You may have built an amazing relationship with a client in a very short time, or maybe they are someone you’ve been with since the very beginning. In either case, odds are great that you’ll be working with a client at the very moment they “jump the shark.” This doesn’t mean you can’t continue to work with them (most of us still need to eat, don’t we?) Knowing the signs in advance, however, can better equip you to revise your business strategy, prepare for the worst, and fill in the gaps where needed.
A combination of any or all of these indications may mean your days of working with a successful (and sane) client may be over:
1. Significant Turnover – Similar to a traditional working environment, a massive change in staff, editors, or management may mean big things are about to happen. While you could look for silver linings in this scenario, history has proven that this can result in a major disruption to daily processes and creative direction. Beware of suddenly having to work with or report to all new names, faces, and titles.
2. Too-good-to-be-true Opportunities – If you’re finding yourself presented with a plethora of promises that are simply too amazing to be real, prepare for your client to potentially jump the shark. A flailing attempt to branch out into too many directions may mean that they have finally hit the big time, and can bring you along for the ride. (Or, more likely, it just shows that they are struggling to reinvent themselves in an ever-changing business. They simply have no direction.)
3. Exponential Use of the prefix "Re-" – Rebranding, redesigns, renovation, restructuring: they all can indicate positive changes, if done one at a time. If you find yourself in talks where all of these things are being planned simultaneously, use caution. Not only is it unsustainable to make too many major changes to a company in a short time, but it can confuse brand messaging, alienate customers, and make your job impossible to figure out.
4. The Customers Say One Thing and the Client Does Another – If you’ve witnessed a repeated and blatant attempt by your client to try to do “the right thing for the customer” despite the customer, they may be on the way to jumping the shark. Had Nielsen Ratings been more of an influence during Happy Days’ decline, they may have been able to save the show. (Assuming, of course, they were willing to listen.)
5. Communication Fails – Perhaps you used to know the ins and outs of most of a client’s business. Maybe you just received enough communication to feel comfortable amid a rapidly evolving industry. If this has suddenly stopped, and you can’t get any solid evidence why, there may be a massive change coming that you won’t want to be part of. Unless your client has experienced an abrupt or devastating life change and honestly couldn’t find someone to fill you in, this is never a good sign.
What do you do when you’re certain that a great client is scheduled to spin recklessly out of control? Do your best to help within your job description, but don’t be afraid to hit up your contacts for more work. Chances are good that if your client doesn’t care enough about their customers to remain relevant, they are certainly not going to remain stable for you.