Which Clients Should I Fire Today?

Cut from the bottom, add to the top

A friend and mentor of mine, many years ago used to repeat this phrase endlessly when referring to staff. Many excellent companies take this approach by regularly “culling” and enhancing. General Electric famously under Jack Welch, HP for many years, certainly our US Military with officers promotable or out.

What’s less common and more controversial is the same philosophy with clients. Many years ago now I applied rigorously to my own businesses. I remember reading a story told by Tom Peters (of, “In Search of Excellence” fame among many others) in I believe is fabulous book “A Passion for Excellence.”

In it he told the story of a large account firm (although it certainly could have been a Wealth Management firm just as easily) who reviewed all clients. They decided to essentially rank order them all. The primary concern was to find those who weren’t “a joy to the soul to work with.” The criteria included things like whether they were overly and unreasonably demanding. Whether they were friendly or rude. Whether they paid their bills when presented or delayed and nit picked. In the story they fired the bottom 20% of their client base. In pretty rapid fashion the office environment changed for the better. They staff started looking forward to coming to work.

To me it’s a great way to handle your staff and your clients. Frankly it’s a great framework for everything in life. Don’t use vendors who aren’t delightful to work with. Edit people out of your circle who are a time-suck or who drain your emotional energy, certainly true with friends and family.

With your business it’s the reason to create that “Ideal Target” client and to find ways and places to effectively round them up in groups. Much better than just whoever you can get a referral to from your existing clients. And, certainly it works with referrals. Your idea clients are much more likely to know others “like themselves,” and your less than ideal clients are likely to bring others who are not a good fit as well.

So, one way to grow a thriving practice is certainly to take a look at your current staff and cut the ones who are low performers or who aren’t a joy to grow and develop. Sometimes that’s hard. That same friend/mentor had a description for that too: “I’d rather have a crisis than a sloppy situation.” Handle it today.

The next step (emotionally harder for some) is to really review your client roaster and cut the bottom 10, 20 even 30%. It’s easier when you have massive new client flow and huge positive revenue, however it can be a lot harder in practice when you have 1,500 clients rather than 30 so start now and stay on that track. BTW it’s ESSENTIAL to learn how to market effectively so that you can bring in plenty of the right target clients “on demand.”