bad experience with marketing in the past

I want to outsource my marketing, but I’ve had a bad experience with a marketing company in the past


One of the most common fears we hear from our clients when they get started with us is the fear of failure. Of everything going wrong. Of spending lots of money on marketing and it not working. Unfortunately, for many of our clients, these fears stem from a negative experience they had with marketing professionals in the past.

Frustrations can feel small but chronic. Like not being heard or valued, experiencing slow responses, systems not quite working the way you want them to. Being promised one thing (or many things) and not seeing that come through. Not talking the same language (even when you’re talking the same language!). A mismatch on values. The frustrations can be small, or they can combine, hit you like a tonne of bricks, and feel huge. You might have invested a lot more money than you expected to on a project, and feel cheated when you don’t get what you expected in return.

With any bad experience, your response is to vow never to do it again – and it’s a normal and valid response. You want to protect yourself from repeat trauma. Who wouldn’t?

But you still want to attract the best clients and do more of the work you love. And that’s what marketing does, so you’re back to look at it, and how it can work for you. Don’t lose hope! Hold on tight to your goal and hang on until the end of this tip because things can be better.

You get to choose who you work with – look for a marketing team who will help you heal

The best remedy for a negative experience is to work with professionals who understand your pain and will help you on the path to recovery.

About 10 years ago, I decided I wanted to get into yoga. Not being blessed with flexibility, I was nervous about the experience, but I took the leap and booked up a group of sessions in a local beginners class nonetheless. The class itself ended up being worse than I had feared. It was a tight-knit group of once-upon-a-time beginners, who’d now become pretty advanced. Amongst a sea of spaghetti bodies I stood out like the leaning tower of Pisa. The teacher had to keep stopping to help catch me up with the poses and the lingo, much to the frustration of the class.

I practically sprinted out of the building at the end, cursing myself for lack of contortionist ability. I was not cut out for yoga. Screw the money, I would not be putting myself through the humiliation again voluntarily.

Problem is, as the years went on, I still kept hearing great things about yoga. As a regular runner, fitness professionals told me it’d be the best thing for my body. I still wanted the results I saw in my friends.

Last year, I decided to open myself to the possibility again. I was wise to the kind of class and environment I definitely didn’t want, so I went looking for the opposite. I came across a website for a studio not far from me. On the homepage alone they made it clear that:

  • They believe yoga to be about promoting health, vitality and wellbeing. Flexibility may come with practice, but it isn’t the sole purpose.
  • Classes were open to all levels, but an experienced team would recommend specific classes for you, depending on your individual needs and what you would like to achieve from your practice.

My fears were addressed head on. I still wasn’t completely convinced of course, because after the last time it felt too good to be true. I emailed the teacher just to triple check I would be welcome – and the response was completely in line with the website. She was very understanding, very reassuring and provided me examples of the different ages, abilities and motivations I would experience in the class. She told me what to expect of the class itself and invited me just to come along and observe if it would make me feel more comfortable.

Now, spending money on a weekly yoga class isn’t the same as spending money on a website, a new brand or monthly outsourced support. I appreciate the investment feels a lot more risky. But the trauma of the negative experience has the same impact and requires the same consideration when you’re looking for a better match of relationship and environment.

If you think of your own experience as a traumatic experience you’ve had, you can find a website designer or agency (like us) who are able to help you navigate through that experience, talk through what was disappointing and discouraging, and give you the tools and education so this never happens to you again. And on the other side of the healing, you actually get great marketing done as a result of a trusted partnership.

It might not be an instant find. It may take some time to research, speak to friends and peers in the industry, and ask the right questions. Finding the right marketing company for you takes time and effort and patience. But it’ll be worth it in the long term, and this tip will help speed up the process some by giving you the tools to find your people.

What to consider before you enter into a new relationship:

Do your values align with theirs?

Skill is important. You can see skill quite easily by looking at past projects a marketing agency has been involved in. But it’s not the only important factor. You also want to know: how will my opinions be valued in this company? what happens if things do go wrong? How will the team communicate with me during this project? Will I feel stupid if I don’t understand the marketing lingo? Will they be the kind of people I like having meetings with?

Values speak to the nature of the relationship, and the behaviours and principles you can expect of the people you’ll be working so closely with. At PF, we have six internal values which define how we live life and do work. You can see more about them here. One of those values is: show transparency – share the right thing at the right time to build trust.

