We’ve all been there – working with a client that seems so great in the beginning and by halfway through the relationship you are counting down the hours until it’s over. They’re micromanaging you, they’re telling you how to do your job, they’re expecting you to be a hands-on-keyboard, or are just overlooking every single move you make. And by the end of it, neither one of you are happy.
This week on The Gutsy Podcast, we’re going to talk about identifying your dream clients. Yes, you can truly work with people that resonate with you on a higher level, appreciate what you do, value the services you offer, most truly want your insight or input, and see you as the professional. You’re the guy/gal that’s getting them to the solution. Who knew all that training, expertise, and experience could actually be utilized in the best of ways?
After almost 12 years in business, I most certainly could share my fair share of horror stories of clients with you. I mean, we’ve worked with every kind you can imagine. People that have just been absolutely perfect and other people that have literally left my team and me in tears early on in the business. And if you’re in the early stages of business, you’re just kind of scrounging and will take anything that comes your way. And I do believe there is a period of that. You have to gain the experience and it’s just as important to know what you don’t like as it is to know what you love.
So in those early days, you’re taking every client that walks in the door because that means there’s going to be some sort of payment associated with it, right? You’re bootstrapping, you’re trying to figure things out, you’re not really sure which end is up, and you’re still really trying to find out who you are as a business owner. But there comes a time in the evolution of business where you have to really start paying attention to the folks you’re working with.
I wish there was a magic number and I could say “After 18 months you really need to start evaluating.” But with every business, it’s completely different. And I want you to really tap into your intuition and start to really know and notice when you feel like, “You know what, maybe I’m at a point where I can start being a little bit more selective in the people I’m working with?”
One of the easiest things to do is to stay in the mindset that you have to service everyone. And guys that honestly couldn’t be further than the truth because you’re not for everyone and everyone is not for you. And guess what? Totally. Okay. Because that means there’s someone else out there for both of you. But because we get so trained in “My life – my finances, my stability – depends on me accepting or denying this person,” we take on this mentality that if we don’t take them everything is going to fail.
I remember clear as day black and white, one of the coolest projects we ever got to work on ended up being the project I thought was going to completely break me. The restaurant industry can be fairly challenging to work with from a marketing perspective. And one of the top reasons for that is marketing tends to be the most disposable and first thing to go when restaurants are feeling challenged. But this seemed like the perfect project. I mean, it crossed all the bars, these were all the things we love to do. And I saw some of the early warning signs, but I ignored them.
We had, I couldn’t even tell you how many countless meetings to go over ideas that went unpaid. We went above and beyond because we felt obligated – like we had to. And in every step of the process, our work was criticized, micromanaged, told how much better it could be, how much we needed to shave off of this and do more of that. And towards the end, it ended up in meetings with me literally crying in the office (and not my office, THEIR office). They didn’t see an issue with this. At least they didn’t make it aware that they did. And even though I felt like a complete bag of assholes, every time I worked with them I felt obligated to keep it because it was great money. It was helping to pay the bills. And I felt like if I got rid of this client, everything was going to go to hell in a handbasket.
What would happen to my reputation? What would the public think if they found out we weren’t working with this client anymore?
We had been so knee-deep involved in this project that it was like a second business to us. If I fired this client, well, first of all, I didn’t even know that you could fire clients. I didn’t even know that was an option in business. But if I did, when I had that passing thought, I had a thousand other reasons and thoughts of why I shouldn’t do it. So you know what I did? I put up with it. I allowed it. I enabled it. I continued with it and it ended up in a complete and utter disaster.
Ultimately, we ended up losing the client. The restaurant was no longer there for other reasons, and I found myself in the predicament where I wasn’t the one in control making the decisions, but instead, these things happened to us. Which put me in a place where I had to figure things out very, very quickly.
A few of the things I was worried about happened, but most of them did not. And when I look back on that scenario, nothing bad happened. Yes, it was a little challenging for a little while and yes, we had to overcome a few obstacles, but guess what? We kept moving along and the space for better clients opened up when we no longer had that client. And the stress level of our office drastically reduced. Our happiness increased and we got to work with more people that actually valued and appreciated the things we did.
I can tell you that was the last time I ever allowed that shit in my office. Probably even more importantly, that’s the last time I allowed that to happen to me or my employees.
See, I can be a bit of a softy when it comes to leadership and entrepreneurship. I have a huge heart and I want to see and feel the best in people. Sometimes, that gets me in trouble. But it gets me in trouble a whole lot less than it used to because I have thicker skin on me now knowing we don’t have to put up with that shit for our livelihood to continue. And guess what? Neither do you.
