Navigating the sometimes stormy seas of client relationships
For many entrepreneurs, we think we need every business opportunity that comes our way, but unprofitable or exhausting business relationships can detract you from finding quality clients. In fact, we mistakenly see some clients as a life preserver – when they’re actually the iceberg that can take us down. Even in our tumultuous economic climate, ending a business relationship might be the smartest thing you can do you for your business.
I take my client relationships very seriously, always striving to exceed expectations. I’ve had astounding success with some clients while others see that nurturing as an opportunity to find ways to pack more into the bargain. And I get it. We all work hard for our money and we want it to stretch as far as possible. Part of my job (as a service provider) is to help my clients see the value of the deliverables and explain why certain activates are outside the scope of our agreement.
When a client relationship fails, we’re both accountable. And truthfully, it’s rarely one incident that brings the ship down. It’s a series of small communication break-downs along the way.
Navigating around ship-sinking icebergs
Setting clear guidelines before embarking on a journey together can help eliminate potential future problems. One of my fellow entrepreneurs begins every client relationship with a 30-day dating period to help them sort out their relationship. Sometimes it’s a good fit, sometimes the warning signals are too big to ignore.
Communication is often the biggest roadblock for many business relationships. Some clients like to be in touch hourly but others are happy with a weekly check-in. Some prefer to have an open-phone policy and others will want an email to schedule phone conversations. Discuss your communication styles at the outset so you’re both clear on the rules of engagement.
When communication does break down, bitching to (or about your client) is both unprofessional and juvenile.
- Talk to you client directly and explain why you’re struggling.
- Extract your emotions and deal with the business issues.
- Ask if there’s a way you can solve this together to prevent the conversation from moving into an offensive/defensive situation.
Saying goodbye, professionally and respectfully
If the relationship continues to drain your resources and communication issues begin to cloud your client’s happiness with the final product, quantify the cost of continuing the relationship. Is the amount of extra, unbilled work costing you money? Does your staff feel as though they’re in in the line of fire every time a deliverable is submitted? Is the stress of working with the client seeping over to your personal life? Is it affecting your sleep or personal relationships?
If you’re seeing yourself in these questions, it’s time to plan your exit strategy. Use these tips to keep it clean and professional.
- Timing – If at all possible, try to wrap things up at the end of a pay cycle so you don’t have to worry about being paid for work you’ve already done.
- Don’t be coy – Clearly explain that you’re ending the relationship. Remind them of the terms of your contract and remove any insinuation that you’re negotiating for more money.
- Keep it professional – If the relationship is already tumultuous, it might be hard to keep emotions out of the conversation. Do your best to be overly nice and helpful to steer clear of a “he said, she said’” debate.
- Offer a referral – Sometimes it’s a personality issue and a problem client for you might be a dream client for someone else. Just be sure to be honest about your relationship with the client to your fellow entrepreneur.
- Stay positive – Every client offers a learning experience.
Remember that dealing with a wrong-for-you-client prevents you from finding the right-for-you-clients. Showing those energy-sucking, resource-draining clients the door might be the best thing you can do for your business – and your mental health.
Twitter-sourcing for firing your worst client
One of the things I love about social media is the ability to get advice and guidance on a myriad of topics – almost instantly. Here’s what some of my friends on Twitter had to say about firing clients…
@CrochetLibFront ~ There are those who will agree to x services & then ask for “one little thing” except “one little thing” x 20 = big thing. I keep to restating the agreement, and communicate what has been met. If they want more than agreed to I offer to negotiate a new agreement. It taught me to be very clear and never tell a client something is easy for you…
@jpippert ~ I know people who do this as an exercise every new year and they say they continue it because it’s a good move. Get rid of dragging to make space to do better for good clients & find new good clients.
@kmcdougall ~ Without fail other doors immediately open. And it is scary to say no to business, even if it is bad business or work that costs more than it’s worth. It is a business decision and not emotional. If the fit or timing isn’t good, you’re doing everyone a favour
@ShannonKad ~ My business is about helping people & achieving results. I’d risk losing money & a client any day over losing my mind! It’s never easy to turn people away…but a few times, after the firing, the client actually comes back ready & willing.
@bucketlistadv ~ We have suggested a client book elsewhere. For the integrity of our reputation, we knew it was the only choice as these clients would never be satisfied and cost us.
@marclefton ~ I had a positive experience with it in 2013, it really allowed me to get “new from old” from my better clients. The end of time suck/negativity some clients bring renews focus on the clients who deserve more attention and ideas.
Emma Lee Arsenault ~ I’ve walked out on a consultation before. The husband kept rolling his eyes and was showing me absolute disrespect. I told him I was there to help them and would appreciate some respect and left. I didn’t get down the block in my car when they called back and I completed the consultation
Dawn Faverty Lancaster ~ We are a very concierge-minded business. So the idea of saying “NO” was remarkably foreign to me. The client was very angry at me at the time even though I delivered the news kindly. Even though I felt anxious saying “NO” to a client in the end I felt empowered by standing up. The action has strengthened me and also created an even deeper trust from our staff; they know that yes, our mission is “5 Star Client Care” but I’m not going to compromise them as people nor allow any client or vendor to abuse them in any way.