Today’s conversation came from a thought I posted on our Administrative Consultants Facebook page:
Your “mistakes” are a necessary part of your business growth (and I use quotes because they aren’t really mistakes, they are learning experiences). You will take on a lot of what I like to call “practice” clients in the beginning. One thing, though, that has the ability to kill your spirit and morale—and possibly your business entirely—is continuing to work with a bad, unideal client. So, have standards around who is worthy and entitled and a fit to work with you. Choose clients thoughtfully, carefully and deliberately. Do your best to prequalify ideal clients (and weed out unideal one) before you ever begin working together with what knowledge and self-awareness you have at the moment. None of us is perfect or has a crystal ball and sometimes we take on a client who turns out to be not so great later. And sometimes we just outgrow some clients. Either way, never prolong a bad relationship, no matter how much you need the money because the psychological cost is far greater than you can afford. Let those clients go quickly and just feel the weight lifted off your shoulders and that of your business.
And what that means is, you do the best you can with what you have at the time.
You have much more business savvy today than when you first started. And you will continue to learn and grown every day. It’s impossible not to.
That doesn’t mean you won’t make some mistakes, have some missteps, do some second-guessing, and ignore your gut, red flags and the advice of others along the way.
These “mistakes” include clients we choose.
It’s a sure bet that the kind of clients you deem ideal in your business today are not at all the same as those you chose in the beginning. Heck, for most people new in business, any client is a good client.
But then they live and learn. They realize they are not a fit for everybody and not everybody is a fit for them. That’s the beginning of their inklings about standards and getting smarter and more self-aware about who they work best with. They learn through their experiences the kind of clients they want to avoid working with in the future.
In response to this post, Kellye Dash (who permitted me to share the convo with you) wanted to know this:
How do you terminate a client? That’s my challenge. I had a client that questioned every task, every minute billed. She had very little patience too. Every month, I found myself crediting time just to satisfy her. Every month! Yes, I know bad-bad-bad! I let it go on too long and, after several months, the client terminated me! It was not a good situation and I was very upset about it as I felt that I bent over backwards for her. I knew it was bad after about a month in, but felt tied. I wasn’t sure how to end the agreement already in progress in the best possible way. I struggle with how to avoid it from the very beginning. I always meet/speak with potential clients, assess their needs then follow up with the proposal/agreement. How do I decline servicing them if I can tell its a bad match?
So, what Kellye wanted to know wasn’t how to terminate clients, but rather how to avoid bad clients in the first place. And I’ll share with you what I shared with her:
- Have a consultation process. And I’m going to plug the ACA consultation guide here because it is the absolute best in our industry and will save you from a WORLD of hurt in the future. A consultation process isn’t just about the phone call itself. There are things that need to happen and be set in place before a client ever contacts you, as well as things that happen in the follow-up that make all the difference in the world in attracting and working with ideal clients and setting the tone for a successful relationship moving forward. My guide lays that blueprint out for you step-by-step, including how to follow-up and what to say in every kind of client scenario: the ideal client you want to work with, the maybe client, and the unideal client you determine is not a fit and don’t want to work with. Mind you, I don’t just tell you exactly what to do, I explain why these steps are in place so that you gain a really deep understanding and knowledge of this aspect of your business and client psychology.
- Get conscious about your business standards and formalize them in writing. This includes clearly outlining your business policies and procedures as they are an important aspect in communicating your standards and boundaries, working more easily with clients and facilitating a more successful relationship. If this is an area you struggle with, my Power Productivity and Biz Management guide can help you. In it, I share my own business policies and management techniques that not only allow me to take exquisite care of my clients, but that also allow me to actually live a very flexible and freedom-filled life (one that most people only pay lip service to, but aren’t actually doing).
