In every professional’s life, there comes a time where the question is begged: do I keep this client or do I let them go?
Not always a black-and-white scenario, mind you, I mean, its not like you just caught your girlfriend in bed with the top account executive from your biggest competitor. While some might be inclined to rationalize that situation (if you are one of them, I kindly refer you to a useful list of self-help blogs), it’s not always as simple as cold, hard facts in your face.
There are financial considerations, the value of the relationship, and a relationship’s potential to bring you more business down the line. And finally, there’s the question of Who’s Running Who?
Today, we’re going to take a look at some questions you can ask yourself when evaluating your client list. We can all learn a little from the bearded sage when it comes to client retention.
Know When to Hold ‘Em
They’re your favorite clients. They pay their bills on-time (or at least they’re predictably late and still pay). It’s the work you enjoy, or perhaps enjoy not so much but at the day’s end, the client is happy with your work and sends you referrals.
They’re a complete pain in the ass. You cringe when you see their number on caller ID. They phone you more than an unemployed guy trying to win NASCAR tickets from the local radio station. They’re famous for changes at the 11th hour and will predictably shift blame (to you, of course) when a deadline is missed because they didn’t get you stuff in time. But they pay. And occasionally you share a laugh or two.
Where is the line that lets you feel good about keeping a client? Here’s my own personal metrics and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.
- Appreciation (definitely pocket 10’s or higher): I’ll bend-over backwards…hell, I’ll even let ’em take photos of me doing it…for a client who is appreciative. Piss me off, run me around, make me want to work at Starbucks. But if you pay your bills and say thank you, treating me with common decency, I consider you a keeper.
- Communication (hard to beat, but pocket Kings at least): They’re the clients/customers that tell us their expectations and are adept at communicating them – conscisely, efficiently and without argument. They’re also known as a rare freakin’ thing. However, if I have clients with whom I’ve established a line of communication, are open to a two-way street and understand that the better I make their product/project look – the better THEY look…those, my friend, are keepers.
- Volume (a solid pair of Queens): Along with the appreciative client comes the consideration of work volume. Are they a client who sends you dribs and drabs and it’s always a firehose mentality when they call (it’s on, need it yesterday and of course, “within budget”)? Or are they they client who provides you with a predictable workload, adheres to schedules (or something resembling one) and can you establish a rapport with the client that will lead to a better working relationship over the long-term? Volume/predictable workflow clients move up my personal food chain.
- Referrals (pocket Aces every time and you flopped a set): Huge. No matter what business you’re in, your ability to generate more business is always important. Whether for your company or your own shingle, you’re looking for the endorsement-based marketing of The Referral. A client who is tedious and demanding yet sends me referrals is higher on my food chain than even the nicest of clients who never mention my name to anyone. Just think: you’re happy to refer a co-worker to your vet’s office for Sparky’s annual exam. I take every referral I personally dole-out as a confident endorsement of another professional. Clients who don’t understand this are missing the boat. Down the food chain with you, I say.
Know When to Fold ‘Em
Money’s tight. Every dollar affects your bottom line. How could you possibly consider letting a client go?
FIRE a client?
Good ‘ol Kenny says that there’s a time to fold ’em and I couldn’t agree more. While you can discern from the above what I think are the qualities of “keeper” clients, here’s a list of complete dealbreakers for me. Again, I’d love your thoughts on your own dealbreakers. And might I say – if you’ve never fired a client…you might want to take a look at your client list!
- Lack of Appreciation (or a 10-2 offsuit): If a client never says thank you (and believe me, they’re out there), it’s time to consider the future of your relationship whether they pay their bills or not. While personalities vary, there’s a rule in business for expressing appreciation. If you don’t and you consistently make demands on me for my time and services, you’re not so interested in a good business relationship as your project. Possible fold, I might see the turn card though.
- Poor Financial Responsibility (pocket deuces when the board plays): My mortgage company doesn’t wait. My credit cards don’t wait. A client who consistently pays their invoices/bills late or has to be nagged is a liability in my bookkeeping. I’m human and understand an oversight, an apology, a circumstance out of your control. I’ll work with clients on a case-by-case basis. But it’d better be good. You’d be just as pissed if I paid YOUR bill late. Show me the same courtesy, else you’re off the island when the opportunity arises.
- Lack of Respect (they guy to your right has Aces up his sleeve): We all work hard. We all, I’d like to think, do our best to deliver a superior product for our clients. When clients choose to berate you, swear at you (and I can swear here ’cause it’s MY blog) or show you anything less than the respect you’re due as a human being, it’s time to tell them to hit the pavement. They might pay their bills, but here’s where you make the conscious choice between being a whore for the paycheck or a respected professional who is IN business and doesn’t NEED just any business.
While the above might seem cut and dry, it’s not. We’re all faced with difficult business decisions each and every day. And we’ve all LOST a client because a relationship deteriorated. I’m advocating being conscious when it comes to analyzing your client list, and it’s likely you’ve got some less-than-optimal ones on your books.
Decide who you are, determine the costs. Recognize the value of the services you provide. We’re all valued professionals, and since I can swear here since it’s my blog: Don’t allow anyone to screw you. Call bullshit on it – and the same goes for your clients. They can call bullshit on you, too.
The best advice from The Gambler? Know when to walk away, know when to run.