Saturday, June 2, 2012

These Boots Are Made for Walkin': 5 Clients You Need to Fire ASAP

Several years ago, when I was just starting my own business, I attended a professional development conference for marketing and communications consultants held here in Baltimore. I don't remember much about that day, but I'll never forget being flabbergasted by a session panelist who had the nerve! the audacity! the gall! to say he had fired clients.

Before I knew it, my hand was in the air.

"Excuse me. I'm sorry. Did I hear that correctly? Did you just say that you FIRED clients!? Why? How? Why?!!!"

Looking back, I'm sure that the more seasoned entrepreneurs in the room were probably snickering at my naiveté. ("Boy, SHE has a lot to learn!")

But at that point in time, I was so worried about whether or not I'd be able to find enough clients to pay my bills, I could hardly imagine ever firing one of them. Sure enough however, years later I've learned not only why you might want to fire a client, but why it sometimes makes good business sense as well.

So, since time is money and life is short, here's a list of five client types that the rich, smart, happy business owner should fire ASAP... and just in time for the New Year too!

1. The Cheapskate. You know the type. It's the client who thinks your rates are too high... or that should only take 10 minutes to crank out a brilliant deliverable... or that all that time on the phone should be free. The problem isn't so much that they're cheap-well, okay, they're that too-but it's really that they don't value the service or product you are providing.Self-confidence will go a long way in helping you avoid the cheapskate from day one. (If you don't value your worth, why should they?) Focus discussions on the benefits you deliver-not on the deliverables themselves. Believe in yourself and the value your product or service provides. Never apologize for your pricing. Charge what you know you are worth and don't be shy about asking for payment. In fact, it's a good idea to charge for your services up front.

If your client still doesn't "get it," it's best to wait until a better client comes along who appreciates what you do and the value you bring to their business or life.

(By the way, if charging what you're worth is something you struggle with, you might want to check out the "How to Charge What You're Worth and Get It!" program from Kendall Summerhawk.)

2. Mr. Know-it-All. These clients should be required by law to fully disclose their propensity for their own opinion. Granted, all clients should have an idea of what they like and what they don't like. The problem comes in when they refuse to take any (or all) of your advice or guidance whatsoever. Not only do they leave you asking yourself, "Why did they bother to hire me?" but they sap your creative energy and motivation too.The even bigger risk, however, in them not acting on your guidance is that the client won't see results and may end of blaming you for it in the end. That can turn into all sorts of mess, like them bad-mouthing you or even refusing to pay. Who needs that type of negative energy?But before you give these clients the a pink slip, try salvaging the relationship by making an effort to explain that you won't be able to help them achieve their goals unless they are willing to implement at least a few of your recommendations. If they're still unreceptive, it's time to cut them loose.

Even better, before you take clients on in the future, invest the time to make sure it will be a good match.

3. Gawdelpus. Sitting at the opposite end of the table of Mr. Know-it-All is Gawdelpus, the helpless the client. This is the client that can't make even a simple decision on his or her own, brings nothing to the process and is paralyzed by indecision and fear. There's a great saying in the PR profession that you're only as good as your client and it couldn't be more true.The risk to you in this scenario is two-fold. First, the client bears no ownership over decisions. However, ultimately decisions must rest with the client-after all, it is THEIR business and life. Second, indecision inevitably leads to going in circles, which will create frustration on your part.Avoid making final decisions on behalf of your client. Be clear that you are providing a recommendation based on your experience and expertise. Be clear on both the pros and cons to each option and then make it clear that the final decision rests with them. If they still don't take ownership then it's time to walk away.

4. Chicken Little. Sure, we're all busy and unexpected things do come up... sometimes. But this client runs around as though the sky really is falling, disaster is imminent, and every project is AN EMERGENCY!!!!The inappropriate turn around times of these folks are ridiculous. At first it may feel rewarding-like a badge of honor-to help a client by coming through in an emergency. And when it's truly urgent or unexpected, coming through in times like these is a great way to build trust and establish yourself as the "go to person" for your client. But when every interaction is a fire drill-especially if their requests negatively affect the work you are doing for other clients-then you have to recognize that this client is actually hurting your business.Remember: Lack of planning on their part does NOT constitute an emergency on your part. Learn to say "no" and do not apologize for it. If you do decide to take on an urgent project, set a higher rate for your added stress. Most importantly, set realistic expectations about what you can and cannot deliver-and clearly communicate that the risk ultimately lies with THEM, not you.

5. Mrs. High-Maintenance. Clients can fall into this category for a number of reasons. Some require much more attention than what is reasonable-or what you've budgeted for in your rates. Other high-maintenance clients suck your mental and creative energy and you might not even know why.In either case, this client is usually your least profitable. If you aren't able to fix the problem by having a candid conversation about realistic expectations and/or by charging more, then it's time to call it quits.

The bottom line is this: If you can't make your client happy without making yourself crazy or, more importantly, without making yourself unprofitable, then it's time to move on. Before you do, make sure you gather your courage and collect your thoughts.

Here's what to do:

Throw on some great, motivational music like Nancy Sinatra's, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'".

Type out your talking points.

Practice the conversation with someone you trust.

Don't procrastinate. The longer you wait, the more stress it will cause.

Stick to your key points.

Don't apologize, but be understanding and professional.

Don't waffle. If you've reached this point, it's for a very good reason. Stick to your guns.

Don't look back.

Treat yourself to a martini. You deserve it.

by Angelique Rewers, ABC, APR
Richer. Smarter. Happier.

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