Should you “fire” that difficult client?
One of the things you get better at as your sales process improves is learning how to sign up only your most ideal clients – the ones who you most love working with, and with whom you get the best results.
In the early days you can just feel grateful that anyone is willing to pay you! But as time goes on and you become more confident of the value you bring, you get better at screening out those clients who are going to become a negative drain on your energy or simply not do their part to get the results they say they want, leaving both of you frustrated and unhappy.
However, something I see far too often and that really bugs me, is business coaches and mentors being very quick to recommend you “fire” your difficult clients.
The argument here goes “Your work should be joyful and rewarding. You work for yourself now so you can choose who you work with”.
Some even recommend firing all clients who don’t seem to be making progress as this helps give you a 100% track record of success. (It’s also not too good for the ego to have a client who doesn’t appear to be benefiting from your work).
But should you really fire your difficult clients?
Well, not always in my opinion. Because firing the clients who you find challenging could be preventing you from growing into your true brilliance and very best work.
It also means that some of the people who most need your help, who just need an extra dose of patience or take longer than others to see results, might not get the help at all.
You see, if you are anything like me you do what you do because ultimately you want to help people. Sometimes in order to help people, we need to step up and get even better at helping our more challenging clients, not just write them off because they are not “easy” for us, or working with them doesn’t “feel good”.
I know for certain that if it wasn’t for my most difficult clients I simply wouldn’t have grown as a mentor and facilitator and be as good at helping people grow their businesses as I am today. I also wouldn’t have helped as many people get the results they so desperately wanted.
My client Sarah is a great example:
Sarah (name changed) is a gifted practitioner who helps women break free from chronic health problems and fatigue using an intensive and powerful healing approach.
Last year she enrolled an incredibly difficult client who caused her a lot of stress. There are many who would have advised her “Sarah, this one client is causing you so much stress that she’s not worth it, just get rid of her so you can focus your energy on attracting clients who are easier to work with”. But what they would have missed was just how this client was giving her important lessons that were going to form the foundation of her future business.
You see the nature of Sarah’s ideal clients and their health conditions means that they typically come to her anxious and exhausted and this makes them quick to blame her for any perceived lack of progress. The healing process in itself also brings up emotional responses and of course, Sarah is often in the firing line. Rather than giving up on this client, Sarah took my advice to stick with it and while it wasn’t easy, the process helped her to tighten up her working structure to best support her clients. She honed her coaching skills, put in place new tighter boundaries to protect her own energy, and also ultimately changed her pricing to a level that fairly reflected the level of support she was providing and the transformation to the health of the client.
This “problem” client was in fact her teacher
The client helped her to become a more effective practitioner – not just for this client but for all the clients to come – in a way that no theoretical training course could have done.
This happens in my work too. If a business owner who isn’t making any money decides to take a leap to invest in working with me, she will usually bring all her fears and anxieties, and it can be quite an emotional journey until she starts to see some results. If I labeled these clients “nightmares” and decided not to work with them I wouldn’t get anywhere near to making the transformation that is so rewarding for me.
Rather than dismissing the client, I choose to work on myself
So my advice, especially if you are in the earlier stages of your business, is not to be too quick to dismiss a client just because you find them challenging – they could be here to stretch you and grow you to be the best you can be.
Start by asking yourself:
Given the issues this client is facing right now in their life or business, is their behaviour or response understandable?
What more could I be doing to support them if I’m truly committed to seeing them get results?
How can I set and communicate clearer boundaries so that I can give them what they really need without draining myself physically and energetically in the process?
Maybe it’s part of your work to be understanding and support them, rather than dismiss them for being challenging.
Rather than an excuse to “fire” them, it could signal an area of development for you.
– Client blaming you for things that aren’t working? Maybe you need to work on your resilience so that you don’t take it personally and are available to fully support them.
– Client not getting the results? This could be a sign it’s time to improve your skills, maybe adding in coaching or other transformational tools, so you help them through their resistance and procrastination
– Client taking up too much time or draining your energy? This is a sign it’s time to take responsibility for firming up and communicating your boundaries.
– Client determined to ignore all of your advice? Maybe you need to get more courageous on their behalf and confront them directly (this might also include the conversation about whether you part company).
In my experience, every difficult client is an opportunity for growth and for you to become even more brilliant at what you do.
I remember having a very difficult client in my first ever mentoring group. After a long phone call where she aired her grievances, I was very upset and my mentor at the time suggested I just give her the money back. But on reflection, I realised that the client was feeling separate from the group and just wanted to feel that she mattered. I stopped to consider whether her comments were valid and had to admit some of them were, so I made changes to the way I ran the group in response. Most importantly it prompted me to develop ways to get the group members to connect with each other to foster a sense of community – and I continued to work on this over the years that followed.
I simply would not have developed the successful, close-knit, mentoring community that I did, or become the mentor that I am today had I not been willing to learn from her feedback – even though she was extremely challenging for me at the time.
This isn’t to say you should always just “put up”. There are definitely cases where you should let the client go:
So who should you fire?
- Sometimes you are just not a good “fit”. Something doesn’t click despite the best intentions on both sides. There may be a lack of flow in your communication. Sometimes despite multiple sessions, you are just not getting through and you can see that you are not making the difference you know you can make. In this case, have an honest conversation and be prepared to let them go.
- Maybe you wake up with a feeling of anxiousness in the pit of your stomach or full of dread on the day you have to work with that client. If you feel this way you are unlikely to be giving them what they need. Ultimately this is your business you do have a choice to just end the relationship and let them go.
- If it is impacting your other clients. If it’s in a group this person’s attitude could be causing other members to become demotivated or negative. Or indirectly because the emotional impact is causing you to be less effective and it’s impacting the quality of your work.
- And of course, clients who don’t pay you or continually cancel or reschedule sessions without valid reason need to be shown the door, no question. This should really go without saying and is about getting very clear on your payment process, guidelines, and legal terms as well as having the self-respect to stand by them.
You may not always get it right. There has also been one clear occasion where my NOT firing a client was due to weakness on my part because I was avoiding conflict or confrontation – and in the end, this didn’t serve them or me.
What about you? Do you have a client that you know you should fire today for the sake of your peace of mind and for the other clients you are serving?
Or do you have a client you have fired in the past but on reflection you know you could have done more to support them, and grow as a practitioner in the process instead?
I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below – I always read them all.
And remember, The 7 Steps to Yes!, my FREE video series will take you through an effective and non-salesy structure for a sales conversation so you can enrol new paying clients without feeling out of integrity, or using manipulative techniques. It will help you feel confident about guiding a sales conversation from start to finish, and some of the questions you ask will also help you identify if this really is someone you can help, or if you are simply not the best fit to work together.