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Why You Should Fire 80 Percent of Your Clients

Why You Should Fire 80 Percent of Your Clients

We’ve all got a few clients who make us want to tear our hair out — the ones who blow up your phone at three in the morning demanding revisions by tomorrow, those who keep pushing for deeper discounts, or those who openly tell you how to do your job. This article is definitely about why (and how) you should fire those clients, but they’re not the only ones who are holding you back. You’ve also got nice, respectful clients who just can’t afford to pay what you’re worth. This article is about a close friend of mine. He’s an entrepreneur who I will refer to as John. He’s the perfect sum of many entrepreneurs and business owners that I know.

Last year, John dumped almost every client in both of the categories that I listed above — 80 percent of his client base.

Since then, he’s made more money, built more satisfying client relationships, and had a lot more fun at work. This article is about why you need to fire those clients, and about how to use the newfound time you’ll have once you’ve fired them.

But first, let’s talk about why these clients are causing you problems.

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The problem

When John first launched his company, he took every client he could get. It didn’t matter to him how low the pay was, how tight the deadlines, or how extravagant the demands — he wanted a track record of good work so he could go out and score the clients he really wanted. In the beginning, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that approach. The problem is that, as we get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running a business, we lose sight of our longer-term goals and go crazy trying to make all our clients happy.

In certain cases, though, your happiness and the client’s happiness are mutually exclusive. Some clients think you’re outrageously overpriced, despite the fact that you’re undercutting most of your competitors, and will only be happy when you work for pennies. Others are convinced there’s no real skill involved in the work you do, and they could do it much better if they only had the time, so you should stop making such a big deal of it.

Some of your clients have told you these things outright. Others have strongly implied them. If you’re picking up vibes like these from any client, it’s time to put them in a box labeled “Box A: Definitely Fire.” Not only are they costing you money and time that’d be better spent working with clients who value your skill, but they’re also causing you stress, which is harming the quality of your work whether you realize it or not.

Aside from the clients in Box A, you’ve also got clients who aren’t actively pulling you down but are still dead weight. This isn’t always easy to see, which is why you’ll want to quantify the work you do for each of them. Grab a time tracking app and tally up the hours you put in for each client — not just working on projects, but (this is crucial) also chasing them down and communicating with them. Compare those hours to the amount they’re paying. Maybe they’re paying a flat rate or a lower fee structure from years ago. Maybe they pay fairly for the work, but not for the hours you put into chasing them down.

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Those clients need to go in a box labeled “Box B: Fire As Necessary.” They’re costing you money and time, but some of them may be worth the effort of a salvage operation.

Now let’s talk about how to handle each of these two groups.

The dump

The most important thing is to get the Box A clients out of your life as quickly as possible. They’re active drains on your resources, no matter how much they’re paying you.

Imagine John has got an absolute client from hell who pays a steady $500 every month but costs him $1,000 every month in anger therapy bills. Most client-related stress isn’t that simple to quantify, but the point remains: your success depends on the amount of creativity, positive energy, clearheadedness, and time you bring to every project, and any client who’s sapping an unfair share of those resources is chipping away at your bottom line.

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John fired his Box A clients (luckily he only had a few) as soon as he’d finished the latest stage of their projects and they’d paid for that work. There’s no point trying to satisfy these clients before you dump them because they’re never satisfied anyway. Don’t wait until they make you angry again, either — you’ll only say something you’ll regret.

Just send them a polite email as soon as they’ve paid, explaining that you’ve decided to focus on a specific subset of customers going forward, and this means you won’t be able to continue the relationship. All of that is perfectly true. You can leave it at that, or you can refer them to your competitors if you like. This will boost your professionalism in the client’s eyes and make them someone else’s problem.

However, John took a little more time to finesse the Box B clients. He sent them very polite emails explaining that he’d switched to a different fee structure, and while he deeply valued the relationship they’d built, it was time to focus on clients who’d pay the new fees. Would they be willing to make the switch? Most said no, of course. A few said yes. John referred some of the no’s to people he’d mentored, those trying to build up their client bases as he once was. At the very least, he asked all his Box B clients for referrals, which almost all of them gave freely.

Once that was done, it was time to upgrade John’s client list.

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The result

The first thing John did was lighten his workload for a couple days, just to get his creativity and positive energy back to normal. He stayed in close touch with the clients he’d kept, and for those couple days, he did something he’d always sworn he’d never do: John only worked on their projects at moments when inspiration struck and he could work passionately.

The quality of his work improved immediately. As he got back to his regular workload a few days later, referrals started to come in. His remaining clients had noticed the boost in quality and were sending John their friends. He emailed and Skyped with those friends and had a blast learning about their projects. He sent them bids that valued his time highly. Almost every single one of them accepted those bids.

Many of us falsely assume that firing a client will lead to an immediate dip in revenue. In other words, we assume there’s a linear relationship between clients, time, and money, and that the only sure way to make more money is to spend more time with more clients. You can see how false this is when you think back to your launch days. You spent a certain percentage of your time working for clients and, at the beginning, a much larger percentage of time crafting pitches, reaching out to leads, and cultivating relationships. This is exactly how you should use the time you free up when you dump your deadweight clients.

Nowadays, John’s client list is back up to about 50 percent of its original size — and every one of those clients is a person he genuinely enjoys working with. Every one of them pays him what he’s worth and treats him as an equal when they talk. John’s monthly income has nearly doubled for roughly the same number of work hours. He sleeps better, he works more happily, and he keeps bringing in the referrals.

This is why you should fire 80 percent of your clients. Not because they’re all evil, or because they’re all ripping you off, but because your worth is so much higher than they think. In the end, those deadweight clients are robbing you of your potential. Fire them, find better ones, and find out how high that potential goes.

Featured photo credit: Put’em Up by Dave Meier via picography.co

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

3. Go to All Office Networking Events

Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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4. Show Initiative

Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

7. Find a Mentor

With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

9. Set Your Professional Bar High

Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

The Bottom Line

Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

“Half of life is showing up.”

The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

Remember, your career is your business!

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Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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