How (And Why) To Break Up With Clients
I had a wonderful call recently with my old roommate from college, who also happens to be a kickass entrepreneur and mom! Lindsay recently launched her own PR Firm, 9:2:9 PR, which handles "executed campaigns and enhanced brand visibility across fashion, fitness, beauty, red carpet + event, celebrity, content PR, consumer electronics, entertainment, sports, advertising, lifestyle, luxury, advertising, media trade, and travel verticals." Part of our discussion revolved around the pros and cons of dealing with high maintenance clients. The only pro we could come up with, really, was the money.
And to me, money is not enough to keep me jumping through hoops for a client. My own sanity and quality of life are major factors in how I make business decisions and the way I've chosen to brand my company. My conversation with Lindsay, however, got me thinking about some of the clients I've chosen to part ways with over the last few years. Gladly, there haven't been many. And as much as I struggled with the decision to "break up" with them at the time, in hindsight I have no regrets.
In talking to other entrepreneurs and small business owners, I've learned that this is not an uncommon practice--many businesses choose to part ways with clients who don't seem to jive with their mission. Building an intentional business means prioritizing your convictions over money. It's not always easy, but it is so worth it. And now that I have been running my business full-time for over 3 years, there are certain types of clients I can identify that don't align with the intention of my business:
The Inappropriate Client
This is the client who makes inappropriate jokes, has an "old-school" mentality about how business is done and generally makes women uncomfortable. I had an inappropriate client who ran a business with his wife and yelled at her in a meeting, which made me feel remarkably uncomfortable. Not only was it inappropriate to talk to her the way that he did, but to do it in front of me was mortifying. I left the meeting that afternoon with a bad taste in my mouth and knew in my gut that I was going to have to break up with this client. I finished out my last assignment with him and then recommended that we end our working relationship, telling him that I didn't think I was the best fit for his business' needs.
The Client With Unrealistic Expectations
I recently worked with another husband-wife team (I'm starting to see a pattern...) who had an immense sense of urgency when we would speak on the phone and then would disappear for a week (or more!) at a time. I would rush to complete what we had discussed only to have them go MIA for long stretches of time. When they finally would come back online, they were confused about why we weren't further along in the process, or why I couldn't hop on a Saturday afternoon call with them. I started to feel as though I was letting them down, but really, I was jumping through hoops to try to live up to their unrealistic expectations. I ended up sending them an email explaining that there is a process behind the way that I work and if they can't abide by the process (which prevents me from having to pull all-nighters or work weekends), then we would have to part ways. There was no love lost there.
The Client Who Wants Things For Free
When I first launched my business I was so worried about retaining clients, that I would let a lot of things regarding money slip through the cracks. I would lower my rates for clients who claimed they couldn't afford what I was charging; I would throw in select services for free; I wouldn't charge for phone calls. As my business and confidence both grew, I realized this was toxic to my business and my reputation. I know my worth and it's not my fault if a client does not understand that. I have had a few clients or potential clients tell me that they couldn't afford my services and unfortunately, I won't budge anymore. If they're not willing to pay for my expertise, or don't place value on my expertise, then they are not clients I want to work with!
Bringing Clarity To Communication
The way in which you communicate with your clients is just as essential to your emotional/mental well-being as it is to your bottom line. In my opinion, anyone who costs you more negative energy than positive is not someone worth working with. But then again, money isn't my main goal; personal satisfaction and achieving work/life balance are.
If you feel as though you might need a little help working through these often complicated situations with clients, consider hiring me as your coach. I'm happy to help you troubleshoot issues you're experiencing with your business, including the best way to break up with troubling clients.