Do you ever dread speaking to one of your clients who’s always getting you down? Complaining or demanding more for less with unrealistic expectations? Asking you to do work you hate doing, at times you don’t want to, for prices that are too low? Or maybe you feel your values are not aligned? Then it’s time to fire the dud clients and find the ideal ones!

I really like all my clients. I look forward to spending time with them on the phone or in person, and I really want them to do well. And I’d like to think the feeling is mutual. I’m careful to work only with clients who I believe I can help, and with whom I feel aligned.

Many business owners I meet tell me that some of their clients are great, but others are a complete nightmare! It’s easy to understand that in any business there’s pressure to find more customers. This leads people to literally work with anyone that can pay.

If you operate a retail business it can be hard to choose your customers, but they don’t tend to hang around long either. The real issue is in a business where you’re dealing personally with the same client over and over. These are typically service businesses such as accountants, financial advisors, lawyers, coaches, web design companies and many others. To enjoy our work we need to like the people we’re helping. Merely tolerating them or worse, loathing them, is no good and makes for a miserable working life.

Your “Red Velvet Rope Policy”

I was fortunate to meet author Michael Port at a conference years ago; He wrote a book called “Book Yourself Solid” (Google it to find his offer to download a few chapters free). The part that really struck me was what he called his “Red Velvet Rope Policy”.

It’s like when you go to an event and there’s an entrance with a red velvet rope stretched across the door – only selected people are allowed through. Michael Port says we should all have a red velvet rope policy for the clients we work with. Further, they should be people who “inspire and energise” you. It’s some of the best advice I’ve had in my business and it means I enjoy what I do, every day.

What would be your “red velvet rope policy” for your business? What would be the attributes of your ideal customers? Probably they would appreciate what you do, value the service and not quibble about price, pay on time, show up on time, make reasonable requests and refer you to lots of other great clients. You might include attributes about the size and type of their business, their location, and more. Think about this carefully and get really clear on your ideal customer – then go looking for them and target your sales and marketing efforts toward them.

Remember that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with customers that don’t fit your ideal; Chances are they’re ideal for someone else’s business, but not yours. Be gracious and helpful and rather than just turning them away, be honest that “We’re not the best choice for you to work with” and consider recommending they try someone else who they would be better suited to.

Company values

Many businesses are unclear about their core values – the handful of non-negotiables that define the ways in which everyone in the business naturally behaves. If your vision and mission are the “Why” of the business, the values are “How we behave”. In the short term it can be difficult to see the importance of clear values, but in the long-term they either hold the business together or the lack of them tears it apart.

An extension of your values should also include some statements about the interaction with your clients, your suppliers, and any other stakeholders. Stating that “We always act with honesty and integrity and expect the same from those we do business with” will make your position clear – a non-negotiable of doing business with you. If you don’t have anything like this on your website, or fail to position it before entering a business relationship, then you’re likely to run into problems down the line. State clearly your non-negotiables. I recommend you state first what you promise to live up to, and then say you expect the same. It sounds a lot more reasonable than simply demanding it of others.

The more you work with ideal clients, the more you’ll enjoy your work and the better the business will perform. In turn, it will lead to you attracting more of the right clients.

Rob Pickering
Senior Partner & Coach

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