How to Survive your First Year Working with a Big, Demanding Client

This week on Agencies Drinking Beer, Kevin and Kyle interview Jon Buchan, CEO of Render Positive, a digital agency specializing in content marketing based on London, England. Jon talks about how his little agency landed a very big - and challenging - client and how they managed to keep that client longer than any other agency before them. We also learned that while Jon has never been to Canada, he loves Kraft Dinner and poutine, so we’re pretty much friends for life.

Agencies Drinking Beer Episode 14: How to Survive your First Year Working with a Demanding Client


Jon Buchan, CEO of Render Positive, had a lot of DIY, bootstrappy, live-and-learn business experience by the time he and his brother Gary took the plunge to start their own agency. Jon cut his teeth when he started his own business right of high school and then went on to run social media teams at various agencies in London. As Jon puts it, “I quit my way to the top.”

Even though there was a lot Jon learned and loved about his agency experience, one of the biggest challenges he faced was the feeling that he was lying to clients. Jon felt the pressure to cross sell services to clients that weren’t relevant or beneficial to them - the only one who would benefit was the agency.

“I was making good money but I hate lying in business. I wanted to be happier and not lie to clients.”

The sweet spot: making payroll vs. stretching the truth

After thinking about it for a long time, Jon and his brother Gary left the security of their agency positions to start Render Positive. “I wanted my own business again and I had learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do.” One of those things was figuring out the sweet spot between the need to make payroll and stretching the truth. For Render Positive, their client relationships are built from a position of trusted advisor and it’s helped them maintain long term partnerships.

“Maybe we’re a little poorer for being super honest but I feel a lot better for it. You gotta stick to your morals.”

Nurture your network

As you can tell by listening to the podcast, Jon is a super affable guy. He genuinely likes meeting new people and keeping in touch. He had made a habit early in his career to stay in touch with everyone he meets. That translated into securing seven clients in Render Positive's first three months in business.

“Spend time thinking about people in your network. Reach out to them authentically, not just when you’re trying to sell them something.” Click to tweet

Like any new business, there was a time when Render Positive struggled to win new clients, especially since they were a small agency. Jon was frustrated and tried to think of something different they could do to get the attention of some big fish.

What Jon did next you’re not going to find in any “8 ways to win big clients” blog post.

One night Jon got drunk and wrote a silly email with a silly attachment and started sending it to large companies he wanted to meet.

The reaction to his unorthodox approach was surprisingly positive. And one such large company sent him an email that said, ‘You’ve made an impression, come in and talk to us.’

That company was international giant, Symantec, famous for their product, Norton AntiVirus.

The brief Render Positive had to pitch on was for a product other than Norton AntiVirus that Symantec wanted to be better known for. Through Render Positive’s intensive research, they discovered that while there was a lot of content out there about the topic, nothing was socially shareable. So they pitched Symantec on taking their existing expertise and making it look good. Symantec was impressed and Render Positive won the account.

“The ideas were solid but more importantly, the process to come up with the ideas was solid.”

While Render Positive was euphoric to land a big, important client, they were delivered two pieces of sobering news:

  1. Symantec’s brand guidelines prohibited use of analogies, metaphors, similes, or humour - all normal devices creative agencies use to communicate a message. (Cue sad trombone.)
  2. Symantec told Render Positive that no other agency had lasted more than a quarter. (Whoa.)

Instead of being deterred, Jon viewed these two as a personal challenge:

“It’s your job to come up with ideas within the client's’ confines. You can’t just moan about them. You can try to push them but you've got to come up with a solution within the restrictions they’ve got.”

And he was determined that Render Positive was going to be the agency to last. So once they won the business, Jon and his team overdelivered with a capital O on service, got outstanding results from the work they did, and ended up lasting a year - that’s three times longer than any other agency who had worked with Symantec.

Jon had some great advice for first time agency owners:

  1. Just go for it. You’re going to make mistakes, just try to make new mistakes.
  2. Hire for personality over experience. Experienced people are good but if they don’t have the right attitude, they’re never going to grow and neither will your business.
  3. Diversify your client list. You can’t rely on one big client because eventually they will go away. To be sustainable you need to always be building your business with different types of clients.
  4. It’s a privilege to work with clients, of any size. Maybe they’re not all passionate or driven, and they can be annoying, but even if a client is a pain, remember that it’s a privilege to work with them and to treat them well.

    How to Survive your First Year Working with a Big, Demanding Client

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