Getting to grips with the latest must-have marketing moves, and keeping up with business rules and regs is full-time work.
But what choice do you have? Not much. Your reputation for the remarkable relies on your value-added finger on the pulse. And your business won’t last long if you don’t tick the necessary admin boxes.
Given the finite amount of time you have to fit everything in, dealing with problems if and when they rear their heads probably appeals. This is understandable, but knowing what can go wrong before it does, and putting simple preventative fixes in place to stop it, is sensible.
Know Your Enemy
For now, we’ll focus on the thing that causes most problems for most marketing agencies: clients.
It’s hard to make sweeping statements about clients because they’re all different. Different projects, different goals, different opinions, different budgets. But they do all have one thing in common. They all want to see a return on their investment. And that’s where the risk is.
If projects and contracts don’t go according to plan, you can quickly find yourself on the receiving end of unhappy clients’ awkward questions and – if things go really wrong – claims of negligence and financial loss.
Avoiding them is down to managing expectations.
The legal justification for claims you haven’t done your job properly, or you’ve made mistakes that have cost your client money, is because of your professional ‘duty of care’. In simple terms, a paying client has a legal and moral right to expect a higher standard of work from you, an expert, than they would a non-expert.
Breaching your duty of care means your client has a case. It’s worth noting at this point that actual negligence is rare, but disgruntled clients and allegations of wrongdoing aren’t. Even if you’re sure, and can prove, you haven’t been negligent you have to defend these allegations or a court will rule against you by default.
It’ll help you and your clients to have processes and procedures that clearly state the limits of your duty of care and what’s possible/reasonable before you get to that point.
First, be honest about what you’re being asked to do. Can you actually do it on time, on budget and on spec? Ambition is great but promising something you suspect might be undeliverable will only end badly.
This evaluation should include your people. If they’re overworked already, cracking the whip even harder isn’t going to help anyone. Make sure everyone’s aware of ways to manage stress.
It’ll help to work to a signed-off client brief. If this isn’t possible, document exactly what’s expected, by whom and when, before you start and get your client to agree it. Scope creep is OK if all changes are discussed, noted and agreed. Keep and update a shared project-timeline.
If you have terms and conditions, get your client to sign them. If you don’t have terms and conditions, get some.
Before starting any contract ask ‘What’s our liability here?’ and ‘If we make a mistake, what’s the worst-case scenario?’ and ‘What will it cost to put right?’
Identifying every potential pitfall might sound a bit heavy-handed but it’s easier to work out the biggest areas of risk. This is especially so if you’re in charge of your client’s money at any point (Google spend, for example).
If you’re using subcontractors, freelancers or outside specialists of any kind (like a printer), check your contracts and terms of business. Who’s liable if they make a mistake? You don’t want to be sued for something that’s not your fault.
Have a rigorous sign-off procedure. It’s an accepted legal precedent that clients take responsibility for your work once it’s signed off – make sure they know that and are happy with it.
Justified or not, negligence claims against you take time, money and legal know-how to sort. But they are manageable. The only real risk is ignoring the possibility of them happening in the first place.