- Market more like an attorney. It’s a sad fact, but most people in our industry market thesmelves like employees, not independent professionals in a certain expertise. This creates the very first disconnect and misalignment in expectations and understandings. You want clients who treat (and pay) you not only as a peer and administrative expert. Instead, because of your marketing message, you get clients who think you’re merely some sort of substitute employee and want to treat and pay you as such.
- Stop making your marketing message all about the money. Besides marketing like employees, the other thing people do in our industry that is causing them problems is making their value ALL about how little clients pay. Think about it. Go to just about any website in our industry and see what the message is. It’s all about how much cheaper they are than an employee, how much the client will save, freebies here, discounts there… Is it any wonder they attract nothing but nitpickers and penny-pinchers? Their own message TELLs clients to think that way. That marketing message is a cattle-call for every cheapskate and freebie seeker out there, the worst kind of clients to deal with. Your value is not in saving clients a dime. Your value is in how much they gain from working with you, how your work and your unique, personal approach improves their business and life and helps them grow and succeed. Talk about THOSE things. (And if you can’t think of anything more valuable about working with you except that you are cheap, then you need to go back to the drawing board.)
- Raise your rates! Remember: you are not your ideal client. Price your services according to what your business needs to be profitable and the ability of your IDEAL client to pay, not what you can afford to pay yourself. You can’t afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you. Not charging enough attracts all the worst clients. It is an immutable law of business: the higher you price, the better kind of clients you attract. This is because your pricing is also part of your marketing positioning. Cheap pricing you get cheap clients.
- Stop selling hours and instead price the overall solutions and results. When you use time as the measurement of performance (instead of results), you are training clients to focus on time and so they naturally end up nitpicking your hours. I’m going to point you to my Value-Based Pricing Guide because it is the only one in our industry that can truly teach you how to stop selling hours entirely and instead price and package your support based on value and expertise (the concept and adaptation of this methodology for our industry originated with me).
- Use your website as a tool for attracting and prequalifying ideal clients. Your website shouldn’t be just a pretty placemarker on the internet and it shouldn’t be parroting the same industry rhetoric that clients see on everyone else’s website. It should be working to support you in your standards, educating your prospects (to find more fit), setting expectations and understandings for a successful relationship, and prequalifying ideal clients (and avoiding unideal ones). When your site is set up properly for these purposes, you will attract more clients and better, more ideals ones at that. If this is an area you struggle with and your website just isn’t doing much for you, I recently released my proprietary web design blueprint and conversation system for building a website that actually works in our industry. It also includes a plug-n-play process for creating your own unique, compelling marketing message.
Now, all that is about how to avoid bad clients in the first place. But how about when you need to terminate a client? What do you say?
Well, if you use the ACA Retainer Agreement, there is language included that gives both you and the client the option to end the relationship with 20-30 days notice (you decide which).
If you decide that a client relationship is not working for you any longer for whatever reason and you want to end it, you simply exercise your option to terminate the relationship.
I have ended a few client relationships over the years and for me, I’ve found that being honest, to a degree, is the best approach.
What I mean by that is, maybe you absolutely can no longer stand or tolerate a client. Hey, it happens. You chose wrong, ignored red flags and then lived to regret your choice to take on a wrong client. Does that mean it’s a good idea to tell them exactly how you feel about them? Of course not. It wouldn’t serve you or them.
You don’t have to elaborate or go in-depth. Keep it professional and be heart-felt where/if you can.
There are lots of reasons why a client is no longer a fit, all of which are perfectly legitimate and can be framed in the nicest, most professional way.
For example, maybe they are growing in different directions in their business or you are making changes in yours and you can no longer support or accommodate their needs.
You can even just simply say (particularly if it’s a bad situation), “I feel we are no longer a fit for each other and I think the time has come to end our relationship. I will continue to support you for the next X days according to the terms of our contract.”
And you honor your end of the agreement, do what you can or are willing to do to be helpful and just let them (and all the angst) go. Quickly and cleanly.
Let me know how all this sits with you and any thoughts or questions that come up. I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments as this is a topic many people struggle with.