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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 December 5, 2018

How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

Being an efficient manager and a charismatic boss at the same time can seem like an impossible task. Is there a way to deliver the desired results for your business while remaining liked and respected by your staff?

We all know bad examples of team leaders who seem to fail at one aspect or the other, or even at both. But we’ve also heard of awesome managers who seem to juggle both things well enough.

How do they do it?

By sticking to few proven ways that let them maintain a positive karma score while remaining efficient. In this article, we’ll guide you through 11 smart management tips on how to lead a team and become something more than a boss – a leader.

1. Find a Management Strategy and Stick to It

There’s nothing worse than a boss that keeps changing his or her opinions and assignments depending on their mood or a book they read this week. Chaotic decisions increase the insecurity and frustration of your team, so you better find your strategy and stick to it.

If you do find some new methods you want your staff to follow, make sure they don’t contradict the general direction you are taking. Otherwise, you risk making your team take one step forward and two steps back.

2. Set Goals​ and Track Progress in Reaching Them

Set individual and collective goals​ for your team and track the progress in reaching them. This might sound obvious at first, but too often we find ourselves stuck between daily customer requests and monthly reports, and the bigger goal or vision seems to fade away.

According to Elon Musk (and many other successful CEOs around the Globe), it’s crucial to have a clear and motivating aim to where the company is heading. His aim for the space transportation company SpaceX is “to make humankind a multi-planetary species”.[1] That’s a huge goal but the company is slowly moving closer to it by reaching smaller steps and milestones, like launching self-landing rockets. This is also a very inspiring and meaningful goal that helps employees endure the company’s extremely high expectations and 60 to 70-hour work weeks.[2]

Even if your goals are not as grand, setting and reaching milestones will give you a clear insight into the team’s overall efficiency and daily progress. With time, you will be able to see the weak spots and improve your results.​

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3. Demand Learning from Your Team

CEO of print on demand startup Printful, Davis Siksnans, believes that:[3]

“The key for a company going through rapid growth is to empower your employees’ self-development.”

His company with 500 employees spanning two continents demands a culture of learning and provides all the tools necessary to do it.

Their idea is –  as the company scales, people have to grow in their positions too, which means that they have to be constantly learning. Siksnans says:

“We try to hire people for what they might become, but they need to have that drive.“

Alternatively, you can provide educational courses for your employees or invite informal lecturers to educate and inspire your team. You can also encourage peer-to-peer learning by asking employees to teach their particular experience or skill to co-workers.

4. Invest in a Pleasant Work Environment

Studies show that a well-designed office environment can increase your team’s overall performance by as much as 20%. You’ll be surprised to see that even very small interior tweaks that don’t require major investments can improve your workers’ performance.

Some ideas for a more productive and pleasing work environment:

  • Invest in modern furniture – offer ergonomic chairs, standing desks, and individually arranged workplaces​.
  • Start an in-house library – reading for pleasure just 30 minutes a day is proven to be enough to become more effective at work,[4] improve focus, and deal with problems like depression and anxiety.​
  • Play jazzy office music – rhythmic background music will help workers feel more energetic and enthusiastic while doing everyday tasks.​
  • Set up entertainment or break rooms – being able to relax and have fun at work creates a strong commitment, helps employees relax and clear their minds, and boosts productivity.​
  • Bring in uplifting office decor – it’s been found that art in the workplace can boost productivity,[5] lower stress, and even encourage employees to innovate.​
  • Decorate the office with live plants for freshness and a welcoming feel. Furthermore, plants are found to ensure better air quality and increase workers’ productivity by 15%.[6]

5. Be Kind and Sincere to Your Team

Did you know that 50% of employees quit because they dislike working with their manager?[7] In fact, most times when people leave their jobs they actually leave their managers. Being friendly and sincere may not be enough to be a successful manager, but it’s a big part of it.

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Some ways to show you appreciate and care for your staff:

  • Celebrate the progress and achievements of your employees. And don’t be shy to simply say thanks.​
  • Talk to your employees regularly and really listen to what they have to say. Address their concerns, help them reach their goals and do your best to improve their work and daily life.
  • If you’re having a bad day, don’t pour out your stress and anger on the staff. Instead, try to recharge yourself by appreciating the achievements of your team and setting the next goals.
  • Try not to overload your team with work. Every company has rush periods when it’s okay to have more work than usual. But remember that people cannot work under prolonged pressure and stress.
  • Don’t be selfish – it can be very demotivating to see that the manager only focuses on what you can do for him and doesn’t care about your goals and well-being.​ As the CEO of Xerox Anne M. Mulcahy put it,[8]

    “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled.”

