Firing Toxic Clients Is Good Business
His name was William and he was the client from the gates of hell. My staff cringed at the mention of his name, then disappeared on coffee runs and personal errands when he visited the office. He wasn’t our largest client, but he spent enough with us where he believed he had the power to be a bully.
He fired off unreasonable demands an hour after we closed, he would hammer his assigned reps when they were on vacation asking for unnecessary work that could have waited until they returned, and his office visits were ongoing struggles to be nice to a person who was petty and mean to us.
Our business was a startup just hitting eighteen months. We were beyond the daily fear of death by financial distress, but we were still a year away from where we knew we would be.
We couldn’t afford to lose clients, but in the end, we couldn’t afford to keep William. The final line to be crossed was his sexual harassment of one of our reps. Demands for Starbucks runs were a common courtesy we were happy to extend to him and every client, but harassing one of our people was the end, but not atypical for a bully.
I called William personally, let him know he was no longer a client, and my only regret was I didn’t have the experience and courage to get rid of him sooner. My team threw an impromptu Friday afternoon party celebrating his demise, and as they drank beers while telling their own versions of a personal William horror story, I became embarrassed realizing I put money over the sanity and safety of my people.
Toxic clients damage your business. Yes, the client pays, but at what true cost to you and your business? There has to be that line drawn where the client’s money becomes secondary to the toxic atmosphere he creates
Every small business has clients that are needy, who demand your attention at their command, who text you when you are at home, or on vacation, just to make you jump. Many of these push their power but are harmless except for the inconvenience.
New small business owners struggle to deal with this type of client. On one hand, the client pays, but on the other, the client drains a disproportionate amount of resources to keep him as a client.
Some clients, however, such as William, exploit the power they have over you, and your business, then they use this power to demand attention and work beyond what they really pay to be that client.
creaThis client believes that he, as the client, gifts you with his money, and you, as the business owner, will now be under his power beyond our client/business relationship.
Your mental time wasted on agonizing how to make this client happy, who will never be happy, costs you creative time, management time, and time that should have been spent on the clients that do appreciate your work.
Anyone who has spent an hour in business has heard the 80/20 Rule explained until it is meaningless. Simply stated, this rule says eighty percent of the success of your business comes from twenty percent of the clients, and we should value those clients above all others in your business.
But the reality of owning your own small business is we put too much effort in clients that demand the most of our attention; often at the price of ignoring good clients that pay but don’t demand anything beyond the services they buy.
The harsh truth in small business is eighty percent of the pain of having your own business comes from a small percentage of your clients who are toxic beyond their worth
Here is the game. You have one hundred clients. You have to get them across this dangerous field, or they die. Only you can save them.
-Twenty of your clients are out front dashing happily across the field. They love you and are happy to be doing business with a company that gets it done.
-Sixty are in the middle, muddling along as usual, just excited to be there. These are solid clients who need little attention, but who always seem to be there spending some money with you.
-Twenty are way behind the others, bitching about their service with your company, complaining about you and your staff, their own personal problems, and why they need you to always treat them special.
This last group needs you to know who the boss is, and who pays your bills. As a group, they are draining your very soul every business day just keeping them moving.
The rear twenty is where every small business owner gets trapped.
The rear twenty are the black holes of your universe, sucking the air, light and energy out of everything around them, and returning nothing but cold darkness.
The rear demands attention, and the more they complain, the more attention they get until they eventually squeeze everyone else out of their world. The more you give, the more they want, and there never, ever, will be enough for this type of client.
Run up front and thank that group, your best, but under-appreciated clients, for not bitching, not complaining, and for supporting your business and you for so long, then run back to that mess in the back and encourage the rear group to try another company, explaining you just don’t have what it takes to ever make a client with their needs happy.
You, nor any small business owner, has the energy and resources needed year-after-year to save them all; so put everything you have into the ones who get you, want to be with you, and understand endless complaining does nothing but irritate your entire team, and as of today, you simply don’t have the time for their eternal nonsense.
When you dread going into your own business, because you fear dealing with “that client,” you already know the solution to the problem…. fire the client.
If you dread working with a client, and the thought of the next meeting with that person is already costing you sleep and creativity, fire that client.
If you have a client that is a pain in the ass to work with no matter how good the work you give him is, fire that client.
If you have a chronically late client, fire that client.
If you have a sexual harasser client, the groper, the creepy hugger, respect yourself and your staff and fire that client.
If you have repeated trouble collecting money from a client, fire that client.
If the client is disrespectful to your team, fire that client.
If the client can’t stop bad mouthing the other clients, then fire that client.
Your personal integrity, and the integrity of your business, is worth more than any pain-in-the-ass, always late, always wanting special treatment, bad mouthing client ever will be
Losing a paying client is painful, but what does it really cost you to keep this client over time? How much money is lost in your business because a few negative clients drain the resources you should be putting into your best clients?
Firing toxic clients is good business, a lesson often learned late by small business owners who fight so hard to get the clients they need to survive; but you will learn that business often gets immediately better when the worst of your clients are sent home.
Firing Toxic Clients Is Good Business
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