Freelancers, be picky about your agency clients!


Are you a freelancer, and do you work with agencies regularly? To get a feeling for some issues, I have a few questions for you. Discussion is strongly encouraged. Here’s the question: How do you choose which agencies you work with? How do you pick your clients?

Poison Apples by Flickr user 7-how-7 At first glance it can be hard to tell good from bad apples, to see which potential client rocks and which would suck.

To put this all in perspective: I work both directly with companies/non-profits/other organizations, and with agencies of all sorts (ad/PR/web/communication agencies etc). Mostly my experiences there have been good, I’ve been lucky with the choices I made, and I’d do most of that all over again any time. Sometimes I was approached by agencies that seemed very inexperienced, or just not fit for the social media world. In very few cases, the contacts seemed slightly sketchy. (Obviously I won’t tell any names. And I can promise you, all the clients listed in my client list are cool, otherwise I wouldn’t have worked with them.)

Just to give a few examples that I’ve encountered over the years: deadlines that changed constantly, both ways. Agencies approaching me, then never reacting to my replies. Bad payment morale. Agencies not getting social media and trying to buy their clients good comments and blogposts. Of course, where I encountered such issues I blew off any cooperation. And never regretted it.

Sometimes I’m told that freelancers can’t be picky about who they work for; that freelancers are service providers who need to do whatever is asked from them. I beg to differ. In my opinion, freelancers need to be particularly picky about their clients. Let me explain.

Every time you, as a freelancer, agree to work with a client, your name is on the line. That goes particularly for social media, where clients sometimes ask you to act in their clients’ stead under your real name. (Which in most cases is a bad idea in my opinion, but that’s also up for discussion.) So the choice of your clients is a pretty important one. After all, you don’t want to show up to the next meeting with colleagues and friends and be ashamed of what you did; or even worse, show up to a meeting with potential clients where they confront you with some embarrassing thing you did for another client and expect you to do the same thing or worse for them. (“Of course we expect you to use your private Facebook account and your blog to push our product, it’s the least you can do!”) Know what I mean?

What I’m interested in – and I guess some of you, too – is what’s a No Go? What’s ok and what isn’t; what makes you say no to a client? Is it certain demands, too little autonomy in how you do your part of the job, people not returning your calls, changing deadlines, unreliability? How do you pick your clients? How do you tell the bad apples from the rockstar clients you love to work with?

I’ll ask you to stick to one ground rule for your reply: Strictly no names. (I mean it: any agency name here as a negative example and I’ll delete the comment. ’cause that’s be bad style and you can do better.)

So let’s hear it!

Photo by 7-how-7 (Creative Commons)

German Market Can Be Tricky. Try Anyway.


Recently I’ve noticed a lot more inquiries coming in from agencies abroad, mostly the U.S. or UK. Two Three things I found noteworthy there.

24 hours of Flickr Party in Berlin
Creative Commons License photo credit: Seite-3

1) There’s more and more agencies specializing on Social Media. Over are the days where one ad agency covers all web needs. The agencies are going niche, which is mostly a good thing, I think. There might be a consolidation at some point in the future, but for the time being we’re (hopefully) going to see some more specialized agencies, or at least dedicated units.

2) Some feedback I’ve been getting is that said agencies get in touch also because of the simple fact that I blog in English, i.e. I’m accessible. I never expected to be such an important factor, but it is. The German internet scene (or rather, the whole country, to some degree) operates mostly in German. Not too odd, obviously, but still something to keep in mind when entering the market.

3) Interest in the German online market is increasing. It seems like there’s a strong trend, but that may be my skewed perception. The problem for particularly American companies and agencies: Europe is perceived overseas as one market, but within Europe it’s perceived as a large cluster of individual markets. (European countries do operate within a certain European framework, but culturally and most of all language-wise every country needs to be addressed separately. I know that at least Nicole Simon will agree with me on this one.)

It’s the last point that leads to some trouble – the German online market, particularly the blogosphere, can be a bit tricky at times. There’s no way you can just waltz in an push your content at bloggers and get away with it. You need to invest time and effort to build connections to bloggers. (Same should be obvious for bloggers world-wide, obviously. But trust me, Germany can be particularly tricky, and I know a number of you have made similar experiences here.)

Yesterday I emailed a few times with Monique Elwell over at U.S.-based Social Media agency Conversify, who seem to get it right. There’s a few brief thoughts I shared with Monique that I’d like to share with all agencies and companies thinking about tackling Germany, copied & pasted straight from my email:

  • The German blogosphere is oddly under-developed compared to the U.S. and France (which has an extremely rich blogosphere), with sometimes strong anti-commercial notions, but it’s changing rapidly, with more semi-pro/event/corporate blogs popping up quickly.
  • Pricing structure for consultants etc is similar to the U.S.
  • The German blogosphere is, language-wise, very German-centric. Not too many bloggers blog in English, but a good deal understands/speaks English. It won’t be a problem to find folks whose English is good enough to do everything you need.
  • Technical infrastructure for event bloggers (wifi, 3G and all) is ubiquitous and very well developed (equally or better than in the U.S., minus the Bay Area)

Of course that’s not to say that you shouldn’t touch the German market. Quite the contrary! Just do it right. Take the necessary time (I know it’s hard, working on a tough deadline), and build lasting relationships. Get someone on the ground to cooperate, and give them the freedom and autonomy to adapt your client’s message to fit the community. Don’t assume that you can jump a cultural gap without any friction. I’m sure you preach the same thing to your clients for your home markets.