Let Your Bad Clients Go And Make More Money

One of the most controversial, and most powerful, elements of The Pumpkin Plan is to let your bad clients go.

This is the step that gets the most resistance from business owners. It’s also the step that we get the most positive emails and feedback about. Go figure!

As Mike Michalowicz describes in The Pumpkin Plan, if you are growing a giant pumpkin, all of the little pumpkins, or worse, rotting pumpkins on the vine are just sucking nutrients from your giant pumpkin. If you leave them on the vine, and expend your nutrients and resources on trying to save them, your giant pumpkin will never grow to its full potential. It’s the same with your business. The rotten clients will take resources away from your awesome clients, making it impossible to grow to your full potential.

Know who your worst clients are.

In my post about how to Identify Your Top Clients and Unique Offering for Explosive Growth, I talked about the importance of knowing who your best clients are, and focusing your efforts on serving them better. But it is also really important to know who your worst clients are, so that you can get rid of them. Gasp. For many business owners this is an extremely scary prospect. After all, the goal is to have more customers, not less, right?

The answer is, not necessarily. Especially in businesses where you are working directly with customers, interacting with them, relying on their participation, the quality of your relationship with them is not only key to your happiness, its key to the results that you get for them. And its key to the energy that you have leftover for your other clients.

Do you have any customers that are so great that you feel like they make your day easier?

Perhaps you feel energized after doing business with them. And you almost feel guilty taking their money because they’re such a pleasure to work with, to the point where you secretly feel like you should be paying them instead of the other way around?  Those are the clients that will help you grow your business.

But what about the cringe worthy customers? I’m talking about the ones who make you want to eat a pint of ice cream and then take a 3 hour nap after a 10 minute interaction with them. Those customers, no matter how much they are paying you, are draining the life and the energy from your business. They are costing you and your employees time, they are using a disproportionate share of your resources, and they are hurting your ability to serve your best clients to the fullest. They are stunting your growth and making your business less profitable.

Ironically, very often your biggest client may turn out to be your worst client.

Which of course makes it much harder psychologically to let them go. But after more than 5 years of working with clients to Pumpkin Plan their businesses, I have seen many companies let their worst and biggest client go, but because they have already figured out who their best clients are, they now have the time and space in their business to fill that void with better, more profitable clients.

To give you a more concrete example, one company we worked with was in a service based industry. They had a very large client (more than double the revenue of any other client) who was a scheduling nightmare. The client was constantly postponing and delaying work, which was impacting scheduling for other clients. When they got up the nerve to let that client go, they replaced them very quickly with other clients who fit their top client profile, their business became more efficient, they had fewer headaches so were able to do even better work, and as a result they became more profitable. Win!

Get rid of your bad clients without confrontation.

If you’re anything like me, you might hate confrontation, and the thought of having to tell clients that they’re fired is horrifying. But never fear, there are some easier ways to let your bad clients go. Very often, your worst clients might all be purchasing the same product or service. For example, in a previous post, Find Your Sweet Spot for Business Growth, I told you about how Steven Bousquet of American Landscape and Lawn Science identified that his worst clients mostly purchased his lowest priced package. So guess what he did. He eliminated that package, and most of those clients left on their own. This gave him the opportunity to focus on his best clients, and dramatically improve efficiency and profitability.

But what if you’re not a service based business, but rather a consumer based product company. Can you even control who purchases your product? To some degree, yes. Imagine your worst customers are constantly complaining and returning products, and your best customers almost never return anything. You can change your return policy to be less appealing to your worst customers. Or maybe you can identify a specific product that most of your worst customers purchase, and stop selling that product.

There’s a reason why we get emails all the time from business owners who have eliminated their worst clients and seen their companies thrive as a result. If you understand your underlying strategy, and have an action plan to replace those bad clients with great ones, you will be well on your way to growing your giant pumpkin!

Would you like help figuring out who YOUR best and worst clients are, and what to do next? Click here to Find a Strategist.

Would you love to work with small business owners to drive explosive growth and build thriving businesses? Click through to learn about our Pumpkin Plan Strategist Certification Program.

Donna Leyens Pumpkin Plan your BizWritten by:

Donna Leyens, Pumpkin Plan Your Biz

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7 replies
  1. Donna Leyens
    Donna Leyens says:

    I would love to hear your stories of what has happened when you’ve let problem clients go. Or any comments about this strategy in general. What do you think about it? Will it work for your business?

  2. Kevin Puls
    Kevin Puls says:

    Very much the universal Pareto Principle, 20% of your clients gives you 80% of your headaches and problems.

    Fire those clients,… IMMEDIATELY!!!

    That is why I now pre-disqualify prospects by having them jump through some hoops:

    – Personality Tests
    – Questionaire
    – etc.

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Yes! 80/20 applies! I’m curious Kevin, you give your prospective clients personality tests, before they become clients? Can you expand on that?

  3. Becky Blanton
    Becky Blanton says:

    This is probably the best advice in the book! “Bad clients” aren’t always bad people per se. They may just be clients you take on because you needed the money, and they needed something done. They’re fun, they’re good people, they pay well, but they’re just not the kind of business you want to focus on.

    Then there are the really bad clients, the narcissist, the jerk, the greedy person – and they really do need to be let go. I always feel relief when I do this!

    I have been studying the DiSC profile as well. I offer a 15-30 minute free consultation to most clients. I listen and ask questions to determine what their most likely personality profile is. I think it’s interesting the investors on Shark Tank also listen to businesses more for the personality than the pitch. They want to know if the person is going to hand everything over to them, or be responsible and work with them. What you want to do is find that personality that will be easy to work with, has goals, has good boundaries, and respects you and your business. I recently “fired” a potential client during the pitch process. I gave him a good rate for a topic because it was something I was very familiar with and knew my research wouldn’t take much time at all, so I passed that savings along to him. It was a ten blog post offer. He then decided to offer me a test post to “see if I could write,” and offered something like $20 for a $175 post, didn’t respond for several days (during the negotiation process). I withdrew my offer and said, “It’s obvious you’re not comfortable with my portfolio and other client feedback, so this is probably not a good fit. Thank you for your time.”

    It’s a proccess! You learn as you go!
    No one is going to watch out for you, but you. Trust your intuition.

    DONNA LEYENS says:

    Thanks for sharing that Becky! And I agree that sometimes the best time to let a bad client go is before they become a client!

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