Whenever you are having doubts about your kind attitude, remember – satisfied employees are productive employees which lead to satisfied customers and eventually – success for your company.

6. Offer Flexible Work Hours

The traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job is beginning to slip away. Increasingly more people are working remotely or having flexible work hours, and we can expect this trend to continue. To adapt to these changing habits and remain competitive in the labor market, more employers are offering the chance to choose your own work hours, work from home or even from another city or country.

Offering flexible hours is a powerful way to inspire your existing staff and give them intrinsic motivation. Why not let your employees choose their preferred working hours while keeping the 8-hour day? For example, night owls are unhappy and unproductive if they have to come to work before 10 AM, while others might prefer to start at 7 and finish earlier.

You can go even farther and hire remote workers – this way you’ll be able to recruit from a global talent pool and even save money on office expenses like desks, stationery, electricity, etc.[9]

7. Track Your Team’s Productive Time

Not monitoring your employees’ progress and efficiency can result in poor performance and slacking. Instead of letting things go with the flow, you should consider installing time-tracking software on your employees’ computers and see who’s doing great and who might need a productivity boost.

But don’t get it wrong – there’s no need to become big brother and watch every step your employees take. If you use the time-tracker as a spying tool, you will only see increasing suspicion and insecurity around you, and your employees’ happiness levels will drop.

On the contrary, choose software that allows employees to mark private time that won’t be tracked. In addition, consider these time-management tactics:

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  • Allow flexible work hours. (see Tip No 6)
  • Encourage breaks – studies show that employees who take regular breaks are more productive than those who don’t.[10]
  • Enable remote work to show your employees that you trust them and that they can work from home or even from another country (if they can maintain sufficient productivity).
  • Consider offering bonuses to your most productive employees (those who show productivity levels above 90 or 95%).

8. Use Only Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism means offering valid and rational opinions about the work of others, involving both positive comments and remarks about what should be improved. Constructive criticism is usually expressed in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.

When you evaluate your team’s work, give them feedback that’s helpful, specific, and sincere. Don’t be shy to praise, but also be direct and even strict when necessary.

9. Don’t Give Special Treatment to Yourself

The boss’s actions are – directly or indirectly – observed by your team. This means that your employees look up to you and often mimic your attitude towards your work and the company – especially if your actions don’t show commitment. Nobody wants to work for a leader who doesn’t go all in or inspire motivation.

What you should do is lead by example. If you expect your employees to arrive at work on time and work 8 hours, do the same yourself. If you want them to show initiative, show it yourself and encourage others to do the same.

Jeff Weiner is the CEO of LinkedIn – a company of 3,000 employees that consistently ranks as one of the best workplaces with a 92 percent employee-approval rating.[11] Weiner’s workdays are reported to be equally long or even longer than those of his employees, allowing him to stay “extremely credible as a leader.”

10. Empower Your Employees

Here’s a common mistake many managers make:

They don’t motivate their staff and assume they simply love to work for their company.​ Such belief can result in painful losses for the company – especially these days when many companies are in desperate need of a reliable workforce.

Instead of directly thinking about bonuses and perks, consider intrinsic motivation. For example, enable flat organization in your team and listen to your employees’ ideas when they come up with opinions and suggestions. Your company might actually benefit a great deal from the feedback, and the unique ideas employees come up with.

You can also start an initiative where employees can freely share or pitch their business ideas to you or the founders of the company. If the idea is accepted by the management, the project can be developed, and the employee can have equity options.

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If people feel they have an impact in the company, they become more motivated, engaged and interested in the company’s growth.

11. Nurture Your Company Culture

Company culture is the personality of a company that defines the overall work environment and relationships between teammates. It also includes company mission, values, ethics, and goals.

Some examples of company cultures are the Horizontal corporate culture (collaborative and equal; popular among startups and free-spirited businesses) and Conventional corporate culture (a more risk-averse and hierarchy-based approach common in traditional companies).

However, you don’t have to stick to pre-existing boxes when creating your corporate culture. You might think of your team as a family, a sports team, or even a hippie camp if it fits your business and purpose. But keep in mind that by the time a company’s size reaches 20 employees, the company culture is set,[12] and any changes will need to be implemented in smaller teams.

Whichever personality you choose for your company, make sure to live by it and nurture it. Some things that might help:

Team building events, relevant books in your office library and proper on-boarding for the new employees to get everyone on the same page from the very beginning.

Be a Leader, Not a Boss

Using the words of Printful’s CEO Davis Siksnans, the ultimate goal is to “Hire great people who don’t have to be managed.”

However, when you do need to demonstrate some initiative and control, act as a leader rather than as a boss.

In other words, don’t be afraid to show the personality behind your role. And keep these 11 tips close to your heart.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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