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Should You Fire Your Clients?

“You never say no to a client,” my boss pauses, “or turn away work.”

I sat in his office, looking at him, as he typed on his keyboard. He was side-talking to me, looking at the computer screen explaining to me the way of the consulting world.

I don’t remember what he called me into his office, but I hated being there. I hated everything about the office and my current job. I was doing it because I had kids and a partner to feed.

I hated some of our clients, they were annoying people. They ignored my advice and the cost implications their choices would have on the project.

They’d say things like, “Don’t charge me for this work, ok? I bring you a lot of work and expect you to work with me.”

We eeked out a paltry profit on every project. We took a lot of those profits to pay for the cost overruns on the other projects. We made 2% net profit over the year, less than inflation. The simple fact was, that we had bad project managers that never said no to demanding clients. We worked ourselves to the bone and for what?

The joke was that an Engineering company’s sole job is to keep people employed. They were the base of the labor economy.

I have nothing against demanding clients but when the hassle exceeds the profit, you have to re-evaluate things.

Sometimes it makes sense to say “no” and fire them.

Yes, fire them. Here’s why.

I started a side engineering consultancy while working for a big transportation company. It turned out to be a very profitable side gig for me. The best part? I got to pick and choose my side work and clients.

I remember getting a referral from someone with a property they wanted to build a house on. The town engineer was missing in action and needed to get it built immediately. He had some time constraints he was working in.

I looked at the job and quoted him $3,000 to do all the plan work and coordinate the submissions to the town. He flipped out, it was too expensive. He had another guy that would do it for $1,000 and he alluded that I was “ripping him off.”

I told him that I can’t do it for $1,000 and he should look at what the other guy was promising to do. He said thank you for the quote but he’s going with the cheaper guy.

Fast forward two months later and he calls again. He realize the cheaper guy was only going to draw a sketch for $1,000. He wouldn’t do the site work and the detail work for that price, it would cost more. My $3,000 price was a deal all of a sudden.

I turned the work down. There was no way I was going to be able to do the work with two months already gone and not have this guy up my ass 24/7. I declined the work and referred him to a different engineer.

I charged a fair price for my work back then if and only if you were a high-profit and low-touch client. You know the ones, who listen to you and help you expedite the work. They’re engaged and respectful, and the work you produce with them is always a win-win.

The $3,000 guy was a low-profit high-touch guy. I didn’t realize it at the time but If I had taken that job I would’ve been miserable.

That got me thinking about profit and client interactions. The best clients or customers are the high-profit and low-touch ones. They’re very rare to get but they do exist. The next best ones are high-profit and high-touch ones.

The third best option is low-profit and low-touch ones with the worst being the low-profit high-touch ones.

It dawned on me that my old transportation firm had nothing but low-profit and high-touch clients. No wonder everyone was miserable.

I have a virtual friend that I never met in real life, but we often correspond via email. He started an online business that he’s automated and runs by himself. He provides a high-value and high-profit service to his customers, and it’s all low touch.

Every day he checks that his AWS servers are running, backups are functioning and do a bit of marketing. He makes over $1.25 million dollars a year. He’s the happiest fucker I know. He spends his time with his wife and kids and lives the dream.

I have another former work colleague who started a sales strategy business. She gets up in the morning, exercises, does yoga, and then does some work. She is completely virtual and travels a lot with her friends. She’s making more than 3 times her old salary and sets her work boundary. She says no more than yes and clients are lining up to work with her.

I asked her if she would ever work for another company and she said “no fucking way.” She only works for high-profit and low-to-high-touch customers. The high-touch customers make up a tiny fraction of her clients. She’s one of the happiest people I know!

Do yourself a favor and fire your clients. Get rid of the low-profit ones, take the time you save, and focus on your high-profit clients. Give the high-profit and high-touch clients more time and they’ll love you for it.

Take that free time and find more high-profit and low-touch clients.

Saying “no” to low-profit clients is scary at first, but it works on every client you have subconsciously. It makes them feel like your time has gotten more valuable and they better play by your rules now or else!

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