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The Art of Saying No: Tales of Boundary-Setting Gone Wrong

As professionals, we are often taught to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way. The fear of missing out on a potential career breakthrough or damaging a relationship can sometimes lead us to overcommit and stretch ourselves thin.

However, setting boundaries and saying “no” is a crucial skill that helps us maintain our mental health and focus on our priorities. The ability to say “no” is important for our personal well-being and the success of our businesses and careers.

We first covered the importance of a freelancer to ensure you are paid for out-of-scope work. It is time to share some horror stories of not saying no and how those out-of-scope work can happen.

Lack of Boundary Tales

It was around three years back – my first freelancing gig. I didn’t sign contracts and didn’t set boundaries. I ended up working more than any digital marketing manager would. I was hired initially just for Google and Meta ads (lead generation is my core skill) but ended up coordinating their organic posts and what their next CRM should be; I’m passionate about the impact of my contributions on sales – so I would ask to get feedback from sales team BUT ended up also getting in charge to see if the salespeople followed up on the leads. I was paid monthly and on time, no issues there, but I was promised a share in the revenue as they were high ticket Real estate, but I never got that. Fortunately, I finally fired that client. He reached out a year later – saying I couldn’t find your replacement; you’re passionate.

Aashna Makin

I had a client who was part of the US team for an international conglomerate. The company has many business units, target markets, accounts, etc. The project started with us working on 4 of the business units, and we told the point of contact that we could manage more in the future (viewing those as a potential upsell opportunity). However, it needed to be specified that those extra business units would come at an additional cost, which quickly became an issue when three more business units were added to the project. Still, our monthly retainer hours stayed the same 😓. We ended up pushing back and establishing more explicit boundaries, but it took a lot of meetings, back-and-forth conversations, and re-setting of expectations.

Ashton Clarke

We once had a really demanding client that wanted their Google Search ads to go live right away. Whilst we’d recommended importing conversions from their analytics into Google Ads to improve bidding, they just wanted to get something out the door (on a Friday, I might add!), so we went ahead and pushed live with an unoptimised bid strategy. Unsurprisingly, the campaign (which was only live for a short duration anyway) saw a poor performance initially, impacting the end result. It can be tricky to manage client expectations and set boundaries when timescales need to be kept, but here’s to hoping they understood our recommendations once the end-of-campaign report came in.

Abby Young

Terrible one; it happened in December last year. I started work without a contract because I was on probation for three months; I was supposed to only write and develop strategies before I knew I began to do social media management and influencer marketing, I discussed it with the CEO, but he kept putting it off. As the only writer on the team, I also wrote for the design and software team, and he began to say I was doing too much; he was somewhat okay with me writing materials with grammatical errors than doing extensive research. He also kept expecting serious results in two weeks. If I had spelt this like I always do earlier, I would have prevented the headaches.

Akinsola Esther

An incident had previously occurred when the proper boundaries weren’t placed regarding who owned which parts of UGA/GA4, and the client would dip in and out of the account and take action when they saw fit without communicating. Switch over to GA4 (by the client) then occurred without notification and without going through the proper set-up stages. This resulted in conversions being improperly tracked through Google ads, privacy policies etc. having to be revisited, and general GA4 structures needing to be corrected. We had to go through and fix everything, which took longer to untangle.

Anonymous

When I started freelancing, I didn’t set any boundaries regarding phone calls or meetings. I only sometimes give out my phone number, but occasionally, I will hand it out if a client needs to call. This one client, in particular, took advantage of having my phone number by contacting me at all sorts of inappropriate times – 7 am, 9 pm, on the weekend. You name it; he did it. I quickly stopped it, and from that point, I added an extra section to my service agreement to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Ryan Scollon

We had an overly needy client (which we got b/c I ignored every red flag in the book) who, after three weeks, wasn’t seeing the results he wanted and asked us to create weekly reports to show us moving the needle and meet every Tuesday. His contract clearly stated one monthly statement and one monthly meeting. After one more month of this, the client unhooked from our MCC and didn’t pay any of the invoices they owed. Chalk that up to bending to needy clients & ignoring red flags while chasing revenue.

Shaun Elley

When I signed one of my first clients for Google Ads management, he almost immediately asked for services way out of the scope of our contract.

– new tracking set-up using Matomo

– strategy to promote his new book

– social media ads

– SEO

– etc.

I know he kept piling up new things, as I didn’t politely decline the first time. I ended up doing his tracking and then ended our cooperation as it was clear he was adamant about trying to get every little last thing out of me he possibly could.

Boris Beceric

They expected that we would resolve their Conversion tracking issues on their website. This was way out of our scope (we didn’t even have access to the back end of their site) and required quite detailed technical support from a specialist web developer. They had expected us to be able to resolve all of their issues, not just the PPC campaigns we had been brought in to build and optimise for them.

Sophie Logan

With one of my clients, we usually set up the content calendar before the meeting. They have yet to reply two days before the meeting for us to prepare the contents. It always happened that the 40 minutes meeting takes 1 hour. Establishing rules about meeting procedures is best to practice when working remotely and is very needed in Paid Search department.

Anonymous

As an Account Director, my client began holding meetings with the Manager in my team simply because they were friendly.

Keeret Kaur

They imagined their own deliverables and fees and tried to hold me to them.

Glenn Schmelzle

It was one of the first experiences that taught me to add relevant information about extra work/calls unrelated to the project beforehand. I was hired to develop some reports on LookerStudio. The KPIs and desired list from the client were clear and in an email. The client was continuously contacted throughout the project with additional requests, small changes, and troubleshooting inquiries. I was always available and willing to help, even outside regular working hours.

However, after delivering the final project and considering it completed, the client continued to contact me for troubleshooting assistance unrelated to the original scope. There would be constant questions like ‘Do you know why this channel is down? And related questions. Since then, I have ensured that I clearly define the scope of work, outlining the specific deliverables, tasks, and timeline. I also make sure I establish additional support terms, describing the post-project support I am willing to provide, such as a limited period for bug fixes clarifying that anything beyond will be subject to a separate agreement or fee. This all goes in those first emails before the start of the project, so I always have a document with me to refer to.

Veronica Ruiz

Conclusion

In conclusion, learning to say no can be a challenging but necessary practice for personal growth and self-care. While boundary-setting gone wrong can be frustrating and uncomfortable, it’s important to remember that mistakes happen and we can always learn from them. With practice and patience, we can cultivate healthy boundaries and communicate our needs with kindness and respect. So don’t be afraid to say no when you need to, and remember that it’s okay to prioritize your own well-being.

A Massive Thanks to Our Contributors

Aashna Makin

Performance Marketing Manager

TripArc

Ashton Clarke

Paid Media Team Lead

Knucklepuck

Ashton Clarke is currently the Paid Media Team Lead at Knucklepuck, responsible for client strategy & execution and managing a small team of consultants. Outside of work, you’ll find him hiking and watching soccer in Denver, Colorado.

Abby Young

Campaign Manager

HDY Agency

Akinsola Esther

Content Marketer & Travel Blogger

I love making research and testing new technologies

Ryan Scollon

Freelance PPC consultant specialising in lead generation

Shaun Elley

Owner of Blue Ox Digital

10yr ppc vet with most experience in ecomm and custom trackin

Boris Beceric

Google Ads consultant and coach

Sophie Logan

Head of Paid Media at Victress Digital

Keeret Kaur

PPC Manager at ASOS

Over 10 years’ experience in the PPC industry across a variety of verticals.

Glenn Schmelzle

Founder at Marketing Whats New

We help demand generation teams have a net-positive profit contribution, by weighing the lifetime value of customers against what it cost to acquire them.

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