I consider myself blessed to work with quality, genuinely good businesses 99% of the time. In the five years since starting my branding agency, I’ve seen too many businesses close shop due to various factors, sometimes due to a dysfunctional pairing of the business ownership and the hired branding/marketing help.

Based only on my experiences in my career to-date I would like to offer 3 red flags on when it’s time to part ways. I will make a point, then give the perspectives of both the client business owner and then the creative professional.

1. Infrequent Financials.

We work for the money. That’s the point – getting paid, getting a return on investment, earning money for our personal and professional growth.

When money becomes a problem in a business relationship it’s time to reexamine the relationship.

Business Owner:  If the creative professional you’ve hired on contract is not invoicing you on a regular basis, but instead lumping big invoices at once, crashing your cash flow, that’s a sign that they don’t have their house in order.

Creative:  If a client constantly pays late, with no explanation when confronted about it, it’s time to consider making a break in the relationship.

This is Business 101: when money is a problem, everything else suffers.

2. Incompetence.

One thing I love about working with former Procter & Gamble brand professionals is that they are trained to place high importance the expertise of the professional(s) they hire. But that’s not always the case. Some business owners say they want fresh ideas from professional creatives, but are not open to new ideas when it comes to execution. This sort of relationship concludes with the business owner going the Frankenstein route by picking a little of a bunch of ideas to create something that wasn’t actually designed. Remember, design = intentional.

Similarly if a creative is hired for a project, and they ask for (or require) nothing but hand-holding through the project, essentially making them into order-takers, they’re not really all that valuable to the process and should be compensated accordingly.

Business Owner:  Either decide what you want before you hire a creative professional, or when you hire a professional listen to their advice and guidance. It’s what you’re paying for.

Creative: You are not a hired artist; you’re a problem-solver, solving communication problems with aesthetics. Go and create likewise.

If there’s friction between the business owner and the creative, this is a good place to examine to see if the relationship is working as well as it should. If it’s not, it might be time to part ways.

3. “Little” Extras

Of all 3 red flags, guilt on this one is shared in equal measure.

Here’s the scenario:  A business hires a creative professional after outlining the scope and deliverables for a project, but when it comes to executing the plan, the creative pro didn’t think about the cost of everything and needs to expand the budget little by little. “Just a little extra budget” for this or that.

Or, on the other side of the table, the creative pro gets to work on a project s/he has won, only to be told that there are a few “little” extra components that didn’t come up in the bidding process.

Business Owner: When sending out requests for bids on a project, send the same RFQ to everyone, and make sure it covers everything. If your hired pro comes back with incremental budget increases for things that should have been covered in the budget pitch, it’s a red flag. Similarly, when you hire a professional, know that the real pros have accounted for their time, and time is usually all they can invoice for. If you increase the scope and deliverables, be ethical about it and increase your budget accordingly too.

Creative:  I hesitate to tell you to stop with the “little” extras because some of you are pissing off the very people who eventually dump you and hire my agency. But if you’re a pro, be a pro. Think through your proposals, factor in out of pocket costs and mark them up for the time you’ll need to manage them. This is what you’re hired to do – create, yes, but also to be a thoughtful business person. But if you have a client that is constantly trying to get more and more out of a set budget, it may be time to part ways because your time is not valued.

Wrap Up

No one is perfect, and I have made all three mistakes I list above at one point or another. It’s part of the learning process for becoming a better professional. And that’s the point: The people we love to work with are the people who have made mistakes and are better for it because they tend not to repeat them. Let’s try to do better.

Dan Crask

Author Dan Crask

Hello - I'm Dan Crask. I help brands discover who they are, then express it visually. I co-own Brand Shepherd, am a husband, father of four children, and I don't believe in a work/life balance - it's all life, and all of it matters.

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