I’m honoured to work with a team, and with clients, who live and breathe this value (and the rest!). My fellow PF teammate Jamie just shared this honest and vulnerable post on LinkedIn, about what it’s like to work in a psychologically safe space. A space where she can share her thoughts and feelings without judgement.

Values aren’t just nice words – they are everything. If you’re a patient methodical thinker, you might not want to work with the agency who are fast and energetic. If you want to be really involved in the marketing process, you want to look for a team who are collaborative and love to educate.

Partner with an agency, developer or designer who shares the same principles and behaviours as you. Not just saying them, living and breathing them.

Have the company explained the process of working with them on this project?

Just like the yoga, before we enter into an unfamiliar environment, we want to know what it’s going to look like, be like, feel like and what’s required of us. This is why it’s so important to have an understanding of a company’s process before you dive in. You don’t have to be a marketing expert or a website expert to have a great experience. But you do need to know what’s required from you and how good marketing works.

On a base level, you want to know how long it’s going to take and how much it’s going to cost. But on a more granular level, you want what’s going to happen, when and how. You might have it in your plans to launch a new website in a month or two, only to find the website build process takes 6-8 months. You might be hoping to simply hand the marketing responsibility to an expert and have no involvement in it, but discover the relationship requires partnership, with weekly reviews and monthly calls.

How well does the company manage your expectations on their website? We do this at PF by walking accountants through our marketing map, and providing new clients with a partnership agreement. When a client is ready for a website rebuild, we prepare them for the journey ahead with our website build milestones. We talk about our ‘way’ of doing things in our blogs and videos and social posts (you’re reading about our way right now).

Make sure you understand how it all works, and don’t be afraid to challenge them (kindly) on any “overpromising” – it’s okay to expect people to be realistic and honest with you.

Can you dip your toes in the water in some small way before you commit?

Just like Rome, trust isn’t built in a day. If you have the too-good-to-be-true feeling, you may find you can take some small steps with a company before you make a big investment.

  • Educate yourself on how good marketing works first – read blogs, watch videos, take small paid courses. All our clients take our Accelerator course before entering into any project with us. Because understanding the foundations of marketing empowers our clients to make better decisions about what they really need when they come to working with us. Being able to educate yourself first, means you won’t spend money in the wrong places.
  • Ask for case studies if they’re not readily available on their website – Read stories from firms like yours who’ve been through the process and seen the kind of outcome you want. If you don’t see a story like yours, at least ask. It could be (as in our case) they have a ton of case studies which are in draft form and haven’t quite been published yet.

Can you learn something about yourself from the previous experience?

Every failure is a learning lesson. In fact, I believe there’s no such thing as ‘failure’ – just experience and results. So I’m not here to suggest you blame yourself for your negative past experience, but to think about how you might grow from it.

Let me caveat this by reminding you by being here reading this blog, you’re already growing from it. You’re being proactive about getting the information you need to make the right choice of relationship for you next time round.

After enough time has passed, and you’re not caught up in the immediate emotion of the situation, you might ask yourself:

  • Did I live up to my own values? Or the values of my firm?
  • Did I communicate my expectations?
  • Did I ask the burning questions I felt needed asking?
  • How do I react when things go wrong?
  • What ‘flags’ did I notice but not pay attention to, or dive deeper into?
  • Was I really ready?

There may be something in the answers to these questions you can take with you into the next outsourced marketing relationship. A little self reflection can only serve to make the next time round more successful.

What can you learn from this about how your own prospects feel about you?

You’ll probably know at least one of your clients who’ve been through a similar situation when looking for an accountant.

You hear stories about clients only seeing their accountant once a year, having no idea about accounting technology, going through business adviser after business adviser looking for someone to help them get on the right track. They’ve come to realise their accountant isn’t the right fit, they’re noticing mistakes, there’s very minimal relationship.

It’s agony to hear, isn’t it? Because you know there’s better out there for them, and you wish they’d come to you first.

That’s the agony we feel for you here at PF. We’ve had clients refer to our workshop process as “marketing therapy” and we don’t take it lightly, after some of the stories we’ve heard. In the same way, your prospects’ past experiences may have left them with serious trust issues, and they may be desperately looking for someone to help them along the path to recovery.

Your marketing is too important to lose hope and give up – do this for your future clients

Think about the experience you wish you’d had, and create that experience for your prospects and clients. Everything we’ve mentioned here applies to you too. Show your values, explain your process, help them dip their toes in with education. If you want to know how to go about it, join our next Accelerator intake and learn how to make your client experience the best it can be.