It was an interesting week last week. I find that with each contract, and each client I learn. I learn more about myself and more about what kind of clients I not only want, but like. But can you fire a client? Should you consider that they are not the kind of person or company that you want to align yourself with? Is it possible that having clients who are disjointed from your main objectives actually hurt your growth, or maybe your progress?
I met with someone last week that had just fired one of his clients. He said it just wasn’t someone they wanted to do business with, or for, anymore. I was impressed. It takes courage to fire a client. I mean, you have to be pretty sure that the roll-off effect won’t matter that much because your side of the road is clean, and tidy. So if they speak poorly about the ‘firing’ or misrepresent the facts, you have to be confident that your reputation and what people know about you will hold through this potential storm.
I like to hear about companies that don’t take any and every client. I like that because it tells me two things – one; they know who they are and who they want to work with, two; they are confident. Confident in what service they provide, and confident in the right kind of client that suits that service. I also think this frees them up mentally and emotionally to be the best kind of service provider the ‘right’ kind of client.
I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to anticipate what my clients want or need. And even more time finessing the language in which to tell them the truth about those wants and needs, even if that truth may get me fired. It can be exhausting. Which speaks to my point about the right kind of client. Would choosing a ‘righter’ client make the analysis and communication easier? I am not sure.
Instead, I wonder if the maturity of the client in concert with their level of confidence is what creates a more bump free communication. For example, your client asks your opinion, because they have hired you for your opinion, but they don’t like your opinion. They don’t agree with it because it is not what they want to hear. So, is your client mature enough to put their wants in check and really hear the advice, assuming good advice, you are providing? Are they confident enough to see that truth you tell, which they didn’t want to hear, might actually be a good thing? Might actually be the best kind of service they could buy? In other words, can they distance themselves enough from their ego to consider your good advice? I think that is a key feature of a positive client relationship. I also think that maturity and confidence builds a foundation of respect. And if your client doesn’t respect you, none of it will be easy, or fun, or gratifying, or worth the price of admission.
I also understand, and have been in the position, where you accept clients that might be less than optimal because you are just starting out. And I have even weighed the pain of the relationship against the potential gain of the completed project before solidifying relationships. Sometimes I won, sometimes I did not win.
Overall, the goal in any company is to provide a service or a product that people want, and they want it because it fills a need for them, or solves a problem for them. In the same way caveat emptor says buyer beware, I think providers need to beware. Ideally, you do not feel inferior because someone wants your help, and you also, do not feel superior because you can help. It is about balance. If you can work with people who respect you and your opinions, your service or your product, then things like fee discussions, timeline issues, or hard to hear information becomes much more palatable.
So, in short, look for respectful, confident, mature clients (regardless of age), not necessarily mature businesses, just mature business people.
At any rate, it has caused me to think about my own approach to client management and sourcing work, and if I would have the wherewithal to fire a client. The jury is out.