It can be said that coming from a background of working in both USD and GBP currencies for a company like MTV, I am used to working with big budgets. But even then the budgets are not out of this world for the products we were trying to produce.  Costs are based on what it costs (and a profit margin of course), but not an infinity budget!

In Zambia, I’ve had several potential clients (and some former ones too) who complain we’re expensive and try to compare us with some other bog-standard agencies (I’m not naming names) because instead of comparing like for like, they’re happy to compare apples with oranges thinking we all do the same thing. We don’t.


In the past I would try to compromise and cut my costs to focus on bringing in the revenue. Now I understand that revenue really is vanity. Doesn’t matter your revenue figures if your GP (gross profit) is negligible or worse still, you have no cash. But worse than that, I realized that not only were we compromising on quality, we were working harder in order to deliver a great service or product without adding to our bottom line, and affecting our overall productivity.

When talking with other creatives we discussed why is it that clients felt they could spend thousands on a workshop and then try to undercut you on a video production (especially in the donor community)? Was it really they didn’t understand the value of the product?

On the other hand, I’ve seen some dismal products that clients have spent loads on and I can see why they get reluctant to pay – but then again, don’t expect a Mercedes if you go to Toyota.   Toyota has great products, including the Lexus, but understand that when you go in to the shop, don’t try to buy more than you can afford and then blame the industry.

I’m not saying that everything nice has to be expensive. Not at all. But you need to understand the value of things to have an appropriate budget. And then understand the agency you’re going to, and what they can deliver.

I no longer apologize for not being the cheapest (and by the way, we are by no means the most expensive either), but I’m comfortable letting people know that we might not be the agency for them. Not only because of price points, but because I don’t like doing things that don’t add value, or that other people can easily do. As a friend of mine said about his agency ‘we don’t do beauty pageants’ !

I want to be constantly evolving, and being creative and doing stuff that hasn’t been done here before, or doing it better, and if a client wants a copy and paste solution, or a cookie-cutter approach, I’m not interested. I also don’t like to do ugly things. I know what is considered creative can be relative, but let’s be honest, there are things we can all agree are ugly! We have done ugly things because we got in bed with the client before we knew they liked ugly. Now I’m getting better at recognizing a client that isn’t prepared to innovate, or likes ugly things, and I stay away from them. It’s better to have a fit with your client, then to be trying to get money out of them only.

When you meet a client like that, who appreciate your value, money isn’t the issue, because they value your work and they trust you. Besides, at that point they’ll manage their expectations by understanding the value of what they’re paying for.

What I do resent is when you get a brief that says you must deliver to international standards but they want to pay local rates – determined by themselves, why can’t we charge international rates if we’re delivering international products and services?

My frustration isn’t the unwillingness to pay per se, my frustration is the lack of understanding of the value of the product or service you’re asking for. It is true that I don’t believe we should do things solely for the money, as I said, we look for ways to innovate and add value too, but I also run a company and must think of the bottom line.  And why can’t I be paid by worth?  I remember a financial consultant saying to us that we pay our suppliers too much.  On one hand I agree about some of them, but some of them are paid their worth – but in those regards our clients were underpaying!

We won’t always say no to a client because of their budget, we do look at the bigger picture. But if we can’t deliver a quality product within their budget, we respectfully decline.

I think when you’re growing and trying to prove yourself, you do have to take on all sorts of clients. But as you establish yourself and carve out your niche you can afford to be a bit more picky – to do the work that you want to proudly showcase in your portfolio. It’s difficult to do in this financially strained time but hard decisions have to be made for the long-term survival of your business.

It’s also like in the choices I make of where I expose myself and my brand, if you want to run with the big boys, you play with the big boys, if I I’m seen in the little leagues, what is it that I’m saying about my brand? It’s like that saying goes, ‘if you hang out with 5 broke people, you’ll be the 6th broke person’.

Like for like.

It is definitely hard in reality, but like the financial consultant told us, ‘the people who understand, value, and appreciate your work won’t complain about your fees.   The ones that do, probably aren’t worth being your client’.

It is an attitude thing, but you better deliver when you have that attitude – which is also why you have to be careful getting bogged down with the time-consuming projects that don’t add value to you or your business. People remember your failures as much as they remember your last success!