I would bet there are probably a few people popping to the top of your mind right now thinking, “Oh my gosh, if I never had to work with so and so ever again, I would be such a better person.” So why? Why do you hang onto them? That’s the first place I want you to start really digging down a little bit deeper. Why do you feel like you have to work with this person, this group, this organization, or business?
Are you afraid that the money is going to go away, therefore you’re going to struggle? Do worry about your reputation? I want you to really dig deep and think “If my colleagues, friends, or other business owners were working with someone like this or they had the same thoughts and feelings, what type of advice would I give them?”
One of the scariest, yet most magical, things that can happen is when you clear that space (whether that’s firing a client, going your separate ways, or not accepting them in the first place), you create this beautiful space for the right people to come in. Every time we say no to a new client (and yes, that does happen because guess what – we’re allowed to and so are you) or we get rid of a client that’s no longer aligning with us, inevitably, a new client comes in that resonates with us on a level that is just indescribable.
This client is a dream client. They value what we do, they ask and want our insight or input, they see us as the expert, they know they came to us for a reason. And when we see that person’s name come across the phone, it’s not even a hesitation to pick it up.
So how did that happen? How did we go from the client that was making me bawl in their office to a client I can hardly wait until we see them again?
Well, it really all starts with you.
One of the most important things in finding a dream client is to know what your core values are at the base.
And I’m not talking about fancy words with fancy explanations. Yes, there’s a time and a place for those. But I’m talking about just the root of you and your business and how you do life as a standard. If I think back to the client that made me cry all the time – I don’t make people cry all the time or feel like a giant turd. So clearly, there was a misalignment there.
So the first step in finding your dream client is just a breakdown – a list of what’s important to you. What do you value in life? These might be things like family, fun, and travel. It could be a passion or a hunger for something more. It could even be something as simple as personality traits, like excitable and bubbly or always ready to take on a challenge. Your clients truly can be a reflection of you. But to have that reflection, you must first know what’s looking in the mirror to begin with.
The next thing I want you to do as an exercise is brainstorm.
Go back through all the clients or people just in general you have come across or work(ed) with and write down the characteristics you just won’t put up with. These are characteristics that don’t align with you as a person. Personality traits you clash with or just overall aesthetics you can’t see yourself being around. You don’t need to get all crazy with names, times, places, and all that stuff. No, we’re not worried about all that stuff because those people are not your people and that’s okay. But I want you to focus on are the characteristics.
What are things you do not want to interact with on a regular basis?
For instance, I don’t want to work with people that don’t value my input. We don’t want to work with people that expect us to be hands-on-keyboard. That disturbed puppeteer telling us what to do every day. Maybe you don’t want to work with people that have bad attitudes or aren’t optimistic. Maybe these people aren’t risk-takers and just want to do everything that’s safe, which doesn’t allow you to really perform in a way that’s most successful for you and your other clients.
I want you to also think about key phrases people say to you that throw up what we call red flags in our office. You could put any one of us in a meeting and we could all point out any type of red flag to say, AH, hold on. This has been done before. We’ve heard the statement before. This tends to lead us in the wrong direction. Consider this list that you’re making your red flag list.
So not only are these characteristics but what are key phrases that people say to you that you’re like, AH, hold up? I’ve heard this before and this does not end well and none of us want to be down this path again. You want to know.
One of our red flags honestly is, “Oh, if you just create this for us, our cousin’s sister’s friend’s neighbor can probably help out with this too.” Do you want to know why that’s a red flag for me? One, it tells me they don’t value the services we offer. Two, it tells me they’re trying to save a lot of bucks, but are expecting the same outcome. And when things are divided or not filtered through the same process, goals, and systems – someone ultimately ends up feeling like they didn’t get what they wanted out of the relationship.
So go back through your clients and think about the different times and scenarios when something has been said to you, you’ve had a gut check, but you’ve ignored it and thought, “You know what? Maybe we can just work through this.” You’ll find that it’s a lot of the same scenarios and freezes that are being said. By identifying these things, they’re gonna stick out like a sore thumb. When you’re meeting people, you’re most certainly going to be able to point them out a lot faster. It’s going to be a lot more top of mind and guess what? You’re going to be doing not only yourself but that potential client a huge service by saying, “You know what, we’re probably not the best fit for X, Y and Z reason.” And you can get them onto their next success with someone that more closely aligns with what they’re looking for in that relationship.
On the flip side of that, I want you to make a list of all the scenarios and characteristics of successful clients.
These are great relationships, things that resonate really highly with you and have turned out to be some of your best working relationships. Think about things like: How did this client make you feel?; What was successful about the relationship?; What really aligned to make that project or relationship a successful one?
