After working together for two years, my client and I were stuck in a rut. We had gone through a natural progression in our relationship, with both our businesses growing in different directions since we started working together, and we both knew our working relationship was nearing an end. But, neither of us knew how to close the relationship since we always enjoyed working together.
Fortunately, my client did the hard thing and ended our working relationship. And this was the best thing the client could have done. Recently, we reconnected, making me reflect upon our time together and the lessons I learned from them. All I can say is this relationship with my client truly helped me realize where my business had gaps AND where it was quite strong.
Lesson 1: A well-developed content foundation leads to less fear of the white page
When a solid content foundation is defined, the blank white page becomes an opportunity rather than a nuisance. When I first began working with this client, I had not yet developed my brand foundation package and it was this client who solidified the need for creating the foundation work before drafting content. Had we taken the time to develop a clear foundation (e.g. tone, personality, vision, mission, key messages, differentiators), we would have identified a number of actual business direction issues first rather than going through multiple revisions and redirects.
Now, no matter the project, if a client is not clear on their content foundation, then we begin there. It doesn’t just bring more value to the actual content, but more value to understanding where you’re going and how you’re different in your approach.
Lesson 2: Content must have a purpose, strategy, and a consistent voice
By taking the time to develop these items, you bring greater understanding to why content is being created – whether it’s for a website, blog, brochure, or even your 30-second business spiel. By ensuring these items are in place before you dive into a first draft, you’re more likely to create focused content that doesn’t just tell a story but also inspires.
Today, if we’re not clear on your purpose with this content, we start with why you need this specific form of content and what impact it needs to make.
Lesson 3: It’s okay if a client outgrows you and your skill set
Just as my business has outgrown certain projects, my clients can outgrow me. In working with this client, it was clear that there were larger questions pertaining to the direction of the business and how to develop a strategy to get there. Plain and simple, I was able to ask questions that made clients think about how their content connects to where they’re business going, but if they struggled because they weren’t clear on their business, I couldn’t help them. I didn’t know how. Today, I’m able to better identify if the struggle is a content issue or a greater business issue. This allows us to have deeper conversations and guide accordingly. If they need to start by getting clear on their business direction first in order for us to create purposeful content, then that’s where they need to start before me. Had I known how to properly identify the difference between content and business issues, I would have been able to better guide the client prior to us working together.
Lesson 4: Hard conversations MUST be done with real humans
Part of why this client and I worked so well together for a period is because we would have conversations, not just email strings. Picking up the phone cleared a number of questions up in a matter of minutes. While I haven’t always been perfect with this (hard conversations are, well, hard, after all), it is something that has been built into my business that when a hard conversation must be had, it’s had.
The unfortunate thing about how our relationship ended is that it was done via email. A bit confusing at first, but I understood why. Hard conversations with people you don’t like aren’t exactly pleasant. Hard conversations with people you do like are excruciating as there’s the added fear of ruining a relationship. I never held any ill will towards my client as us parting ways was the right choice – both for his growth and for mine. What I learned when we reconnected is that he has spent the last two years feeling embarrassed for not having picked up the phone to end our relationship. I did not want that for him. Had we had a conversation on the phone, yes, I would have been upset, but I understood. This solidified my commitment to always picking up the phone and having the hard conversation. Imagine how he much better he would feel today and less energy he would have wasted on worry? Emails will summarize conversations, but person to person words can save misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and living in fear that the “hurt” party will walk in the room.
Lesson 5: Never burn bridges
I could have burnt that bridge so fast had I responded in a manner driven by emotion and not the rational business mind the conversation warranted. But I didn’t want to. And thank goodness I didn’t. While we may or may not work together in the future, I still value this relationship and the lessons I took from it. Because of how I responded to his email (first a phone call, then respectful email follow up), I was able to walk up to this client, head held high, and have a friendly conversation, one where we both listened and rooted for each other. Bridge kept intact, our relationship is still able to grow.
It’s never easy ending a relationship, especially after investing time in someone. However, sometimes ending the relationship is the best thing for a client, their business, and my business!
After all, had I not had to reflect on where I could improve, perhaps my branding processes wouldn’t have grown into what they are today (and they’re pretty awesome if I do say so myself), collaboration wouldn’t be as important (ummm…no thank you!), and the phone would be just the thing that holds pictures of my dogs (well…) rather than a connection tool.
Have you had a hard conversation that changed the course of your business? Contact The Write Harle and share your story!