How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

One of the best investments you can make in the long-term sustainability of your business, happiness and peace of mind is choosing your clients wisely.

As you grow in your business, your selection process will evolve and your discernment skills will improve.

No matter how young or inexperienced your business is, though, having clients meet at least some minimal criteria before you allow them on your roster will always serve you well.

That’s because choosing to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients will come back to bite you in the butt, one way or another, either sooner or later.

I was reminded recently of a colleague who reached out to me after being approached by a client who raised all kinds of red flags with her.

Being new in business, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I gave her the advice I always give in this situation: trust your gut.

And she, as new people often do, ignored her own wise counsel and all the telltale signs indicating that this was a bad idea and took the client on anyway.

While she found this client’s honesty and integrity questionable, she wanted the experience and was too eager and impatient for clients to let this first one go.

She rationalized this decision by telling herself that it wasn’t her place to judge, that everyone deserves benefit of the doubt, that she would just put blinders on and do whatever honest work she was given and not involve herself in anything beyond that, and that it wasn’t her place to question things.

She wouldn’t engage in anything illegal, unethical or dishonest, she told herself, and what she didn’t know beyond that wasn’t any of her business.

But here’s the thing: It IS your business to question things. You are deluding yourself if you think you can keep it separate and not be complicit.

Well, long story short, this did come back to haunt her, as all her instincts about this client (the ones she chose to ignore) turned out to be accurate.

It came to light that this client was engaging in some disreputable and unethical practices and ended up being sued by several parties.

She was forced legally into all the drama which caused her a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention diverted her time, attention and energy away from her own business.

Ultimately, this client lost his business and because she had put all her eggs into this one basket, she was left with no client and no income at all. Back to square one.

These were very painful lessons she learned from this experience that caused her serious damage and could have been avoided.

It took her more than a year to start over. But I don’t think she ever gained any confidence back in herself, and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm for her business petered out and she closed up shop.

The takeaways I hope people can glean from this are:

  1. You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
  2. You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
  3. You can’t afford to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients. It will cost you in far more ways than you realize with potentially disastrous results you may not be able to recover from. It’s an unwise, unshaky platform on which to build your business and reputation.
  4. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t be so desperate to take on the first client who comes along if they are not a good fit.
  5. Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just be aware that the damage bad clients can do to you can sometimes be devastating. Walk away from any client, immediately, who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
  7. Maintain an abundance mindset. This is not the last or only client in the world. Walking away from problem clients opens you up to attracting better, more positive and ideal ones.
  8. Never put all your eggs in one basket. A good rule of thumb is that no one client should make up more than 20% of your business and income.

What can you do to avoid this trap in your administrative support business?

  1. Sit down now and list the values, standards and principles that are important to you in life. The act of writing things down formalizes these standards and makes them more concrete and tangible. Continue to add to this list throughout the life of your business. Then devise your policies, protocols and procedures around these standards and values.
  2. Create ideal and unideal client profile lists. These lists, again, are extremely useful tools that help you formalize your intentions around choosing ideal clients and avoiding bad ones. As you go along in your business, use these lists to note those traits, behaviors, conditions, etc., that are and are not a fit for you. This will help you be more and more conscious about who you do and don’t want to work with. Any time you are tempted to ignore your standards and gut instincts, pull these lists out for a jolt back to reality.
  3. Always conduct a thorough, formal consultation with each and every client. Don’t take shortcuts with this process. It’s an incredibly important and useful step in helping you identify and choose the most ideal clients for you and your business. (And if you aren’t sure how to conduct a good consultation, you can get my complete, step-by-step guide that will show you exactly how to do it as well as beef up blind spots and make improvements to your existing process.)

You’ve heard some version of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, I’m sure. The bottom-line is this: A slippery eel is a slippery eel. Don’t let one sweet-talk you out of your better judgment.

How about you? Have you ever taken on or been tempted to take on a client you had reservations about? How did it turn out? How did you resolve to do better the next time around? What insights do you have to share with others on this topic?

2 Responses

  1. Nadja says:

    Can you please give suggestions on obtaining professional liability. Many companies are requiring this as part of the application process.

  2. Hi Nadja 🙂

    Can you describe a bit more for me about what you mean by “application process?” Because people running businesses don’t “apply” for anything. It sounds like you may be confusing telecommuting jobs with running a business. Do you think that is the case?

Leave a Reply

If you'd like your photo to appear next to your post, be sure to get your gravatar here.

Please copy the string gwsWSL to the field below: