The Potential Misery Index: Ranking potential clients

Ian Lurie

I love my clients. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, I know. But once Portent signs on to work with someone, we’ve got one job: Help the client kick ass. We’re committed.

That means we need to be pretty picky about clients and contracts. I use a special scale called the Potential Misery Index (PMI). You can call it the Potential Happiness Index, if you prefer. But I’m more of a misery guy. Go figure.

Here’s how it works:

Add 1 point if

  1. You haggle over price. I don’t haggle. I’m not a used car dealer. I’m not going to provide a discount because you beat me about the head and shoulders.
  2. Things move realllllyyyyy sloooowwwlly. Sometimes there’s a reason stuff slows down. But often it’s just inertia. Some behaviors that may make me weep with despair: A 10-week RFP process for a $1500 contract; a 12-person ‘hiring committee’ for a one-time, $1000 site review; a renegotiation because we had to add $50 to the contract price (really happened).
  3. Your site is a customer-repelling crime against humanity, but you won’t change it. I have to get qualified visitors to your site. If they claw their own eyes out in horror, I feel guilty.
  4. You give me a long list of injustices suffered at the hands of past marketers, then tell me I’m guilty until proven innocent.
  5. You refuse to give me access to analytics data. I’ve tried that, against my better judgment, and it was frustrating as hell. You’re happy to send me a report every day? Great! But I can’t tell you where the data will take me. Sometimes, I just have to dig around.
  6. Your business is cheating people. Add 99999 points. Then leave.
  7. You look at every case study & idea I present and explain how worthless I am. Really? Is this your way of making friends?
  8. Your expectations are insane. You expect 25,000 subscribers 4 weeks after launch? For your cooking blog? It’s possible you have the next GoogleBook. It could be. But just in case, can you base your marketing budget on reality-based projections?
  9. You tell me 5,231 things that my company can’t touch. You want SEO, PPC and social media work. But we can’t change the web site, are forbidden to use Facebook or Twitter, and all of your PPC ads have to include the words ‘happy joy’. And you sell caskets. Yeah, I’ll pass.
  10. You talk smack about employees, past vendors and predecessors. We all vent. But if you’re spending half the conversation ripping the last poor slob who worked with you, I gotta wonder: How are you going to treat me?

Bonus: If you tell me you want to “Jew me down” on my contract amount, I may actually kill you. If I don’t, add 10 points. Really happened – twice, actually. Well, not the killing part. You know what I mean.

Look, none of these are deal-breakers. In marketing, there’s a lot of crap flying around. We all have misconceptions. If you come to Portent, though, and are clinging to these kinds of assumptions/behaviors no matter how politely we try to explain them away, you’re probably better off hiring someone else.

Subtract 1 point if

  1. You’ve got a really cool product/service.
  2. You’re excited about your really cool product/service.
  3. You have some clear business goals.
  4. You tell me a lot about your business, or about your role in the business. That means you know it, and you’re excited about it. Plus, I love to hear about other people’s work.
  5. You listen, too. Communications is a two-way street. I won’t prattle on for hours, I promise, but there’s some basic information you probably need to know.
  6. There will be a clear person in charge on the project. My team works on a lot of headless projects. These projects stagger around, flapping their wings and spouting blood everywhere. But inevitably they fall over, twitching feebly. I’d really like to cut back on those.
  7. You are direct. Not rude. Not mean. But direct. You get to the point. There’s not a lot of that around these days, and I love it when I can find it.
  8. You select. You do not accumulate. If you’ve gone beyond the more-is-better mentality, you rock.
  9. You expect us to kick ass. That is our job. Low standards don’t make it easier for me and my team—they make us into a commodity.
  10. You’ve got a competitive streak. See #9.

Add it up

The lower the score, the less potential for misery when we work together.

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Can I add:
    +1 point if you are willing to throw anyone under the bus to save your own skin or make yourself look good.
    +1 point if you are flat out crazy/irrational and are beyond all sense of reason even when the facts are staring you in the face.

  2. +1 if you ignore analytics and (solely) follow HiPPOs as a culture
    +1 if you think psychographics apply to every except your prospects
    Ian, you made my Friday after a long week!

  3. Great list – I love the headless project image. A few more additions of my own:
    +5 if you say our engineers in will write everything, I just need to clean it up
    +10 if you’d really like to me to work hourly because you don’t really know what you need and reserve the right to change your mind

  4. Ditto and kudos to you for such a wonderful post that only experience can bring forth! I totally agree that working with any client that can sign a check can (and will) absolutely make-your-life-miserable. Just don’t do it.
    Deciding what kinds of clients that I wanted to work with and weeding out those that will never be happy no-matter-what made even the longest days much shorter. It’s *really* nice to work with people to grow their voice and their brand online when they can appreciate and value your work just as much as you do. It makes it a pleasure to become their online business champion and be right there with them as they grow.
    I work with published authors now and it is especially fulfilling to be able to watch their sales numbers climb because of our efforts together online.
    Keep up the great work!

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