Why you need to prune your client list

This week I thought I'd focus on a really valuable learning curve that has helped me so much in not only how I run my business, but how I feel about doing what I do. Since I've been more selective with who I decide to work with, it has been so much more fulfilling both emotionally and financially.

Deciding who to prune

I'm not advocating a full cull of clients straight away, but instead taking some time to analyse your current client list so you can identify the ones you would rather not work with in the future. Then it's about gradually pruning them out, employing a filtering system to make sure you don't take on any more bad clients and setting yourself up to attract dream clients in the future.

I deliberately use the word prune, as those who are into their gardening will know that you have to regularly prune your flowers to help them grow. To continue the gardening analogy, you also have to clear away the dead ones and weeds to make space for beautiful new ones.

"Why would you want to do this? Surely it doesn't make sense to be getting rid of clients, especially ones that pay well?"

I can understand why it doesn't make sense, but by continuing to work with clients you don't enjoy working with, it will gradually drain your energy. This will result on you not enjoying your what you do, therefore not doing your best work which won't attract new ideal clients.

How to identify bad clients?

This normally pretty easy, as usually a feeling of dread will come over you when dealing with them. They can be disruptive, often awkward and they don't respect your time or appreciate your talent.

The big caveat to bad clients is how much they pay you. I absolutely understand that it is very difficult, almost foolhardy to sack a difficult but well paying client and I'm not advocating that. What I would say is that you should start with the difficult clients that don't pay well.

Prune them to create space for great clients that do pay well so that when you have had enough of being mistreated by the lucrative client, there is less financial risk as you have built a roster of well paying great clients.

I'm a strong believer of the 80/20 rule, also know as the Pareto Principle and that around 20% of your clients are responsible for around 80% of your problems.

Audit your clients and create 3 a table with 3 columns: 1) Star Clients, 2) Ok Clients, 3) Bad clients. Put each client into their appropriate column and now you have a clear list of bad clients you will actively work toward getting rid of, or pruning to make space for great clients.

How to do it professionally

You must always honour any ongoing jobs and finish work until agreed point. Being professional is crucial and you don't want to damage your reputation or burn any potential bridges. Simply explain that you won't be best placed to serve their needs in the future, but you have found a couple of alternative places that will.

Hi [Name],
It’s been great working with you these past [duration]. I’m writing to let you know that I will no longer be available for [kind of work] after [date].
I wanted to give you some notice to make sure I have time to finish the existing
projects I am working on for you.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to work for [business]. I wish you all the best with everything!

Offer them a list of potential online alternative such as Fiverr or someone you know who would appreciate their business. Make sure you are clear that you will no longer be available to work with them, don't leave room for misunderstanding and then move on.

How to filter them out in future?

The other part of this filtering alongside pruning bad clients to make room for good clients, is also being able to identify any potentially bad clients who may approach you looking to work together. You will need to have some sort of filter in place to make sure they are kept away.

Look for red flags. Some examples of red flags might be: The client orders you around, they micro manage, the don't listen to you, they don't follow your rules. If there is any lack of respect of your rules, time or talent, then this is a red flag and they are not to be worked with.

Adding a questionnaire to your contact page is an excellent way to filter clients as only those who love what you do, are committed and will take the time to fill it out. Time wasters can't be bothered, which is perfect as you don't want to work with then anyway.

What do ideal clients look like?

It's easier to find, notice and attract your ideal clients when you begin to define the qualities they possess. Try asking yourself: "What are their qualities and characteristics? What do they do? Where do they go? What do they do?"

Although it's not easy to turn away difficult clients, let alone actively stop working with them, it's tremendously empowering and rewarding once you do.

As I said in the beginning, I'm not advocating a full cull straight away, but instead take some time to analyse your current client list so you can identify the ones you would rather not work with in the future. Then it's about gradually pruning them out, filtering to make sure you don't take on any more bad clients and setting yourself up to attract dream clients.

This is the first step to building a roster of dream clients who are pleasure to work with. In my next article I will discuss how to attract dream clients.