And in that same breath, what are some of the freezes – the key phrases they said to you early on in the relationship that made you think, “Hmm, this is going to be a really great person to work with for us.”
At Worx, it’s things like:
We value your professionalism.
I don’t know how to do these things and appreciate that you guys have the creativity to do this.
I don’t want to tell you what to do.
I want your advice on how to make this work.
I saw your website. It seems like you take yourselves seriously in your work, but have a great time doing it. I love those things, too.
By also having this list, you’re also creating that top of mind awareness to say, “Hey, these are things that worked well in the past and I’m hearing and seeing and feeling them again, which tells me there’s a really good chance this relationship could go in that same positive direction.”
The key to having these great relationships is knowing what makes the other one successful to begin with. And just like there are probably common denominators in the no-go clients, I’ll also bet all your successful clients have very similar common denominators, as well. But to know who these rock-star customers and clients are, you have to truly be in tune to what makes them successful.
It’s kind of like a game of Where’s Waldo, right? Do you remember that book where you would fold it open and there were two pages with just a million and a half things going on and you had to find Waldo?
Well, how did you know how to find Waldo?
You knew that he was wearing a red and white striped hat with a little ball on the end, black glasses that were round, and a red and white striped shirt. He wasn’t always in the most obvious place, but because you knew all these characteristics of him, you knew what you were looking for. Think of your greatest clients as a really solid game of where’s Waldo. They’re out there. You just have to know what you’re looking for to begin with.
After this point, it’s truly up to you to invite your greatest clients into work with you from your very first interaction, whether it’s online, on a phone call, or in person.
The most important thing you can do is be 100% authentically who you are as a business.
And as a business, you and your employees should be singing to the same tune (if you’re curious about hiring and how to build that tribe, head back to Episode 10 where I talk about the hiring process, so that you’re doing the same type of exercise with building from within).
But if you’re somebody else, portraying to be something you’re not, and putting on a persona with your first interactions, guess what? You’re going to attract people that are attracted to those qualities and characteristics. But if you allow yourself to be just a little bit freer and talk the way you want to talk and do business – the way you know you do business best – you’re going to attract clients that really appreciate the way you do things.
That rock-star client I was telling you about, yeah, they came on board because they did extensive research on us online before they even got to us in person or on the phone. So I want you to also really evaluate the verbiage, photos, and the overall way you present yourself through your branding and marketing online.
Don’t be afraid to call out some of these awesome characteristics of who you’re looking for.
I think we play this guessing game too much. Like, I really want to work with cool people, but then we don’t identify what cool people means, right? So how are we supposed to know and how are your potential client’s supposed to know? I mean, let’s not make people guess things.
It’s like a marriage. We have these expectations and you want your spouse to do something very specific, but yet I’m not going to tell them what I want them to do because they should.
Just, no bullshit guys. Just put it out there. Really be black and white. And do it in the tone that matches your culture. You can do it in a photojournalistic style through images, colors, and fonts. You can do it through video. You can do it through texts. I mean, there are a thousand ways to really portray and help people say, “Oh, you know what? I liked the way they write. I can see myself working with them” or “I liked the way they run their business. I liked the way they do things. I would like to reach out to them.”
Do you know how you get your dream clients? You get them by being YOU because the people you’re working with and surround yourself with are a reflection of whatever you are putting out. If you’re getting a ton of clients misaligning with you, a lot of the times you need to step back and take a look in the mirror at yourself and say, “How can I change things? What am I putting out that is maybe giving the wrong impression and giving me all these clients that don’t belong to me?”
And I want to leave you today with the reminder that you have the power to say no.
If those red flags are being thrown up in the air (you’re hearing all those catchphrases that give you a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach or you just don’t feel an energetic vibe with someone), it is 110% okay to say “We’re not the right fit.”
And if you’re already working with somebody doing those things, it is okay to part ways with them. Yes, it can feel scary. Yes, it may feel like, “I don’t know how I’m going to supplement the income they bring me. I don’t know how I’m going to find my next client.” But guess what? Inevitably, you will create space for the right clients, which are going to leave you way more fulfilled and ultimately bring way better business. Because the work you’re doing in the relationships you have, send a signal out into the world to say, “Hey, I want more of this.”
So why not do that with your dream clients – the people that pay you what you’re worth, value the services you offer, and can’t wait to send more people like them your way.
Join me for this Thursday’s #powerback as we expand on the concept of being authentically who you are in business, being your same self from nine to five as you are from five to nine.
Until then, follow The Gutsy Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or for more business insights, follow me on Instagram @thatlauraaura. See ya next time!
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