How to Get Better Clients - Christine Kane

Andy sighed.   He said, “It’s like every time I see a call with this person on my schedule, I just want to gouge my eyes out.”

Andy was in the process of discovering a crucial business truth:

No amount of money is worth taking on a non-ideal client.

And yet, some business owners still do it.  Why?

Fear mostly.   Fear that you’re lucky to even have clients. Fear that all your clients will go away and leave you with nothing and who do you think you are getting all high and mighty and being selective?

In short, it’s just lack mentality playing tricks on you.

The truth is that you ultimately serve no one if you don’t set your business up to serve you, too.  The more non-ideal clients you take on, the less you can fully serve your great clients because you’re so drained.

You really can make your business exactly what you want. You get to define who you want to work with and who you don’t want to work with.

So, what is a non-ideal client anyway?

A non-ideal client is not the same for everyone. It depends on the product or service you provide in your business. But here are some general traits to consider…

Someone who doesn’t do the work.

Someone who continually has to be convinced.

Someone who doesn’t prepare.

Someone who whines, gossips, or criticizes.

Someone who doesn’t have the money to implement your ideas.


How do you know when you’re working with a non-ideal client?

Well, wanting to “gouge your eyes” out is a pretty big clue. 🙂

But typically, you dread calls or meetings with this client.  You feel drained by 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 is one that just continues to attack, push back or slack.  You know the ones I’m talking about!

So, how do you get better clients for your business?

Once Andy and I created an action plan for dealing with his current client, I shared a plan for how to get better clients and filter out the non-ideal clients right from the start. 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.

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.  Get crystal clear.

2 – Set up a system for prospects to follow.

Quick. What’s the best answer to the question: How much do you charge?

No, it’s not your hourly rate.  (And you shouldn’t be charging per hour anyway!)

The answer is: “Well, here’s how I do things…”

And you outline your client intake process, which involves several steps including some homework and required reading.

3 – Homework and required reading.

Position yourself as someone who is selective and clear, right from the start.  Prior to discussing your services, give your prospects homework to do.  Ask them to fill in a questionnaire, and give them some required reading (or listening) about who you are and the results you deliver.

Note: If they don’t do this work, then you know they probably won’t do the work once they’re paying you!

4 – Reschedule one time only.

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 gently (but firmly) that your policy is to only allow for one reschedule.

5 – Clearly state who you don’t work with.

Most of your prospects will appreciate hearing you speak clearly about who should NOT hire you. In all of your materials and during your initial meeting, 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 an asshole.  You will let them have these opinions. And you will be grateful because ultimately you are serving them as you Uplevel your business.

Your turn, peeps!

In the comments, share with us how you know if a client is not an ideal client for you! What breakthroughs have you had in this area?

  • Nick

    In looking for answers to why my business is struggling, large in part due to my being to generous to my clients, and the types of “user” clients that I have in my Interior Design business. I am looking for answers to the age old question how to I attract better clients. You have some great points…
    a question if I may…
    You say raise your prices… No longer charge hourly a concept I have been contemplating for a long time. How do I do this with old clients that I have always charged hourly?
    Any advice would be great…

  • Barbara Saunders

    My educated guess as to why this one is so hard: It’s diametrically opposed to how we’ve had to work for others. At “the office,” one must “manage up” bad bosses, pander to abusive clients if the boss has (right or wrong for the company) deemed them good clients, and read books on how to deal with the 3 or 5 or 10 varieties of unpleasant people.

  • Joyce

    Hi Christine,
    This makes a lot of sense to me, but my problem is one step before this…not so much how to find the ideal client, but how to find a client. period! I have lots of hits on my site, but no one is even asking for my free download. So my list is zero. Any posts or information you can point me to?

    • Carmen

      Karen, did you consider changing the free download? Into something that people DO want to have, I mean. 🙂

  • Karen

    Love the article, especially the terminology “not ideal”. I recently shoved a not ideal client from the nest and she has written rave reviews about me referring me to others on facebook sites. While it was difficult and long-overdue in my heart, the timing could not have been better and feelings were not trampled. As Herdis noted above, she did not show her true colors on the initial interview and I will begin a Zebra list now. When I suddenly found myself single, my friends goaded me into making a list of at least 10 things required of any prospective man who may wish to enter my life. The list was made, later fulfilled in unaccounted for ways. I’m sure my Zebra list will be priceless once complete. Thank you for all your work, for sharing it and for encouraging the replies – it’s all good.

  • Herdis Pala

    But how do you go about it if you have taken on a client and then later (for one reason or another) you come to the conclusion that after all he/she is not your ideal client – how do you tell them?

    • Christine Kane

      Herdis – It’s a great lesson when this happens, because you get to create a new standard. Always remember: Where there’s a stress there’s a lack of a standard. So, now you have to communicate and be willing to release and refund if need be. No amount of money is worth the struggle. AND, usually you will find that when you let go, a better client will show up!

  • Hilary

    I want Uplevel Your Business (chanting and pounding fork and knife on the table top)!! I wish it started in MAY. Upon a star.

    • Christine Kane

      Hahahahaha! Thanks Hilary! (We’re starting sooner than that. Keep checking your email. All new edition coming for 2013 and that’s what I’m gearing up for right now! It’s going to be AH-mazing!!)

  • Janice Saunders

    I have just completed my emails in the rapid results system and sent out my first warm letters and am getting request for get know calls and I can tell you that the questionnaire really does weed out people who will be time wasters. Thank you!!

