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At our SEO agency, we work in exclusive relationships with clients, only working with one client per niche market. It’s simple to understand why: How can an agency make more than one company a leader on the search engines? For this reason, it’s not ethical to offer SEO services to more than one company in the same industry. So this brings up the question: Where does an industry niche begin and end?
Defining The Thin Line
Ten years ago, when we started our agency, our policy was very strict in that we would not take on anyone in a related industry of our clients. However, over the first couple of years, we realized the definition of “industry” was pretty broad. Our loyalty to our clients almost led to the demise of our business. Hence, we needed to define The Thin Line of Exclusivity.
One day, years ago, all came to a head — that is, profit versus loyalty. We had started working with a local company in the leisure industry, and the client had many reservations — we were the first company he had ever hired for internet marketing services. Because of this, the client modified our standard contract with his lawyers to be very specific in defining the niche products we would target with our SEO services: hot tubs, pool tables, gazebos and saunas. But the contract included other products, like patio furniture, in case he wanted to add those to his budget at some point.
Three years in, we got a call from an old friend who deals in patio furniture. It just so happened to be one of the competitors of our current client. The person wanted to hire us. It was at this point that we needed to redefine exclusivity.
What should you do in a situation like this? Do you let the current client define your policies out of loyalty? Do you drop a client so you can redefine and grow?
We sat down with our current client, who was not happy. He didn’t want to lose the strong online presence we had built together, but he wasn’t willing to step up the budget to target patio furniture either.
We decided to go with what always works best: honesty. We let the client know of the predicament we found ourselves in, based on a policy that no longer fit. We turned the tables to ask what he would do in the same situation — in a sense, to empathize.
Our policy on exclusivity has evolved to become more niche in nature per industry. Potential conflict only occurs when a current client has a lot of diversity in their product or service mix.
In respect to client exclusivity, I’d recommend giving your client the first opportunity to target these secondary services. If they decide not to, communicate your policy — in a sense, making them aware that you will pursue this market and take on a business that offers these services. In our experience, clients appreciate the honest approach and understand that you need to be able to grow, just as you are helping them grow.
What we found to be the client’s biggest concern was in trusting that what he talked to us about in respect to his business stayed with us and was not shared with his competitor. We quickly realized this was the real issue: trust. We reminded him that we had never shared any information to him about conversations and plans we had with his competitors and that he could expect the same for his business. This helped to solidify the trust we had built together over the years, and to this day, we still work with him.
Client trust comes from managing expectations. This can come in the form of setting expectations on timelines for results, setting expectations on what is needed from them in order to achieve results or having proper communication of relationship boundaries. It should also be well understood that things can come up that change the expectations that were set. This might be internal factors on their end or external factors outside anyone’s control. As long as you are proactive in setting these expectations, it removes any gray areas in the relationship that can lead to misunderstanding and conflict.
Coming Full Circle
Policies change. It’s a reality. What doesn’t change is the need for strong client relationships. Do you run an agency driven by closing contracts and locking people in? If so, how does this affect your relationships?
In the end, it comes down to conversation and trust, not a contract. The line of exclusivity isn’t a line. It’s about being open with your clients and remembering that we all want the same thing: to run a successful business that brings a happy life and quality relationships. Build your foundation of trust as an SEO agency, and you’ll find your clients want the same success for you as they want for themselves.
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