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When it's time to fire a client or customer

One of the things that business owners dread most is the task of firing an employee.

There is another dread that is similar – the firing of a client or customer.

The matter of firing or letting go of a client or customer is a real issue faced by all business owners. I know this from first-hand experience. During 25 years of owning my own business, I fired clients and learned the strategic value of doing so.

In those 25 years of business, I realized that not every client was the right or ideal client for me, and I became much more strategic in prospecting for and selecting my clients.

During my business coaching endeavors, I continuously asked my clients, “What are you pretending not to know?” when it came to discussing clients or customers that they should fire.

I listened to story after story about how some of their clients or customers took up so much time and energy and they felt drained in serving them. They told me they were losing their enthusiasm for their business and they were not taking time to market their business, as they should.

They shared with me how angry and resentful they had become, and they even began wondering why they were in business.

So after listening to them, I asked again, “What are you pretending not to know?”

While ending a business relationship may be painful and not easy to do, the alternative of continuing this dysfunctional business relationship is not strategic or healthy at all. I coached my clients through these situations and can verify that after my clients committed to and then fired their dysfunctional client or customer, there was relief, peace and personal satisfaction about what they did.

I encouraged my clients to develop the profile of their ideal client or customer and to use that as a filter for prospective clients or customers in the future. That strategic action diminished the probability of doing business with a client or customer that they would have to later fire.

My experience led me to develop a list of 12 signals that will let you strategically know when it is time to fire the client or customer:

(1) You avoid contact with the client. You avoid taking phone calls or meeting with the client because you know it will make you angry or upset.

(2) Every invoice you submit is questioned in fine detail by your client, even though all billed items are legitimate and documented.

(3) Your client never pays his or her invoice on time and always has a complaint when you call to ask about a past due invoice.

(4) Your client is always operating in crisis or emergency mode and is constantly requesting unrealistic response times from you, and always waiting until the last minute to provide needed information and decisions to you.

(5) Your client has no respect for your time and is habitually late for meetings, cancels meetings at the last minute or without notice and/or forgets about meetings you have scheduled with the client.

(6) Your client is micromanaging and is an impediment to solving problems and resolving issues.

(7) Your client only works “in the business” and not “on the business” and refuses to let go of things and delegate to his or her team members.

(8) Your client exhibits aggressive and abusive behavior. No one needs to be tolerant of this behavior.

(9) Your client always wants you to reduce your fee, give additional services at no extra cost and/or produces little or no net profit.

(10) Your client is a chronic complainer and/or overly demanding. This is a no-win situation.

(11) Your client acts unethically. Ethics are non-negotiable.

(12) Your client deliberately lies or misleads you. Once the trust is broken, it is over.

Do you have any clients or customers that demonstrate any of the above behaviors? If yes, will you have the courage to take action or simply “let it pass?”

Your answers will help define how sustainable your business will be in the future.

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