    • Christine Kane

      Congratulations Janice! Let me know how it goes!

    • Linda Foster

      Im new to the blog…and just love the mentoring wisdom…thank you so much for giving and sharing… What is the rapid email email results concept please?

  • Daniele Largo

    Christine all I can say is… AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!

  • Roxane Lessa


    I absolutley love this. So simple. Don’t forget the tire kickers and the testers, and the unable to make a decision people. They drive me nuts and it’s so great to know I don’t have to do business with them. Can this work for your personal life too?

    • Christine Kane

      Roxanne – Absolutely. This is all about clarity. And women especially seem to have a challenging time with this because they have been trained to be “nice.” And being “nice” often means “don’t be clear because you might make someone mad.”

  • Glenn

    We were taught this concept by our mentor about 20 years ago and although you may think it is silly, it changed how we do business. Prior to identifying our client we even had a PITA upcharge line on our spreadsheet with a 30% upcharge and in the end, we decided no upcharge could compensate us for the stress related to difficult clients and it was better simply working with ideal clients.

    Now I call it the Zebra theory. If we are able to identify our client to a T and as an example our’s have a household income of $200,000 or higher with one spouse not working (not always the woman), primary house worth at least $600,00 and their age is typically 40-50 years old when we start to work with them. And since we have had clients for 20+ years, existing clients age do change 🙂

    When you can identify your clients this well it is like identifying a Zebra amongst all the animals on the earth. How our mentor explained it to us was if you placed all the land based animals on an island and flew over it in a helicopter there is NO doubt you can ALWAYS pick out the zebra. But if you have only identified your client at the level of say a fox, when you are looking at the pack of animals on the island, you may think a dog, hyena, fox, wolf or large cat if your eyes are bad 🙂 is your client and waste a lot of time.

    He reminded us that 80% of our profit comes from 20% of your clients and the other 80% of your clients are simply sucking your profit up. So why not just identify and work with the 20%………our life and business, then became enjoyable..

    BTW….I have a small plastic Zebra I purchased during a visit to our local Zoo a few years ago which sits right on my desk to serve as a constant reminder. Along with a collectible metal airplane with the call letters on the side “HUMBLE” and finally an Elvis bobble head to remind me to have fun (although not his dark side 🙂

    Thanks, Christine for the reminder!

    • Christine Kane

      Glenn – i LOVE the zebra idea! Thanks for sharing that!

  • Anneve Hutchinson

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks so much for all your advice. I find that knowing exactly who I enjoy working with gives me so much confidence that when I am approached by someone that makes warning bells sound in my head – I now listen and can stand firm far more easily! One of my basic requirements is that my customers are ‘smiley people’!

    The strange thing is that often when you say kindly “I don’t think I’m the best fit for you” they want you all the more! I also like with Anna’s no negotiation approach. With me you can negotiate but you lose ‘bits’ of the service rather than reduce my bottom line.

    As you often say Christine, have respect for and value yourself and show customers how you wish to be treated and they usually co-operate beautifully!


    • Christine Kane

      Anneve – Clarity creates confidence! And following your intuition (as you have described here) is SO important when it comes to taking on a new client. Thanks for the additional wisdom you’ve added to the conversation here!

  • Alexandre L’Eveille

    Before I started my business, one of my earlier gigs was working for a local PR agency as an account manager. While working at the agency was sheer hell, one of the value things I learned was that everyone is not the client.
    Part of my job was going to new business meetings with the owner and being a rainmaker. If we got a client who was dodging, doubtful or price-driven, we would end the meeting cordially with “Perhaps we are not the right agency for you,” and push away from the table.
    That either got a commitment or we stopped wasting time.
    It was a challenging being able to do that at first in my own company, but eventually I learned that people who are time-sucks are not my client. If they feel like they are more trouble than they’re worth, they ARE…and they take up space and energy for the ideal client that the universe wants to send to you. You need to make space for good to come in.

    • Stacey Broder

      Alexandre, I love the “pushing away from the table” idea! I’m going to adopt that 🙂

  • Dr Anna Garrett

    Hi Christine!

    Anyone who starts trying to negotiate price is a big red flag for me now. In the past, I would have been willing to “deal”…but I know offer good value and service and there’s no budging. I’ve also learned to listen to the gut feeling that says, “yeah, not so much” when I do my initial call with someone.

    • Christine Kane

      Good for you Anna! It’s the ultimate empowerment to know that you can’t be bargained with.

  • sonali

    hello christine! i dont get the fear thing. i have just started out wid my salon n spa business n have a client who is draining bt she gives me good business,she keeps comparing my services inspite of we providing good service bt she also likes the way we service her so she wont go away how to deal with it. i dont fear that atleast i have this client yes its draining bt also feels good that i keep her happy

    • Christine Kane

      Hi Sonali, It’s kind of hard to understand your question here. Are you saying that you don’t “get” the fear thing, as in you don’t UNDERSTAND the fear thing? Or you don’t get it, as in “this doesn’t happen to me.” ??

      Anyway, it sounds like you have found practices and communication techniques for keeping this particular client happy. There are always different personality types, and some people “lead” with their challenger, so you can simply learn how to communicate in such a way that there’s a turnaround each time she shows that side of herself. With that said, however, if she continually complains about prices and points out other places she could go, then you can smile and let her know that she is welcome to try other places to see if their service is better than yours!