Fire Power – Bad Clients and Why You Need to Show Them the Door

May 13, 2014

Guest Post by Annie Liao Jones

I’ll preface this by stating the obvious: client retention is a huge part of running a successful enterprise.

What might not be as clear is the importance of knowing when to let clients go. It’s that feeling every business owner gets in their gut – the feeling that you’re not getting the entire story. There’s a piece missing–a piece that you should know in order to serve your client best.Coming from a business development background, I can truly say it’s one of the few things I don’t believe are innate to a business owner. A lot of things I believe are and can’t be taught. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Sales, good design, content strategists for example. (see my last blog where I confess my company is not scalable)It sounds backwards at first glance, but it’s true. Bad clients are bad for morale, and while urging your team to power through seems like the ‘right’ thing to do, I challenge you to ask who that is serving. An uncommunicative or abusive client might be profitable in the short term but it grinds down the spirit that only took me years to truly learn: you hired the best and you have to work on creating the best environment. Here’s the kicker: maintaining the best environment is always the priority. And any business owner will tell you it’s easier said than done.I hired my employees to change my mind. Why? I want the humble folks who can drop their ego to benefit our clients. If I let a ‘bad client’ define my company’s ethos, I would be left with uninspired work. And in our field, you have to love what you do or else you shouldn’t do it.Moreover, once I’ve shown a bad client the door, everyone’s free to get refocused. There’s no time spent on someone that won’t appreciate the hard work we’re doing, and the improved quality of what’s being put out for our other clients is exactly what gets us future accounts.Look, no matter how fantastic your work is (and my teams’ work is amazing, no doubt), business people talking amongst themselves builds your reputation in ways that your portfolio can’t. For my sake, and for my employees’ sakes, I’m not going to have a reputation built on rolling over for a client. And I never have. And my company has never stopped growing.

The bottom line: Only a business owner knows how long the sales cycle took before employees meet them. Only we know that half the time is spent on vetting the client themselves and if the effort will be collaborative or not. Only experience can teach you when to walk away. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But when you’ve given them three rules up-front before I even take a meeting, and they break it on the first run–it’s the best time to show them the door before they eat up your bottom line.

When you show your team that you won’t throw them under the bus for a quick buck, they’ll respond by giving you their best work. Why do anything to jeopardize the situation? I can truly say the team I have now can ‘read my mind’ — and it didn’t happen on accident. I’m not famous for my patience. So if I’m advising you on something that takes time to nurture (um, try 5 years) — it might be worth reading.

Cheers,
Annie Liao Jones

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