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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 October 18, 2018

10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

When it comes to starting your own business and pursuing your dream of becoming an entrepreneur, it can be advantageous to go all in and embrace the flexibility of finally quitting your day job.

Keep in mind, though, that it takes a special kind of person to take the business world by storm: a person who has cultivated the key characteristics of entrepreneurial success.

People with these characteristics are likely to succeed, whereas people without them have difficulty moving forward with even the most brilliant business ideas.

These characteristics of an entrepreneur are so important that I’ve decided to cover all 10 of them in detail so that you can start your business with your best foot forward.

1. Successful Entrepreneurs Practice Discipline

Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline.

To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun.

Andrew Carnegie, one of the most financially successful Americans of all time, grew up working dull and difficult jobs in factories. Despite going to bed hungry some nights, he continued doing his best work. He was eventually hired by a railroad company and continued to move up the ladder until starting his own successful businesses. Carnegie is a fine example of an entrepreneur dedicated to discipline and hard work. He truly earned his dreams of prosperity and success.

When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there’s no short-term consequences for skipping out early.

Sure, if an entrepreneur plays hooky enough he knows that the business just won’t happen, but it’s very hard to convince someone that ‘just this once’ won’t hurt (and to keep ‘just this once’ from becoming a daily occurrence).

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2. Successful Entrepreneurs Keep Calm

Things go wrong when you run your own business.

Most entrepreneurs go through crises with their businesses — and more than a few wind up with outright failures on their hands. But when you’re responsible for a business, you have to be able to keep calm in any situation. Any other reaction — whether you lose your temper or get flustered — compounds the problem.

Instead, a good entrepreneur must have the ability to keep his cool in an emergency or crisis. It may not make the problem easier to solve, but it certainly won’t make it harder.

Honestly, losing your calm is a quick path to becoming the kind of person who gives up in the face of adversity. Instead giving in to frustration, remember classic entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin kept his calm as he experimented and tweaked his inventions again and again in pursuit of success. He didn’t give up during his many failures – he chose to innovate. You can choose innovation, too.

If an entrepreneur can handle failure without frustration or anger, s/he can move past it to find success.

3. Successful Entrepreneurs Pay Attention to Details

Restricting your attention to the big picture can be even more problematic than ‘sweating the small stuff.’

As an entrepreneur, unless venture capital has magically dropped out of the sky, a small expense can be a killer. It’s attention to detail that can make a small business successful when it has competition and it’s attention to detail that can keep costs down.

Attention to detail can be difficult to maintain — going over ledgers can be tedious even when you aren’t trying to pay close attention — but keeping your eye on a long-term vision is just asking for a problem to sneak in under a radar.

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After a business grows, an entrepreneur might be able to hire someone to worry about the details. In the beginning, though, only one person can take responsibility for the details.

Skeptical about the importance of details? Look no further than Howard Schultz, who grew a small coffee shop called Starbucks into one of the most globally successful coffee businesses in the world through his extreme attention to detail.

He is famous for taking all aspects of growing a business into account, paying attention not only to financially smart business decisions, but also focusing on socially responsible business decisions. Details can take you far.

4. Successful Entrepreneurs Embrace Risks

No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money s/he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business.

It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that without developing an ulcer, you have to have a good tolerance for risk.

You don’t need to channel your inner frat boy and take on absolutely stupid risks, but you need to know just how much you can afford to risk — and get a good idea of how likely you are to lose it. If the numbers make you uncomfortable, the risk is too great.

Embracing risks is essential for growth and additional success, as well. Walt Disney, for example, could have stayed comfortable with his advances in the film and animation industries, but decided to expand his brand with a new dream: a theme park that soared above the competition. Without taking this risk, the incredibly successful Disney theme park empire would never have come about.

An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.

5. Successful Entrepreneurs are Balanced

You can take any characteristic too far. There’s a point at which attention to detail can become obsession or calm can become unemotional response.

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As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to balance your characteristics, getting the most of them without going over the edge. But balance for an entrepreneur goes far beyond keeping your characteristics in check, though.

Just as an entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to keep them at work when necessary, they don’t have one to send them home when they’re done. If you are working for yourself, you have to decide how to balance your work and home life — and if you have a day job to add into the equation, balance just gets more complicated.

Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs out there, understands the importance of balance. Winfrey has a lot going on; she runs her own media kingdom, acts, produces films, publishes print, and more. In an interview with Fast Company,[1] she talks about her efforts to balance priorities and self care, saying that she must ask herself what is truly important in each limited day.

You may or may not have as much on your plate as Oprah, but learning how to balance whatever you have going on in life will certainly help you farther along down the road as you learn to be a great entrepreneur.

6. Successful Entrepreneurs are Passionate and Motivated

In order to develop any of the above characteristics, you must have a foundation of passion. Staying disciplined day after day during the building of your business takes unrivaled motivation.

Before you start any business, ask yourself if you can sustain true excitement about your idea during even the darkest days ahead of you. If the answer is yes, then good for you! Nurture your natural motivation by taking these action steps throughout your business journey:

  • Commit to making short and long-term goals. Check in with them often to stay on task.
  • Have a plan in place for the inevitable days when you feel discouraged. Make a list of things that will help keep you motivated and focused.
  • Share your ideas with trusted individuals who are just as excited as you are. They will help keep your enthusiasm rolling even when you are feeling down.

By being prepared for apathetic days and holding fast to your authentic passion, you can actually enjoy your journey to success.

7. Successful Entrepreneurs Adapt

Remember this one word: flexibility. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that change is not only a part of life, but also a part of the business world. Expect change and choose to adapt.

As a new entrepreneur, it will be tempting to cling to your original business plan with no exceptions, even if you notice it isn’t working. Good entrepreneurs know that it’s okay to make smart, informed changes in order to ensure efficiency.

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8. Successful Entrepreneurs are Marketing and Sales Experts

No matter what kind of business you are starting, a knowledge of marketing and sales will save you many headaches. A passion for creating a beautiful handmade lifestyle product is not enough to run a successful lifestyle brand; it is critical that you understand key business principles in addition to your natural skills or great product line.

Not sure how to start? Taking business courses is a great idea, but you can also easily brush up on sales and marketing through free online resources. Check out these 10 Sales Skills Everyone Should Master To Be Successful to begin now.

9. Successful Entrepreneurs Have Strong Money Management

Along with sales and marketing skills, money management is a very useful tool in the box of the entrepreneur. Understanding how to best manage your money can be the difference between early success and early failure in the business world.

If money management isn’t your strongest skill, prepare to hire a financial expert to help you with any tricky business that comes up. Financial guidance and knowledge is never a bad idea.

10. Successful Entrepreneurs Ask Questions and Continually Improve

Pride is a natural human quality, but it’s important to humbly conduct some constructive criticism every now and again on both yourself as a leader and your new business as a whole.

Assess how things are going and be willing to make positive changes if necessary. Here’re 15 ways to cultivate lifelong learning.

If you are always improving, then how can you ultimately fail?

The Bottom Line

Let me remind you of one important fact: the qualities of an entrepreneur listed here are not exclusively available to some people and elusive to others.

Although some people may have natural strengths and weaknesses, these qualities can be learned by anyone interested in taking up the entrepreneurial challenge. It might not be easy to change old habits, but it is absolutely possible to cultivate these characteristics in yourself.

Whether you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, with hard work, you can train yourself to develop the qualities that truly determine the entrepreneurial spirit and future success.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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