Choose Your Customers Wisely

In my office, there is a sign that says:

“Do not try to teach a cat to dance. It doesn’t work, and it annoys the cat.”

Mind you I love cats, but that sign serves as a reminder to me that there are some customers that are not good for my business. Trying to work with them will be frustrating for both.

I had to learn this the hard way. In the early days of business I took on any client willing to buy from me. Doing so meant that I spent a lot of time and effort trying to make things work that never would — time that I could have invested in cultivating relationships with more appropriate clients.

Your business will be most profitable, and you will find your work most satisfying, when you are working with clients who are compatible with your vision and values. Consider what makes a client a good fit with your organization, then actively seek compatible clients and avoid those who are not good matches.

You might focus on serving a niche market. Targeting that niche can make your marketing more efficient and effective. Specialization can also make your work more enjoyable.

As you think about your clients, you will discover patterns among your favorites (as well as the not-so-favored clients).

• What makes your favorite clients a joy? (It may be the kind of work you do for them, the culture of their organizations, their work styles or their personalities.)

• What is it about other clients that made working with them a challenge? (Chances are you knew that the problem clients would be difficult before you took them on, but you ignored your instincts because you thought you needed the work. Next time, trust that “little voice” that told you to run, not walk, away from this client.)

It may be that there is nothing wrong with you or the client, but the combination just doesn’t work. Someone who seems like a toxic client to you because your styles clash may be a perfect fit with one of your competitors, so make a referral. Your competitor can do the same for you when they come across a client who isn’t a good match for them.