I have always been worried about losing clients. Maybe it’s something ingrained in me from Business Education 10 (in high school): getting clients is good, and keeping clients is cheaper than finding new ones. We even wrote recently about building good client relationships. So when a client is on the verge of leaving because of pricing, scheduling, communication styles, or mistakes, my tendency is to do my very best to hang onto them. Early on in my years of running a business, I didn’t have much of a network for getting new projects, so I was especially fearful of my network shrinking.
These days, I try to do a better job of evaluating my relationship with clients from the first point of contact all the way through to project completion.
Unless you’re Coca-Cola or Amazon, every human on the planet is not your target market and not your ideal client. Hopefully you aren’t attempting to market yourself to everyone if you are running a small business. Figure out the attributes of the customers you like to work with and who find value in the work you do. To help bring your ideal client into focus, you should make a list of attributes that you appreciate about your favourite ones. Curtis McHale has a great post that dives into the ideal client even deeper. You want more of those right? When new leads come in, take the time to see how they compare against your best clients. Are these new clients (and projects) going to meet or exceed your existing clients or are they just going to make your life very unpleasant?
Hanging onto an unfavourable client can negatively affect all of your other projects and, in the worst case, ruin your business. When necessary, prune your client list and drop clients that are not working out. If clients lowball your price for a project and aren’t willing to budge, drop them. If clients disrespect you or your team, drop them. If clients demand you rearrange your schedule or processes for them (and that wasn’t part of your deal), drop them. I make it sound easy, but I know how difficult it can be to realize that a client you have invested so much time into is not good for your business and its long term goals. When you do say goodbye to a client it can bring a huge sigh of relief, and your stress levels may take a dive for the better.
Hopefully, you aren’t losing every client or firing all your clients because they “just aren’t working out”. If no clients are sticking around you may need to evaluate whether this is a you or them problem. It is possible that you are simply too picky or have issues with your business model. I wish I had a simple flowchart to help you decide when to keep or cut a client, but only you know your limitations and your stress threshold. Always exercise wisdom and intuition, and value your clients (just not at the expense of your sanity). If a client does not respect your business, respect it yourself by just letting them go. Be direct and honest with them and if they aren’t a terrible client (maybe they are just a lousy fit for you) you can refer them to someone else who may be able to take on their work.