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Azleen Abdul Rahim

Digital Marketing Freelancers: Who Says Dealing With Small Businesses Is Easy?

I must say that dealing with small businesses is tougher than large corporations. It’s not a walk in the park. Be prepared to walk away when the deal is becoming unfair to you.

Warning: It’s not a walk in the park. Be prepared to walk away when the deal is becoming unfair to you.

Dealing with small businesses is tougher than large corporations I must say. Of course, the game is completely different but the difficulty level is almost the same. One should never underestimate this group of small entrepreneurs, as they know how to squeeze you dry and drive you nuts at the same time.

There are a number of specific reasons why I say this. I will share with you a whole list of it as we go along. A couple of days ago, I decided to walk away from a paid client and now I’m in the process of returning their money as a refund. The reason is simple. The business owner seems not able to prolong her trust in my strategy after 2 weeks it was presented and agreed. The best part is, I was already executing it right after the kickoff meeting which already on-going.

The original plan was simple. The business owner hired me to work on acquiring paid customers and resellers for a product. I need to come up with a digital strategy, a step-by-step social media execution plan for the internal product team to understand and eventually agreed to let me run the whole social media show. The contract was a short-term and to me, the job is simple and very straight-forward. Everything was agreed and we then set to roll. The kickoff meeting went superb, as I presented what needs to be done, the type of game we’re going to play, how to play it, which channel to utilise and the budget needed. The meeting ended after 3 hours and everything was agreed. We shook hands.

My bad, I seriously thought that this is going to be a smooth sailing journey with rays of sunshine and rainbows until we all reach the destination. I didn’t see the problem coming, and totally underestimate the game completely. Despite being out of my control, I would say that I am to be blamed too for not being physically near to the client’s office. I’m not supposed to deal with them heavily through online but balance it with physical too.

After a couple of weeks into the journey, disaster struck. What happened?

They hired a creative person without my knowledge, whose role was cannibalising mine. This is where everything starts. After the arrangement had been set and confirmed, the business owner decided to hire a creative person to work on all creative assignments for the company. Video creations, website and graphic designs, selecting the right images for each social media post and setting up the direction for all creative works. The original role was to work on creatives only, and that is it. Slowly, it began to cannibalise mine. The guy started to interrupt the social media side by ‘helping’ to create additional posting on top of the original posts, a set of new postings that require boosting and moving some allocated funds from certain original posts that I consider significantly important to the new posting that he created. In fact, the internal team began to interrupt on the copywriting too. They started to revise here and there, without any direction for the customers to understand. No point arguing at this point as I knew where it will lead the situation to.

My 2 weeks work of strategic posting schedule planning suddenly went haywire. I worked my ass out for about 2 weeks, 14 days non-stop to come up with an impactful set of copywriting works, the tone of the captions, the timing of the boosting and allocated budget for each boost. As of last week, I couldn’t let myself reading the new social media captions at all, it was so everywhere.

Budget allocation suddenly went haywire too. The original allocation set for a group of certain posts suddenly need to be reduced and move it to a few new posts. It creates imbalance to the impact. The original strategy was built to spark interest for customers to act based on the CTA or call-to-action set. Now people might just skip them and scroll away.

I suddenly become just a social media posting machine. From hero to zero. That’s what my value worth towards the end of the show. I no longer work as a brain of the campaign, more of the hands and legs actually. Execution, execution and just execution, nothing more. Suddenly the thinking work was slowly being reverted to the business owner and the internal team. I was just a social media posting machine, merely doing the posting and following order on the boosting. That’s it.

Deliverables still as agreed. Before they start blaming me for not able to deliver my promises, I decided to walk away. Personally, it is the best thing that I could do so that they can handle the campaign end-to-end. If I am in control of the job and trusted to deliver the promises made, I will deliver the result. It can be done subject to the work being done my way and not theirs. Something is wrong if you can promise something that is not within your control.

At one point in time, I told myself not to waste time taking SMEs or small businesses as customers anymore. It is painfully challenging to change their orthodox mindsets on digital marketing. By the way, that orthodox word doesn’t come from me okay. In fact, it came from those business owners themselves claiming that they knew nothing much about digital marketing and badly needed help. Yet when the help is around, they want to take charge of the whole situation again without realising it. What did I miss?

That explains why I decided to help you through teaching, and sharing the knowledge via consulting work. It’s better this way.

One small piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there. I know there are a huge number of small business owners and SMEs like you nationwide that requires help on branding and digital marketing. I also know that your resources are limited, yet you need help. Please, when the help is around you, at least what you can do is to trust the person you’re hiring to run your digital marketing campaign. Give him or her some air to breathe and time to showcase the capability. Do not interrupt when the agreed execution works are in progress. If you wish to interrupt, do it within the planning stage. Otherwise, your digital marketing person might just walk away. Just like I did.

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Written By

Azleen Abdul Rahim is the Co-Founder of Marketing In Asia. He also runs NSE, a social media management company. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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