It’s time for that mid-February Hallmark Holiday – a holiday when we celebrate, or re-consider, romantic relationships. But how many of us take the time and care to assess potential client-based relationships? 

We’ve all been there: you get an interesting inquiry, you schedule the first meeting, you quietly anticipate your future together, and, at long last, the day of the big meet-up finally arrives. Putting yourself out there is necessary – it’s an important opportunity to learn and grow. Heck, parts of putting yourself out there are fun, like the anticipation of what could be. What’s not so fun is the taxing investment of time and resources into a relationship destined for failure.

The very pursuit of a relationship can be a costly affair – from a financial, time and emotional standpoint. So why go the extra distance when your relationship isn’t going to make it? Wouldn’t it be nice to know right away whether to take the relationship to the next level?

At Citation Labs, we’re fortunate to work with an amazing group of clients. This is the checklist we roughly follow to ensure we’re a good match for every new client that knocks on our door:

Should I Stay or Should I Go? The New Client Commitment Quiz

What was your first impression?

In general, the inquiry emails and subsequent phone calls will tell you a lot. If the phone call or email thread excited you, motivated you to move quickly to a SOW (scope of work), or made your brain move 1,000 miles/minute, chances are, this client is a good fit for you.

If, on the other hand, the phone call left you feeling drained, unsure and less-than-excited, now’s the time to analyze the pros and cons of taking on this particular project.

While analyzing, consider asking yourself questions like:

  • How do they show interest in you?
  • Was the client interested in your agency and what your company excels at?
  • Did it feel like you would be working with them or for them?
  • What was the rapport like? Would you be excited to have weekly calls with this person or team of people?

Are they good with commitment?


How many agencies has this client been with?
If this client is an agency-hopper, they may not be looking for anything long-term, or this may be a red flag that they’re ultimately difficult to get along with.

Are they currently with another agency?
If the client is currently working with another agency, there could be a lot of uncomfortable overlap in strategy. That’s not an impossible barrier to overcome, but is something you should be aware of going in.

Are they speaking with a lot of different agencies or just you?
If the client is looking at a lot of different agencies, decide upfront how much time to invest in your pitch. If you’re hungry, go for it. If your plate is already pretty full, establish a boundary of how many phone calls, SOWs, etc. you’re willing to do before calling it a day.

What are they into?

It’s monumentally important to establish the client’s definition of campaign success.

  • What metrics does your client use to measure success?
  • Do these metrics jive with the ones your company values and, perhaps more importantly, is capable of achieving?
  • If not, can changes be made to your company’s practices?

If there’s too much disagreement in this area and you’re unable to establish metrics that both parties are happy with, this may be a project to shelve for the time being.

What baggage are they carrying?


You may not think about baggage when you think of potential clients, but…you should. Client baggage can include recent splits with other agencies, bad experiences with other agencies that offer your services, poor web support, and long response time.

While your company is likely the breath of fresh air this client is looking for, be sure to clear the air before starting. It’s amazing what can come from a conversation – use this opportunity to reassure your client that their experience with you will be a good one and to make specific requests to ensure you can get the job done (e.g. we request that new content be placed within 3 business days of receiving it).

Did you remember to wear protection?

What did you all discuss during that initial call? What did you agree to? Get it in writing.

Always have a signed contract on file before any work begins.

We’ve worked with many agencies through the passing of the SEO torch. If the initial contract was done over the phone and an e-handshake, consider yourself (potentially) f*ck!d if the original torch bearer leaves.

Where is their comfort zone?


If you represent an agency that prefers to go out of traditional methods and thinks creatively, be wary of clients who prefer a more conservative way forward.

For example, here at Citation Labs, we love to think with the client from the get-go. Our typical approach is not a McDonaldized package. Rather, we prefer (and enjoy!) to make sandwiches to your specifications (as much as humanly possible, that is).

If, on the other hand, you represent an agency that follows more traditional methods (for example, you offer specific link package options vs. made-to-order packages), it’s important to find build a client base that shares this preference.

The bottom line? For the best results, match comfort zone to comfort zone.

What are their expectations?

Expectations, unless specifically stated upfront, have a funny way of blindsiding you. Perfect examples: the first metrics update, delivery of the first content piece, or unveiling of a blogger engagement program.

Imagine the scenario – you present your hard work with a perfectly-placed bow, completely confident the client will share your excitement. Rather than being met with a happy and satisfied client, you are met with a confused and disappointed one. You’ve lost time, money and perhaps even the client…

Don’t let this happen to you! Make it a point to establish all campaign expectations from the get go.

And Finally…Do they laugh at all your jokes?

Just kidding. Sort of.

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