Why it makes sense to get rid of your clients (well, some of them…)


We’ve all been there. You wake up in the morning and your first thought is, “Oh, no,” (or words to that effect.) “I’m seeing X today.”

I used to have a client. Let’s call him Mike (because curiously, that was his name.) I saw Mike about once every three months. He’d face me across the desk and I’d feel the will to live draining out of me. Mike was the corporate equivalent of a dementor. And, of course, I couldn’t get rid of Mike – he was a client of the company I worked for (and in fairness, not a bad one.) It just took me about two days to recover after every meeting.

In the end I came to my senses and every time I had an appointment with Mike I scheduled one with Pete immediately afterwards. Pete was the complete opposite: positive, forward-looking, bursting with ideas. If Mike was the dementor, Pete was the bar of chocolate – and made sure I finished the day on a high.

Chances are, we all have a ‘Mike’ (or more than one) in our client bank. So why don’t we get rid of him – or them? After all, you can’t go much higher in the business guru hierarchy than Tom Peters, and that’s specifically what he recommends. In Reinventing Work: The Professional Service Firm 50 Peters challenges us to “dump our dud clients.”

But getting rid of any client is a hard thing to do – especially in these tough economic times – and it takes a lot of courage. Interestingly though, I’ve never come across a company that’s undertaken such a pruning process and regretted it – and three months down the line, nearly all of them said that they had more than made up any lost income.

But why not go one step further? Why not take some time out and write down the qualities you want in an ideal client? Define the clients you’d really like to work with – and then make it a rule that you’ll only work with that type of client in the future. To give you an idea, here are some of the qualities I look for in my ideal clients:

• They take responsibility for their own actions – if something goes wrong, they don’t look to blame other people.
• They’re honest and trustworthy
• They care about their family
• They’re ambitious, they work hard – but they know that there are other things besides work as well
• They’ve got an open mind
• They give of themselves
• They leave me feeling positive and energized
• They can take criticism – providing it’s constructive criticism
• They don’t procrastinate – they can make a decision, even if it’s not the one I want to hear
• And I can learn something from them

This idea of only working with clients who really add something to your life is something I’ll be bringing up at future TAB meetings – but for now, let me leave you with one more thought from Tom Peters:

This is your life. You are your clients. It is fair, sensible and imperative to make these judgements. To dodge doing so shows a lack of integrity.

I’ll leave it with you until next week…when mercifully, no-one else is getting married and the blog will return to its normal Friday morning slot.

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7 comments

  1. Jo Clarkson · April 28, 2011

    As my ‘client’ I’d say you meet all your own criteria – congratulations! And interestingly in my previous corporate life (very previous..!) we went throught the same exercise and our criteria were –
    – appreciates what we do
    – recommends us to other people
    – pays us on time!
    Short and sweet but it did the trick in helping us to decide the ones we wanted and the ones we didn’t!
    Have a great weekend yourself (and don’t get arrested on the prom!!)

    • edreidyork · April 28, 2011

      Good additions to my list Jo – particularly the last one!!

  2. Nicky Somers · April 28, 2011

    Really enjoyed reading this post and I couldn’t agree more. I think, especially if you’re a start up business, it can be quite hard to follow your instincts and not take on clients who are not a good fit but from experience taking on the wrong clients and not following your gut instincts is always a mistake.

    You can be so much more productive if you’re only working with clients who meet your criteria and I think your list with the addition of Jo’s three points is great.

    • edreidyork · April 28, 2011

      Hi Nicky – very difficult at the start to be picky about your clients, but still the right thing to do! Great comments thanks

  3. Dave Rawlings · April 28, 2011

    Everything’s easier with some rapport – which is another name for gut instinct. You’re more likely to give good service to people you hit it off with and they’re more likely to appreciate your efforts.
    So I suppose it’s best to be up front about your feelings – like Basil Fawlty’s advert for the Gourmet Dinner that specified “No riff-raff!”

    • edreidyork · April 28, 2011

      Dave – congratulations on providing the first ever reference to Fawlty Towers in my blog – quite some achievement!!

  4. Andy Gambles · April 29, 2011

    Some clients do not realise they are being awkward or causing you problems. Sometimes it can be the case of an open and frank discussion about how they can improve.

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