To me, business is all about relationships, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have clients who feel the same way. I view my clients as true partners, and more than four years in, I'm more than happy with our approach and results.
The truth is, however, that not everyone I work with is someone I want to a build a long-term relationship with. Initially this reality was hard to grasp; after all, I tend get along with most people. I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t be everything to everyone, as cliché as it sounds, and you definitely can’t please everyone all the time.
When to terminate a client relationship
To discover if others felt the same way, I put the following question to my social media network: “when do you know it’s time to cut ties with a client?”
One of the first responses I received was from W. Brett Wilson. In under 140 characters, he tweeted that he “suspect(s) that issues of mutual respect and gaps in moral values (are the) key drivers to drop.”
Executive and leadership coach Aly Pain expanded on this idea in an e-mail: “when the values are not aligned, it is expensive in every way. The relationship will take up more time with most interactions feeling abrasive and emotionally taxing. It requires more money as those clients want more than they paid for, don’t pay or want a refund.”
On Facebook and Twitter, these insights were shared: “@thevirtualguy When the client started to affect my personal life, I fired them! They were shocked but I did the right thing for me. When the stress of dealing with them resulted in my wife telling me to take off for a week to de-stress, it was time.”
“I have had to fire many clients, many for living dishonest lives. I have taken backlash, but I want to earn my living with integrity...” offered Jonathan Macpherson, a financial Planner and consultant.
Realtor Suzanne Jarmics commented, “It all comes down to win-win. If the terms of agreement cannot be met there is no point in continuing on. Simple. Some people you cannot please, the more you try the less you win.”
And @collenbe offered perhaps the most obvious yet not yet stated: "Non-payment."
Trust your gut
The couple of times that I’ve called it quits with a client, I found myself saying to myself: “you knew this is what would happen.” There were always obvious red flags – whether it’s not seeing eye to eye, the use of certain language or strange neediness – that were usually accompanied by a strong gut feeling.
When asked about this, entrepreneur Kylie Lakevold Cawte says, “I have had situations where I have been too nice and then regretted it almost immediately. Didn’t listen to my gut when I should have. I’ve since gotten smarter and like to say that we are interviewing each other.”
Wedding director Mary Swaffield offered “I have fired a few, and inevitably it’s with clients whom I experienced “warning bells” with from the get go, but ignored my instincts. At the end of the day, it’s in their best interest as well as mine to work with someone that “fits”.”
The breaking point. How to handle it
What happens when you realize that no matter how you try to fix it, it just isn’t going to work out?
“Business owners need to have enough courage and compassion to initiate potentially difficult conversations with their clients. They cannot turn a blind eye or deaf ear to emerging problems. It’s too risky. Be straightforward and diplomatic. Focus on facts, not feelings, says Sue Jacques of The Civility CEO.
She also offers an acronym for anyone who’s about to sever a business relationship: “Q.U.I.T.”
- Q = Quality (demonstrate professionalism by taking the high road and choosing respectful words)
- U = Understanding (listen to the other person’s response, consider their point of view)
- I = Itemized (document the facts of your agreement in a follow-up email)
- T = Truthful (be honest and don’t beat around the bush).”
Moving forward, prevent it from happening again
In my initial quest for feedback from my social network, I was pointed to author Michael Port, who wrote the Red Velvet Rope Policy. It’s about working only with ideal clients, “the ones who energize and inspire you.” Mr. Port says we need to ask ourselves: “Would I rather spend my days working with incredibly amazing, exciting, super cool, awesome people who are both clients and friends, or spend one more agonizing, excruciating minute working with barely tolerable clients who suck the life out me?” The answer is obvious.
Tom Peters nails it on the head with this one: “This is your life. You are your clients. It is fair, sensible, and imperative to make these judgments. To dodge doing so shows a lack of integrity.”
I have and will continue to turn away clients if there are problems. At the end of the day, to me – the money isn’t worth much, if I don’t feel good making it. Be picky. Stand your ground. It’s worth it.