During start-up, entrepreneurs can feel desperate to make a sale. Revenues are needed to generate cash flow and confirm that the new company’s business model actually meets a need in the market. In a nutshell: are people (other than your family and friends) willing to give you money for your efforts?
Entrepreneurs might be tempted to take just about any customer willing to do business with them; including those who really don’t fit with their business model. After all, a sale is a sale, and cash is cash!
When the opportunity to land those first few clients comes along, a business owner may be blinded by the chance to finally get those dollars rolling in. Even if some of those customer doesn’t fit what the entrepreneur is trying to do with the business, landing that account will help reduce the entrepreneur’s worries about the future of the business and help him or her sleep a little better at night. Totally worth it! Right?
Unfortunately, the result of playing fast and loose with your customer profiles is that you end up building a hot mess grab bag of customers with a wide variety of needs and expectations. Maybe some were offered special pricing that isn’t really sustainable or scalable (or something you want other customers or referrals to expect). Maybe some were offered special incentives or services that don’t fall into your existing product mix or Vision or actual ability to provide. Perhaps you offered to always be the one to handle any and every questions or concern they have…personally…any time…day or night or weekend or holiday…they take you up on it.
Working with such a wide variety of customers who don’t fall into your ideal pool of clients can be manageable while a business is small. But, as it grows, it becomes impossible to be “everything for everybody.” This is especially difficult if what you’re offering requires a person (or several) to put their hands/eyeballs/brains on something in order to create and sell it.
Having a clear Vision for your company will keep you headed in the right direction when the lure of a ‘quick’ buck is dangled in front of you. Knowing the true cost associated with keeping all of the promises you’ve made to a client (all of the time and energy you’ll have to devote) will help you to determine if you’ll actually end up loosing money on their business over time. Check out this Pricing Strategy for more suggestions on how to correctly choose a pricing system that will work for your business and avoid burning yourself down the road.
Aside from the headaches that arise from undervaluing what you sell from a productivity and sustainability standpoint, it’s very difficult to convince a long time client that your services are more valuable as time goes on, regardless of real life influences to your costs like staffing and inflation and tariffs and whatever else makes your bills go up and profit margins shrink.
If you’re in an agency that is looking for long-term clients, interview them! Use an initial (phone or in person) meeting to make sure that you’re really what they need (or can/want to be) and they fit in with the Vision you have tor the types of clients you want your team to care about and work for/with. Knowing the kinds of questions to ask during initial client meetings can save you a bunch of time (money) later. Pro tip: If just getting time on a potential clients’ calendar for a call is a nightmare, don’t expect quick responses if you need information from them during crunch time.
Having even just a few ‘special’ (high maintenance, demanding, indecisive) clients can eat up your time to promote yourself, and prevent potential new customers from understanding what your true value proposition and services really are. Going after a white whale can derail your productivity and scare away lots of other fish. Is it important to consider adjusting your processes and offerings if you have many clients all interested in a specific service? Yes! Does that mean your team should be churning out dozens (or more) one-off options that take up resources better utilized on more versatile products up front? No.
Firing a customer can be one of the most terrifying decisions a business owner can face. But, it is important to stick to your Vision, Plan and Goals to ensure successful long-term, scalable growth. If you’re nervous about how to go about what can be an emotionally charged, financially scary process, check out a few scripts here.
Remember, you and your clients are (hopefully) good people, and probably have similar goals in mind: find a vendor/provider/agency/resource that will delight customers and/or meet their needs. Great people can still be the wrong clients for you and your business. Allowing yourself (and them) the opportunity to find the right fit is a gift.
All in all, as with just about everything related to being a successful entrepreneur (and person in general): being secure in your Vision, having a well thought out Plan, and knowing what wealth (tools/resources) you have at your disposal will limit your exposure to unfulfilling client relationships.