“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” – Tim Ferris
I once spent a year working with a client I knew I had to let go. Yet I hung on, even though he was all wrong for me.
He was always late for meetings, needed to be micromanaged, requested far too many unnecessary meetings.
There was too much talk, and not enough follow through.
It made me feel like his executive assistant.
Sure, I believe in taking the time to build relationships. To get to know and care for the people I work with. But with short working hours, I couldn’t afford much longer of this. As the main carer of my young daughter, a household and a business to run, I gave him far more of my time (unbillable time) than was reasonable.
Having a client who didn’t quite fit my business — and my life — also started to weigh on my mind.
However, this wasn’t the end of my problems. I also started to second guess myself:
Was I charging too much?
Was I not worth more?
This extra effort I’m making will be appreciated, won’t it?
Shouldn’t I be happy to have him on board?
Am I not being assertive enough?
I struggled to figure out what to do with this client. I started becoming resentful and complained to my fellow business owners more often. I hated this negativity and feeling like I was being taken advantage of — and frustrated that I was self-perpetuating the situation by not doing more to change it.
The situation affected my sleep. It tainted my work day. And often became the only topic of conversation between my husband and I.
By the end of that year, I’d had enough. I wanted to start the new year without this mental burden so with my heart pounding, I thought of a win-win situation and typed up an email.
One of the most diplomatic, yet assertive, helpful emails I’d ever written.
I hope he doesn’t take this the wrong way, we have so many mutual business colleagues, I thought. Then I hit ‘send’ and felt nervous about his response. Then relieved.
Not only did my client appreciate my suggestions, he responded well to my honesty.
I was beautifully relieved. Taking this step had been a hard decision. This client was impressed with the work I’d done for others. And he was excited to work together. So I couldn’t help being taken in by the flattery and thought it might work out ok.
But when a relationship takes that much of a toll, enough is enough. You’ve got to know when to leave.
Your client — your partner — your child — will only value you as much as you value yourself. You teach them how to treat you by what you accept.
I realised that I could whine about it to anyone that would listen. But complaining and ignoring the issues wouldn’t make them disappear.
And ultimately, no-one was going to save me. I could have chosen not to do anything about it. But that option was worse than not doing anything.
Three years later, and I’m now working only with my ideal clients. It has changed my life. And guess what?
I find it easier to:
- Say ‘No’ to prospects
- Be more assertive in communicating expectations
- Better manage (and protect) my time
- Act more quickly to change a situation if it’s not going well
And I’ve found it pays to be proactive with a handful of current, loyal clients who have shared values than spend too much time with many new clients who aren’t the right fit.
Less is more.
So break up with that unsuitable client, even if it’s uncomfortable and confronting. They will get over it. They won’t be as bothered as you think.
Reclaim your time. Protect your mental well being. Take responsibility for your business, your relationships and your life.
You may also like: When enough’s enough: 7 reasons to fire your client right NOW by Andrew Lau.