Have you ever had that awkward feeling? You know, you set out a strategy to build a client’s business, develop a plan and a budget, and it starts working as planned, and you feel so good – proud even? Then you notice these little cracks in the foundation. You start to see things that are part of your plan occurring almost by themselves. But they are off a bit.

Maybe it’s a print ad you were planning on running in the spring already showing up in the local paper in January. The local Chamber of Commerce sends you a note stating how excited they are to be working with you and your client. (But your client expressly stated he thought the Chamber of Commerce was a waste of money.) Wires can get crossed. There are misunderstandings as a result of nuances in an email or text message.

Now if this was a matter of doing marketing for a professional service in legal, or healthcare, or finance, perhaps there would be a good reason for these surprises. I know because I do and have worked for those kinds of businesses, and for the most part, the measurements are a mix of website visits, click rates, and eventually revenue.

This case was different. This was a business I knew a lot about, doing business in a town I knew a lot about. The business is a restaurant. And the location in New Jersey is right on the border of the affluent and the impoverished. I knew a lot about the restaurant business because my wife’s family was in that business for over 45 years. But in those days if someone didn’t like the fried chicken or spaghetti and meatballs in a Bolognese sauce, they either simply left vowing never to return or ask to speak to the manager, who would try to make it right.

Today, we have instant feedback in the food and beverage service industry. Whatever you think of Yelp (or Facebook or Google) content, that feedback lives long after the unhappy client left it. We can hide behind clever aliases to leave a bad rating or a long diatribe about how bad everything ordered tasted. And as the marketing guide to the business, it takes some finesse to thank the diners who simply left one star and no comment, as much as it does for the chap who left a page long rambling that sounds so good, it must be made up by the owner (but isn’t).

When enough became enough
I genuinely like people. And most people I know who are successful sales or marketing consultants either really like people too, or do a great job of acting the part. I liked my client even as I told him that I would no longer be handling his business in compliance with our mutual 30 days and out policy. He didn’t ask me why. When I handed him the logons and passwords for his website, and social media accounts, he told me to keep them. He didn’t know how they worked and didn’t care.

And that’s the real reason I fired him. He didn’t care. He didn’t care about his wait staff who were treated badly and consequently spent more time on their phones then serving patrons. He didn’t care about the patrons bad reviews, and didn’t want to learn about how quickly word spreads when things aren’t right, and then are not corrected.

As an independent marketing consultant, I NEVER want to lose a client. They have every right to challenge my suggestions, and I reserve the right to rarely disagree. What event should we attend? Which publications should we run print ads for? How does what we are doing today, going to get us to “high-fives” in December? If I’m doing my job, the horizon should be visible – it might need a little more focus, or even a course-change. I earn my pay, just like I did when I held a corporate job.

Let me leave you, my friends, with this advice. Lead your client, and always remember they pay for your time, regardless of your business or role. Think of The Titanic. Everyone listened to the captain, and lives were lost. I feel better knowing that I fired the captain, and probably missed an iceberg in the process.