive SEO problems, because you'll expect to to rank well on search engines for all derivatives of your lengthy business name. That'll cost ya, if it's even possible.
Problem #3: It's An Acronym
Problems inherent in an acronym absorb all of the above issues - since the acronym usually stands for something longer and was created for conveniences. If we use that same business name, Public Relations Management Solutions, the acronym would be PRMS.
Isn't that eminently forgettable? Just saying it puts me to sleep. It doesn't stand out among the competition and IT WILL COST YOU A FORTUNE to make it memorable, even if you are within a small target audience.
Acronyms are very hard to remember. They are completely anonymous. It also makes that company sound like a faceless commodity.
So. Very long post made short: YOUR BUSINESS NAME MATTERS FAR MORE THAN YOU THINK. It can set you up for success or failure.
Just because you are a small business owner doesn't' mean you need to sound like one. Give yourself a kick-ass name that people remember. If you don't have the inherent creativity to do it, hire someone that does. In the long run, it saves you a ton of money and wasted marketing efforts.
I'm off to enjoy my weekend and let go of last night's negative energy. Yardwork is a great way to exorcise demons.
Photo Credit: Business Name/shutterstock