Helpful, but honest

May 10, 2022

When we were a young agency, we had a client with some big goals and they were very prescriptive about how they wanted to achieve them. Still rather naive at that point, we did as they asked. In retrospect, we should have expressed our doubts and suggested alternatives, even in the face of such client confidence. We didn’t, and our acquiescence led to wheel-spinning and a lackluster deliverable. 

As an agency, we are often at this same crossroads: Do we simply do what’s asked and take the money? Or do we speak up because we truly believe there is a better way to achieve the client’s goals and, in doing so, possibly jeopardize us keeping the business?

We are exposed to a myriad of different clients and projects. Our clients certainly have industry-specific knowledge and other insights we don’t but, given our experience, we often can see objectively if a client’s roadmap has red flags or may not achieve a goal. And since those early days, we have come to realize the value we can add in this consulting role.

Our mantra now as an agency is: Helpful, but honest. It’s natural to want to help your clients, and we want to help them succeed. But we aren’t a true ally if our helpfulness doesn’t come with honesty. This applies not only to clients and agencies, but any stakeholder relationships. 

To us, helpful but honest means: 

  1. Be humble, not arrogant – Before expressing doubt to your client, it’s important to check yourself first. Make sure you’re not missing critical information. Do your due diligence by asking a lot of questions, to fully understand the situation, before you recommend a different direction. 
  2. Be a partner, not an order-taker – It’s fine in many cases to take orders and execute them. But if you suspect a course of action may not be optimal, and you’ve done your due diligence, point it out. Your client will respect your honesty in the long run.
  3. Be supportive, not destructive – There is a right way to express your reservations. Don’t talk about what you can’t do – never give an outright ‘no’ – but instead talk about what you can do and why you’re recommending a course correction. 
  4. Be cognizant of the entire challenge –  Always offer a solution that achieves all the stated goals. Providing direction that solves only half the problem isn’t helpful. Be supportive of wholly solving the issue at hand. 

Follow these steps and you will have better projects, of better quality, and forge better stakeholder relations. 

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