“The Great Resignation | Resigning Clients” By Miles Marmo, Co-Founder of Agency Squid

By The Minneapolis Egotist / /

Company culture spans well beyond snacks and beer on tap. For us, in the creative field, the culture can really be defined by the work we do, and who we work with. To us, it takes a lot of courage to remove a client who causes strife. This scratches the surface on it’s all tied together.

A note from a co-founder
Last year, I wrote about managing my mental health and the toll the pandemic had taken on me. The outpouring of support was honestly emotional. On one hand, it helped remove some of the isolation I’ve felt most of my life, which brought a ton of comfort. On the other hand, it made me question why so many people were going through the same thing, especially in the creative world.

Many have written about the “Great Resignation” – referencing many of the feelings I had been having. Yet the focus of those pieces was almost always on employees – the way they were treated, the perks they get, the value they should feel. None addressed the feelings of agency owners and founders like me.

We’re really open at Squid. Something I take a lot of pride in. We approach everything honestly and with care. And what I had been feeling, was, unfortunately, a shared experience. Why were members of my team and I hitting burnout? Why were we all feeling like this?

In my last post, I referenced my ongoing fight with control. I’ve found in the service industry control is tricky to navigate. Within our walls, I can dictate a lot. There’s a connection between me and Squid. It’s part of my identity. And the people who continue to help build this, past and present, have relied on me to have their best interests at heart.

Outside the Agency is another story. Through the pandemic we had begun to relinquish control, and sacrifice the work and what we believed in to keep the work going. We began to lose our identity. We took clients we shouldn’t have. We subjugated ourselves as subject matter experts and became a pair of hands. A production team, unable to provide context or educate our brand partners on the gaps they were missing and why it was important to address them. And worst of all, we believed we were at the mercy of checkbooks. We were maintaining toxic relationships at the expense of our team, our work, and our values. I ignored the red flags, and we suffered.

That shift was my fault as a leader, not our clients. We willingly handed over the keys and said, “whatever you want, we’re here to serve.” That’s not our industry. And that’s definitely not what we founded Squid for.

So… we began to make some tough decisions. We looked at what difficult conversations we needed to have, what client breakups were inevitable, and where our work was not meeting the standard we set for ourselves. We also began to ask ourselves some questions. Why are we not interviewing our clients the way they interview us? Why are we not holding them to the same standards they hold us to? Why are we so afraid to break it off and walk away? We started to remove ourselves from accounts.

On a role, we looked inward. Who is the right fit to work at Squid? Who supports the culture we’re collectively creating? Who has values that support and align with ours?

We began taking control back.

I’m oversimplifying. Actively terminating relationships, reducing revenue, and being diligent in our partnerships (all while making sure our team is taken care of) is by far the hardest role I’ve played in my short tenure as a business owner. But it has also proven to be the most rewarding. The tough decisions have opened new, bigger doors. The risks we’ve taken have paid dividends. We’re better for it. Our energy is back. Every client relationship since is healthier because of it.

It’s worth noting that this has not been a “get rid of everyone who doesn’t do exactly what we want” type of change. It’s about understanding what we can control and what we can’t. We can control how we start a relationship, how we communicate our value, how we set client expectations, and how we assess what we need out of a client to be successful. We are still in the service business after all. We know our clients know their businesses better than we ever will. And in turn, our clients know we understand how to reach and engage audiences better than they do. It’s a true balance of control. And ideally, we grow together.

Long story short, the Great Resignation is bigger than what’s been talked about. The world is bigger than what we dictate inside our offices. It’s our responsibility as leaders to find this balance of internal and external control. Be purposeful with who we work for, and who works with us. I love what I do. All of us at Squid love what we do. And nothing is more demoralizing than working on a project, or for a client, that takes away or disregards that love.

The last three years have taken a more significant toll on all of us than we realize; both agency and brand folk. There’s no other way to get through it other than communicating with one another on expectations, needs, and goals. That’s the control we have.

As always, I haven’t figured it all out, but I welcome your perspectives as we all navigate the insane world changes together. Thanks for reading and please, let’s keep the conversation going.

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