Working with your client and not for your client

A few months ago, I was straddled with a tough decision.  Whether to fire a long term client, as the relationship had grown very unsettling.  Ending a relationship is never easy.  The fear of loss income, someone revealing something untrue about you or your business practices.  Maybe not being able to replace the client, and the thought of having to go back into a office to work for someone else.  Fear.  Anxiety. Before revealing my decision, let’s look back at how we began our relationship.


A few years ago, I was participating in a golf tournament for a faith based organization.  The faith based organization was a client of mine.  Partnering up with a business manager of a non profit, we engaged in some general conversation prior to the beginning of our round of golf.  So what do you do?  How can you tell if your site has been hacked?  Is it difficult to clean up a hacked site?  Suddenly, realizing that the business manager was in need of some technical advise.  Providing some help tips and services, which I would recommend.  He was waiting for me to hand him my business card or quote.  While I was enjoying playing a good round of golf.

After our round of golf, we shared business cards. We agreed to meet for coffee in a few days.  Looking at the non profit’s hacked site, some things were obvious.  Secured Socket Layer (SSL Certificate) was needed.  The little lock in your browser, or https in your domain name.  Some outdated plugins, which had some back end issues was on the site.

We meet.  He discussed what the non profit mission was?  The passion for the mission was very clear. The need to have a functional website was clear.  Also the prior website was done by a member of the board, as it was his hobby.  Most of the board members realized that a agency was needed.  They had secured a couple of quotes and just did not have the budget to pull the trigger.

Securing the client

The business manager was able to secure a meeting with the executive board and me.  It was an informal meeting, however, since many of my client’s are in the non profit sector I was prepared.  We discussed many things, like how to keep your site secured.  How to gain traction? Making your site work for you.  Use of social media in a positive way.  How to find your target audience?  How to move from a paper (faxing) operation, to a more reliable automatic process operation?

The chef financial operating officer advise me that she had five figures and not a penny more.  Could I create a new design and manage it for the non profit?  While the figure was less than what I was thinking, I agreed.  Contracts was signed within a few days and the new site was up and functioning  in less than a month.

Growing with the client

Since they was a small organization (in numbers), many of their events was not documented.  Having a friend, who loves to take pictures (she is an amateur, but a really good amateur), I would send her to all the events.  The images on the website changed often…many times the organization appeared larger than they really was.

Creating marketing campaign using social media.  Providing the ability to do blog post, and encouraging everyone to blog at least once a month.  The site was easily providing 10 to 15 blog post.  Each of these blog post were shared on the face book business page, twitter page, and linked in page.  All the blog post had a small quote about how visitors could donate to the cause.  The donations began to roll in.  We used forms to make sending a donation as easy as possible.  Next we set up a volunteer portal, in which my client could pull for all events.  As our role expanded, the revenue was shared and my price point was adjusted.  No complaint from the client and they suddenly became one of my biggest clients.

Things changed

After a couple of years, the chef financial officer negotiated a merger with a large non profit organization.  The small single focused organization was apart of a huge conglomeration.  The changes was swift and sudden.  Most expenses had to be approved by 2 and sometime 3 individuals.  Because the parent company had technical department, I realized that our relationship was probably going to end.  The former chef financial officer had advised me that in her negotiation, we was mentioned as the reason for growth.  It was important for the organization to continue to be small in numbers, just needed the big machine to meet all the future needs.

That did not last long…as my contact person changed.  How business was conducted changed as well.  Many documents had to be approval for we could do anything.

Work for or with

With the new parent company, the relationship took a really bad turn.  The relationship went from working with to meet goals and objectives.  Suddenly the relationship was I was working for…I was asked to do this and that.  My agency was to provided data for everything we was doing, and when we invoiced the parent company for all the man hours.  Nothing was paid.

The final incident was waiting to be paid.  Prior to the merger, payment was never a big issue.  The parent company was paying on a 30 month roll.  Some of our services had been completed 30 – 45 days ago and we was just getting paid.  Feeling like we was working for and not with the agency.  I terminated the relationship.

Finally call

The day we terminated the relationship, my phone ranged.  It was the business manager, who I meet a couple years ago.  He invited me out for a round of golf.  Later, he would tell me that he was replaced by someone in the merger company.  He thanked me for building his organization.

As we played our round of golf, enjoying some good and bad shots.  We laughed and talked about how we grew the non profit.  When asked what was he going to do next.  He said, “Not sure.”  Maybe start me a non profit, do you know a web designer.  “Depends, do you need one to work with your organization or for?”.

Image courtesy of Nick Morrison.

JDS WebDesign is a Web Design and Brand Marketing Agency located in Marietta, Georgia.  We create AWESOME on line presence for Start-ups and Influential People/Organizations.  To learn more about us or how we can help you and your organization, you can contact us.