How to identify an ill-fitting client, and how to move forward.
Every service business that delivers a great experience will find itself with a select few customers that stand out from the rest—but perhaps not for good reason.
You spend years refining and differentiating your offerings, building a phenomenal team and developing a workflow that allows your brand to deliver on its promise. And most clients are fantastic to work with. They understand that you have the expertise they need; they adhere to your process; they’re considerate of your time; they appreciate your hard work; and they even pay their invoices right on time. It’s because the relationship is rooted in mutual respect and ongoing benefit that they’ll stick with you for years.
When a client doesn’t fit, however, the repercussions are far beyond monetary.
Team members can become frustrated. Passion can be derailed. Cash flow can be impacted. Too much time and emotional energy can be spent discussing how to handle clients who are callous, don’t communicate well—or worse, are demeaning to staff.
Identifying a client with “deal breaker traits” early on is key. And for every service provider, those characteristics will likely differ.
For us, clients that micromanage every aspect of our work are not the right fit because that behavior undermines our value proposition. Clients that don’t respect (or flat out refuse to adhere to) the agile project management process we have in place are not the right fit. By not allowing us to do our job in the most efficient and effective way possible, timelines can become unnecessarily compressed or extended. Profitability is prohibited and morale suffers.
Imagine identifying red flags before the ink has dried on the contract. Is that even possible—when human nature is to make a good first impression? Try this: Adding a few tell tale questions to your intake process may weed out your deal breakers. Be honest and transparent about your workflow and expectations, then ask prospects if they foresee any conflicts with how they typically work. You’ll glean a lot from their response. If you don’t have a clear sense, dig deeper.
If an existing client presents as a deal breaker at some point after the engagement begins, honesty is the best policy here as well. Remind the client what your expectations were from the onset—and that your systems are in place to ensure their success. Be polite and professional, and simply explain that you are no longer the right fit for them. Provide a transition timeline and a list of what they can expect between now and then, and then deliver on it.
Ending any relationship is hard but everyone ends up in a better place. It’s important to note that an ill-fitting client does not translate into a bad person. Business is business—don’t make the parting of ways personal.
The positive impact on your business will be palpable. Your team will be happier, more productive, more profitable, and you’ll have the energy to bring in new clients who value your offerings and respect your people. And isn’t that really what business is all about?
Have you found freedom and growth in trading deal breaker clients for their fantastic counterparts? We’d love to hear your story or tips below!