After 16 years at the helm of my company Corporate Rain International and over 700 clients, I’ve only given a client the pink slip four times (and once it was simply for their sake because they were really too busy and successful to use what my company was doing for them.) However, in terms of long-term branding and business reputation, it is a road that must be taken occasionally.
It was real hard to let a client go in the wake of 2008. With fear, uncertainty, and outright panic widespread it was particularly painful to give any client the heave-ho. But even in the worst of times there is a point of demarcation that must not be crossed.
In my case that line of demarcation is first and foremost discourtesy to or abuse of my staff. My employees and associates are ultimately my first priority. They are more important to me than my clients. This is certainly counter intuitive for many of my small business colleagues. For example, The Guardian Life Index: What Matters Most to America’s Small Business Owners recently reported that customers are priority numero uno for the vast majority of entrepreneurs. This is certainly understandable given the cost and time commitment that goes into generating new business. However, my feeling is that I can get new clients, but maintaining an ethical, culturally consistent employee base is ultimately more important to the long-term health of my company. In fact, the customer is not “always right” when a basic incongruity emerges in corporate culture between your client and your company. Then it is better to gently disengage.
Crain’s New York (October 29, 2010) reports that CEO Kevin Labick of digital consulting firm Empathy Lab recently fired a huge retail client. He recounts a litany of offenses that ranged from treating staff disrespectfully to late payments to nickel-and-diming small matters clearly stipulated in the contract. Such a nuisance is a time waster and a distraction from long-term goals and the branded reputability of any small firm. Also, to hark back to last week’s blog, you may be judged by your client’s values and reputation, as much as your own.
Ecclesiastica in the Apocrypha states, “Have regard for your name, since it will remain for you longer than a great store of gold.”
Thank you, Ecclesiasticus.