Business Relationship Red Flags: When It’s Time To Move On.

Dan Crask

Brand Consultant | Brand Strategist | Creator of Vibe, Tribe, & Why®

I am blessed to work with quality, genuinely good businesses 99% of the time. 

Since starting my branding agency, I’ve seen too many brands struggle due to a dysfunctional pairing of the business ownership and the hired branding/marketing agency.

Based only on my career experiences to date, I would like to offer three red flags about when it’s time to part ways from such a partnership. 

In these three examples, I will make a point and then give the perspectives of both the client business owner and the creative professional.


Infrequent Financials

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

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

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

Creative:  If a client constantly pays late, with no explanation when confronted, it’s time to consider breaking the relationship. I give clients a five-day grace period from an invoice’s due date. If payment is more than five days late, all work is paused until payment is made. Sometimes, it is simply a cash flow challenge, and it is not neglected at all, so the wording here when communicating a policy like this is essential. We should always be graceful until it’s time not to be elegant.

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



One thing I love about working with former Procter & Gamble brand professionals is that they are trained to value 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 regarding execution. This sort of relationship concludes with the business owner going the Frankenstein route by picking a few ideas to create something that wasn’t actually designed. Remember, design = intentional.

Similarly, if a creative is hired for a project and asks for (or requires) nothing but hand-holding throughout 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 listen to their advice and guidance when you hire a professional. It’s what you’re paying for.

Creative: You are not a hired artist; you’re a problem-solver, solving communication problems with aesthetics. You are the expert. Do not ask for permission for every little thing. Lead. Go and create likewise.

If friction exists between the business owner and the creative, this is an excellent place to examine to see if the relationship works as well as it should. If it doesn’t, it might be time to part ways.


“Little” Extras

Of all three 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. However, when it comes to executing the plan, the creative pro doesn’t consider 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, which is usually all they can invoice for. If you increase the scope and deliverables, be ethical and increase your budget accordingly.

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, and be a thoughtful business person. But if you have a client 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 listed above at one point or another. It’s part of the learning process to become 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.

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