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Clients & Business Relationships

Ralph And Carol Lynn Break Up With A Client And Get Emotional

By May 1, 201713 Comments
Ralph And Carol Lynn Break Up With A Client And Get Emotional

Greeting Carbon Based Humans! Also known as Fred…

It’s an exciting episode today because we’ve added our first official Carbon Based Title to the roster. It goes to Nadia Bracken, who is now officially our self-designated Carbon Based Critic. She emailed us after last episode to let us know that our intro wasn’t quite chipper enough. Not only that, but we also noticed that we made an egregious error by failing to mention YOU, Fred. For shame! So we re-recorded it and hope you like it.

Knowing us we’ll redo it another six dozen times before we’re sort of happy with it, so by all means, share your thoughts!

Lisa Gerber Is Sexy

Fan of the show and prior guest Lisa Gerber has a podcast! It’s called the Gear Show and we think it’s pretty great. If you’re an outdoors-y kind of person and you like getting your gear on, this is a great listen.

She’s also a pretty amazing marketer whose blog articles continue to inspire us. And she agreed that we should have started Carbon Based Business Units at episode one, which makes her extra special awesome.


Last episode we talked about the United Airlines snafu in the context of customer service. Afterwards, Ralph heard an episode of Penn’s Sunday School podcast that gave him food for thought when it comes to outrage, social media and clickbait.

What else can we say? No doubt the internet is full of outrage. And while the United Airlines scene was a bad one, it was isolated, and it was definitely blown up on social media. But the more people jump on the bandwagon, the more a story takes on a life of its own, maybe even out of proportion to the big picture.

In Other News…

You may have heard about the murder committed on Facebook Live. It was a horrible thing, but the conversation that subsequently focused on “what can Facebook do” is somewhat misguided.

The truth is, people are going to be horrible whether they have a live audience or not. And nobody can read someone’s mind to prevent a horrible thing from happening.

Facebook should do exactly what they did: swiftly remove the video and cooperate with law enforcement.

Some people have suggested that Facebook should have a reaction button related to crime or danger that automatically triggers a takedown of the offending content. But we think that could seriously backfire if people use that reaction to sabotage other people or viewpoints they don’t like.

That horrible murder was an isolated case and building mob mentality into preventing content from being displayed can become a detriment to free speech.

Facebook Live isn’t going away. Nor are horrible people. The best we can do is deal with what happens as it happens. Maybe it’s partly our jobs to be vigilant, and even to foster better behavior and peace in our own worlds. Hm.

We Have An Emotional Experience

Our main conversation today revolves around an email that I got late Wednesday evening from a client. The email boiled down to this: he knows there is something seriously wrong with his website. He isn’t getting any traffic. He knows that Ralph and I have taken ourselves out of working on marketing and SEO for clients so we have time for our startups and podcast. He needs admin access to his site so he can fix what’s wrong with it right away. And he can’t wait days or weeks for me to respond.

Without context, that may seem like just an ordinary email, albeit one from an unhappy client. But it wasn’t an ordinary email. It was actually a very upsetting one, for a couple of reasons.

First, this is a long-time client we’ve worked with for two decades. For two decades we’ve been personally invested in him, his business and his success. While we currently aren’t actively working on his marketing (because he hasn’t hired us to do so, and insists that marketing won’t help his business), we do ad hoc work when he needs it. Anything from updating his website to sending out email campaigns.

Second, we’ve done a lot of pro bono work for him. We know what tough times are, so when we can help a fellow business person and human being, we do. We’ve done it without expectation and never under duress. It’s been our choice and we’ve been happy to do it.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the things he said in his email were provably untrue. And they were particularly hurtful in light of how much time and effort we’ve put into his business over the years and the type of relationship we thought we had.

Let’s start with the facts. We have not taken ourselves out of client work. Client work is what sustains us, pays the bills, allows us to spend time podcasting and building our startups – one of which isn’t making any money yet because we make sure our clients come first. So to say that we’re not invested in our clients anymore was wrong and hurtful.

We don’t take days or weeks to respond. In fact, I had just spoken to him two days earlier. I’ve worked for him nights, and weekends when he’s needed something done quickly. So to say that it takes weeks for us to get back to him was wrong and hurtful.

We also have provided him with admin access to his site – very specific, specialized and custom-built access designed around his exact needs. So to say that he cannot access his site is wrong.

So when that email came in, I reacted. I was mad, I was upset, I was frustrated – but I went to bed and decided to sleep it off and address it fresh in the morning.

But instead of feeling clearer in the morning, I was just as bent out of shape, so I emailed my client and told him what I just told you – not in an angry way, but in a factual way. Yes, I told him he was wrong!

And I addressed his request for admin access to his site. I told him that he did have admin access, and if there was something he needed to access but couldn’t, he had to let us know what that was so perhaps we could build something for him to do so.

I also addressed something that has come up before, which is the crux of this story. We host his site and have a strict security policy that does not allow the typical cpanel access to the database and files that you might get at a host like BlueHost or Godaddy. In the past, he’s accused us of “holding him hostage” and I reminded him of what I always say: if he needs that type of access, we will move his site to another host that allows it. No ransom required.

And They All Lived Happily Ever After… But Not Really

Well, my response didn’t go over well. My client accused me of failing to answer his question. And then referenced the last episode of our podcast where we talked about the manager that kicked us out of the restaurant, and told me that I was doing the same thing to him.

Which is kind of funny in that not-funny way, since one day I was holding him hostage and the next I was kicking him out.

The bigger issue here is that this was not the first time we’d been accused of various things by this client – from the hostage scenario to failing to respond and on and on. But overall we had thought it was a good relationship. We liked him. We were, as I mentioned, personally invested. And for the most part those unpleasant times rolled over us and we moved on. But this time felt like the last straw.

So we decided that in the best interests of our business and his satisfaction, we’d move his site to a host that allows him full and unrestricted access to his site, and essentially sever the business relationship. We’ve been maybe a little too personally and emotionally invested in his business and it was time to step back.

It was a hard decision to make after a 20 year relationship, but we felt that it needed to be done in the best interests of everyone.

This Isn’t A Bitch Session. We’re Just Carbon Based Humans.

We didn’t have this conversation to spend an hour complaining or calling out a client. We’re sharing this story because we know that people have been in this same place too. Whether you’re in a relationship with a client that goes south, or you’re putting too much in and getting not enough out, or if you’re doing something that isn’t working for you or your client, it’s easy to get caught up in it. And at the same time it’s easy to feel like you’re alone in that.

Well, you’re not. We’ve all been there. We all have those hard times that feel like crap, when we have to make hard decisions, and are forced to recognize our limitations.

And at the end of the day, we’re all told to “build relationships”, which isn’t a clinical thing. It involves some emotional investment. So when this stuff happens, it affects us.

In the short term, it feels crummy. It feels like failure. It lacks the kind of closure you’d want for a relationship that’s lasted for 20 years. But long term, we feel that this is the best decision for us, and for him. Nobody was happy with where the relationship was headed, and in the end everyone needs to move on.

What do you think? Have you been in a scenario with a client where you had to end the relationship as a wise business decision but that left emotional sludge in its wake?

If you’ve got a story, we’d love to hear it. And let us know what you think of ours.


Visit Big Leap Creative and read Lisa’s marketing brilliance

Listen to the Gear Show on Stitcher or iTunes

Check out Penn’s Sunday School. The episode we mentioned is 283, The Packaging of Outrage