“All clients are equal but some clients are more equal than others.”
Okay, this is not quite what George Orwell wrote in his book “Animal Farm” but I’m pretty sure, if he owned a design agency today, he would have said something similar to that.
Clients are crucial to the survival and success of any business. The more clients you have, the better it is for business. Correct? Not quite. That may work if you lived in an ideal world, but in reality, you will come across some clients that are just bad to deal with and not a good fit for your business.
Bad clients could potentially make your business a living nightmare. They not only end up costing you more money, but they also give you unnecessary stress. When a client sets unreasonable deadlines, when pay cycles are not honored, when there is relentless bargaining, when you can’t seem to please a particular client no matter how hard you try, these are just some of the qualities of a bad client.
Acquiring new clients is costly; it is reportedly four to six times more than maintaining an existing client. So when you need more clients for your business, you have to be very careful about choosing one. When businesses choose the right clients, their organizations become productive, efficient, and focused. And they also end up treating clients like partners, which only serves to boost each other’s businesses even more.
Many years ago, when I started my own business I said “yes” to any project that came through the door event though not every project was the perfect “fit” for MGR. Simply put, we needed as much cash flow as possible. However, as our business has grown over the years, I’ve also become much more selective regarding the types of clients that we work with. If I don’t foresee a long term relationship with a new client that will eventually turn into treating each other like partners, my first reaction is to politely decline working with them. To put it simply, a short term (monetary) reward does not compensate for what could be a long term agonizing relationship.
But how do you choose the good clients or when do you decide to let one of your existing clients go?
Start by creating a principle for identifying good clients: Who is your ideal client? This requires figuring out several concerns:
- You cringe when you hear their name, get a phone call or an email from them. It is your company and your vision. You decide your own future; the moment you realize that a certain client doesn’t fit with your philosophy and vision anymore, it’s time to let them go. Don’t let one annoying client ruin your day.
- They are never satisfied. No matter how much effort and resources you put into their projects, they are never satisfied. They keep making changes, and revisions after revisions, to the point that they end up micromanaging your own work. The truth is that if THEY don’t know what they want, they can’t expect you to know what they want. The time you’re spending with that client would be much more productive and satisfying for your team if you were working with other clients that have a concrete plan and need you to help them with the execution.
- They disregard the value of your time. These are clients that rather than working their own problems first and seek assistance second, they always want to call you or email you for every single little issue they come across. They always want to set up unnecessary meetings to justify their own lack of efficiency. They constantly call you with questions you’ve already answered multiple times; they request estimates and proposals that you’ve already sent them a dozen times, etc. Yet, they never follow your advice, they never reply to your proposals and they’re never on time to meetings or conference calls. To them, your time is not important. A lot of “good” clients will do all of the above from time to time, BUT they acknowledge that your time is valuable and they thank you for that. Others, will just take it for granted. If a client doesn’t value your time, they probably don’t value your work either. Time to move on.
- They always grind you about your costs. Yes, budgeting is very important for all businesses no matter the size. However, when you send your clients an estimate and they constantly come back “not seeing the value” or asking you to break down every single detail, it’s time to let them go. It’s a matter of trust. If they don’t trust that you’re presenting them with an honest quote now, that’s a sure sign that they will always question your invoices later. There’s also a good chance that the same type of client will always be late paying your invoices. So they want you to work at a lower rate, turn their projects around fast to meet the most unrealistic deadlines, but they also pay you late and they never reply to your payment inquiries. Say “Thanks but no thanks.”
- They no longer fit your philosophy. This could very much be the summary of all of the above points. Projects are meant to be fun. Working with your clients should feel like working with partners seeking a common goal. There’s no need to make a job more complicated than it is or to make each other’s lives miserable in the process. I always want our team at MGR to have fun at what they do. We love challenges, creativity, working with our clients, solving their problems, making their jobs easier, and letting them take the spotlight after the project is done. We love to make our clients the real heroes. There’s no room for disrespect, combative clients, insecure personalities, negativity or anything that will affect your working environment. There’s no money or project in the world that will compensate for an undesirable relationship with a particular client. Be polite and let them know that they should find someone else that will work with them.
Selecting the right partners and clients for your business could be challenging. But at the same time, it is a worthwhile endeavor. To me, it is similar to meeting new people and becoming good friends with some of them. You will notice that with enough success, your good clients will also bring along additional good clients through their referrals and your business and circle of friends will keep expanding.
I must admit that at MGR we are fortunate to have a very solid number of loyal clients, many of whom I’m personally very good friends with. They know they can reach out to me anytime, not just for work related projects but for any other type of personal advice too. And that’s the way we like it to be and the way it will continue to be for MGR.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)