“I want to gouge my eyes out. Every time I see his name in my appointment book, that’s what I want to do. I just want to poke my own freakin’ eyes out.”
Amy was stabbing her salad with a fork, jamming it into her mouth, speaking between bites about a client she despised.
Her fork was making me nervous. But I asked the obvious question…
“Why don’t you let him go?”
Her answer was accompanied by a spray of chewed lettuce bits. “Because he’s like my biggest client! I can’t just ‘let him go’!”
I ignored the lettuce that landed on my wrist.
“Okay,” I said. “But is it possible you’re more pissed at yourself for how you got into this situation in the first place?”
“Huh-uh!” Amy said pointing her fork at me. “Don’t get all business coach-y on me. I had no idea this guy was a total misogynist! And you know it!”
“Got it,” I said. “So then, tell me where I’m wrong. You took him on without a system in place. You keep him because you’re scared. And you don’t have a plan for getting clients.”
Amy stopped. She took a deep breath and looked across the café at nothing. She’s smart, and she saw the truth in what I was saying.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I’m freaked. I need other clients. I need to not be working with someone who drains me. And I don’t know what to do.”
So, say you’re Amy. Maybe not the exact details. But close enough.
The options for knee-jerk reactions are limitless. You could go out and hustle as many new clients as possible, nevermind who they are. You could keep on dealing with this guy and remain trapped in blame and self-loathing. You could fire this client tomorrow and hurt yourself financially.
But the problem with knee-jerk reactions is that you don’t learn from them. There’s no stepping out of the pattern and pain long enough to examine what went wrong.
So, let’s start with some definitions.
First, what makes a bad client for you?
Get clear on what defines “non-ideal” for you so you can spot them instantly.
Here are some possible characteristics. The wrong client is anyone who:
- doesn’t do the work.
- bargains your price down or doesn’t pay on time.
- continually has to be convinced.
- verbally attacks, blames or abuses you.
- is needy and ignores boundaries and professionalism.
- doesn’t prepare for your calls and meetings.
- doesn’t have the money to implement the strategies you advise.
- wants a quick fix and doesn’t take the time to learn from your expertise.
How do you know you’re working with the wrong client?
Well, wanting to gouge your eyes out is your first clue.
Or dreading meetings with them. Or feeling drained by them.
Or if they make you cry.
In other words, your feelings are a huge barometer. Pay attention to them.
This isn’t to say that you won’t go through challenging patches with even your best clients. But those can be worked through and are temporary.
The non-ideal client continues to attack, push back or slack. You know the one I’m talking about.
And that brings us to the real issue here. It’s the issue behind any problem or challenge in your business…
Second: Why have you allowed any of it, why do you continue to tolerate it, and how did you end up in a situation where you’re desperate for clients?
The answer, typically, is fear. Plain old procrastinating, sabotaging, debilitating fear.
- Fear that you’re not enough yet.
- Fear that you’re being ungrateful. (Hey, you’re lucky to even have clients.)
- Fear that you’ll end up foraging through dumpsters for stale Krispy Kreme donuts.
- Fear that you’re being cocky, and who do you think you are getting all choosy and selective?
There are, of course, many ways to handle fear. But the worst option is to wait until you “get rid of it.” Fear has a mind of its own. And when you have a business, fear will keep you trapped in all kinds of bad situations. Do not wait.
Third, stop waiting until fear goes away. Start building a system now.
As panicked as you may be about your current situation and as little time as you have to create tedious systems, know this:
A system will prevent you from letting fear run your business. A system is a restraining order for that part of you that jumps headlong into, well, everything.
Let’s look at how your system could work to make sure you get ONLY ideal clients…
It takes clarity and a dose of courage to set your systems up to weed out non-ideal clients, but in the long run, it’s so worth it. You have to decide to step out of lizard brain long enough to build something, rather than just reacting to many things.
Step 1 – Know who your ideal client is.
Can’t stress this enough. You need to know (preferably in writing) everything about your ideal client. Don’t hold back. If this person needs to be making a certain amount of money in order to benefit from working with you, then state that clearly. If they have to have a company, a house, a family, a spouse, write it down. Get crystal clear. Take time with this.
Step 2 – Strategically price your services.
Do not look around to see other people’s prices and charge less than that. Do not charge by the hour. Do not let fear make you cheap.
Step 3 – Create a system – and use this six-word mantra often.
Quick. What’s the best answer to the question: “How much do you charge?”
No, it’s not sharing your price.
The answer is: “Well, here’s how I do things…”
And then, you share your client intake process, which involves several steps including some homework and required reading for your prospect before you even get on the phone.
Step 4 – Give homework to every prospect prior to their call.
Giving prospects homework before you have your first call with them will position you as someone who is selective and clear, right from the start.
What is homework? Reading and writing. Ask them to fill in a questionnaire, and give them some required reading (or listening) about who you are, the way you work, and the results you deliver.
Note: If they don’t do this work, they won’t do the work once they’re paying you! Also, it pre-qualifies them and weeds out the apathetic. (And the assholes.)
Step 5 – Clearly state who you don’t work with.
In all of your materials, share who is NOT an ideal client for you. The whiners will flee, criticizers will get offended, and people who don’t have the money will accuse you of being a jerk. That’s all good. In the words of Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Step 6 – Schedule a call. (Reschedule one time only.)
Schedule a call to discuss their questionnaire. Dig a little deeper to discover their needs and dreams before you share your packages and pricing.
If they do not show up for your initial call, or if they do not do the questionnaire, then reschedule one time only. Let them know that your policy is to only allow for one reschedule.
Does this work? Well, here’s the storybook ending…
It took Amy six months, but she fired her client. She did it after she built up her client pool using these exact steps. Not surprisingly, the guy offered to pay her more if she’d keep him. She said no. (Systems prevent knee-jerk reactions and the temptation to prostitute yourself.)
Now you, dear reader…
…if you could pick ONE of these steps to begin with, which one do you think would make the most impact for you right now?
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