Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When to FIRE Your Clients

I preach to you guys all the time about boundaries, ideal clients, and how it's okay to say no to people in your life who are unhealthy or who just don't work well with you.

Just recently, I had occasion to practice what I preach. 

I "terminated" a relationship with someone today who I had repeatedly tried to help. They, like many of you, signed up to access the free trainings at the MYOB conference, and like many of you, had some challenges with the technology. 

But unlike you, this person was rude and unappreciative of my efforts to help them. Literally no one else I dealt with, even when the mistakes were mine, was unkind in any way. Except this person. 

I repeatedly offered solutions that worked well for other people, but all that this person would do was write me back with complaints. The sound wasn't right. The email was confusing. They didn't get the email. (Yet somehow, they responded...mystery?)

My momma taught me to be polite and helpful. But after my writing 7 emails trying to help over the course of the conference, the final straw was two messages sent to me back-to-back just recently.

One email asked, in oddly specific fashion, for "four free downloads" I had supposedly promised them. [I hadn't. I didn't even make or sell the downloads they referred to in the email.]

The other said this:

Every time I write back I don't get a response. I'm very frustrated with your service. 

These emails made me angry. It wasn't hard to figure out why.  

  • I have written this person 7 emails to help them access the free conference, which they didn't read or utilize. 
  • They are claiming I "never" wrote them back when I spent several unpaid hours of work trying to help them access the lessons. A search of my inbox produced 9 emails, 7 of which I had already responded to. (Some of their later emails they sent had subject line re: my emails, so it wasn't like they had gotten lost in the spam folder, either!) 
  • On top of all that, now they're demanding free stuff that I don't even make? What? 

So, if you want to know when it's time to fire a client, here's your answer: 

When the cost to you and the client outweighs the potential benefit. 

I respect myself enough to be DONE with this cycle. I get several emails a day from people who genuinely need support and tips I can give them. (And who will read the responses I write...) I'd rather spend my time talking to them. 

So I responded to one last thing they had brought up, politely, and explained that as the solutions I was offering to them didn't seem to be helpful for them, it was time that we went our separate ways.

Then I removed them from the community email list. 

Here was my essential message in doing so: We've reached the point where working together has become unproductive to us both. So I'm respecting MY time and YOURS enough to end this. 

It might make you squirm a bit to hear this. In fact, this entire topic might be an uncomfortable one for you. I wouldn't be surprised if it was. After all, it's taken me a lo-oong time to get to the point where I was ready to "fire" a client or end an unhealthy business relationship. I still wouldn't say I'm completely there. But experience and something I like to call my philosophy of my role helped me to get close to it. I'd encourage you to read through it and see if any of these principles would be beneficial for you, too, to embrace.

Philosophy of the Counselor's Role:
  • We are service professionals, but not subservient. 
  • It is wonderful to be respectful, but not necessary to cater.
  • We rob from other clients when we allow others to act abusively or unkindly towards us.
  • We go against our prime directive as a counselor (to help others grow into better, healthier people) when we enable poor behavior from our clients. 
  • We are in this professional to build people up - and that includes ourselves!
  • Until you break free of people-pleasing, you will not be able to live up to your maximum effectiveness as a counselor.
Helping others does not mean tearing yourself down so others can ascend. True giving is generative, not destructive. 

My philosophy was affirmed today in the lightness I felt after taking the last step to end this exchange. Before I sent that email terminating our conversation, I felt anxious and apprehensive upon considering hearing from that person again. I would literally dread opening up an email from them. 

But since I sent it, I've felt free. I'm done. And that's enabled me to focus on other projects that are more rewarding and productive. 

If you had to write a philosophy of a counselor's role, what would you say about this topic? Have you ever had a situation in which you might have needed to "fire" a client, but resisted? How did you get through it?

Share below!

(Be careful - don't share any names, locations, or other identifying info. That could get you in trouble.)

*Full disclosure: as always, information not affecting the moral of the story was altered to protect the privacy of others.