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Archive for the “Firing” Category

jeffrey-mcdanielPoet Jeffrey McDaniel once wrote, “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re expert at letting things go.”

Sometimes you need to fire your customer.  It’s not easy because it means loss of income, implication of someone’s failure (your or theirs), or can even result in making a business enemy.  After 19 years at the helm of my company Corporate Rain International, I’ve only  given a client the pink slip six 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 anticipated and prepared for consciously, and, hopefully, well before the event.

Four years ago I remember reading a report called The Guardian Life Index:  What Matters Most to America’s Small Business Owners which reported that customers are priority numero uno for the vast majority of entrepreneurs.  Makes sense given the cost and time commitment that goes into generating each piece of new business.  And I personally strive mightily to maintain a servant’s heart in all things business.  Nevertheless, there does occasionally come a time to give certain clients the old heave-ho.

I think the most important reason to leave a client behind is a clash of cultures.  My most important assets are my employees.  Abuse of my associates by a client is a game-ender for me.

I’m very proud of my team’s consistent, seamless representation of my company’s ethos, culture, and tone. It is hard won. It creates a business world I want to live in.  My brand reputability depends on it.  I suppose my feeling is that I can always get new clients, but maintaining a culturally consistent cadre of employees is much more important to the long-term health  of my firm.

8020_RuleIn fact, the customer is not “always right,” particularly when a basic incongruity crops up in corporate culture between your client and your company.  That is the time to gently disengage.

This is not to say there are not a litany of other annoying offenses like late payments, nickel-and-diming small matters clearly stipulated by contract, excessive non-productive client neediness, etc.  (Pareto’s Principle states that 20% of your clients make up 80% of the workload.)

Nevertheless, breaking up is hard to do.  Here’s how I try to do it.

  1. Don’t make it personal.  Don’t justify yourself. Don’t get your rocks off by articulating clearly your client’s character flaws, no matter how delicious the temptation to excoriate might be.
  2.  Do it face-to-face, if possible.  Don’t be a coward.  It might be uncomfortable but it’s just the honorable thing to do.  It shows respect for yourself and your client.
  3. Fulfill your contract and even give extra.  Do this for yourself—Again, simply because it is the right thing to do.  Even if you get no credit for it, it will leaven the innate tensions of the situation.  It’s worth it.
  4.  Be simple and to the point.  No reason to tell the departing client how wonderful you are.
  5.  Generously help the client to adjust.  Facilitate the hand-off.

1af65edOne of the chief reasons I love entrepreneurship is simply that it is a vehicle for personal freedom.  Anything that adumbrates that ain’t worth it.  Know who you are—where you can compromise and where you can’t.  It’s different for all of us.

Osayi Osar-Emokpae says in her 2011 book, Impossible is Stupid,  “Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important.  Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time.  Quitting is not making excuses, it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead.  Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that bring you strength.”

Well said, Osayi.

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Sometimes you need to fire your client. God, that’s a hard one for me.

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.

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