“Should I start saying NO to business? How do I know if it’s the right time to turn down business?” All business owners eventually ask themselves this. Regardless of how long you’ve been in business, you’ll experience this question. It’s important to recognize and decide quickly to avoid burning out and– get this– keep you working with the RIGHT types of clients.
I recently had a conversation with a client who needed to answer this question for herself.
Let me give you some background. Bridget, our business owner, is busy. She runs a service-based business that is growing, but she’s not able to increase her staff. She’s doing most of the work herself. She loves her job and is incredibly passionate about what she does, but because she has so much on her plate, she is stretched thin and wondering if she should turn down a new prospective client.
Time and burnout are common problems. Let’s dig into this.
Suppose we understand that lack of time and burnout run together. In that case, we can identify the warning signs and take swift action preventively—you can avoid the almost inevitable burnout of yourself and your staff.
Instead of asking yourself CAN you help them, ask yourself SHOULD you help them? Will I overcommit myself and risk burnout if I take on this new client? Is this even the right client for me? We aren’t just burnt out because we overcommit to tasks. It’s also because we are committing to the wrong tasks and the wrong people.
Why do Entrepreneurs experience burnout?
When we’re new at a business, we work hard to get from zero to one. We remember what it’s like to have zero clients; we remember what it’s like when we’re hustling to get a small piece of the pie. Those lean months (or years) are burned into our memory.
The problem is that our brains need to catch up to us on the level of success we’re now at. We have these old practices that don’t service our current business or mindset. We no longer need the mindset of: “Oh, my client type? Anyone who will pay me!”
After some time in the business, we get one client, then two, three, four, and five clients. Now we are busy. Things get challenging, and we begin to feel burned out. Ideally, you can staff up for all those clients and scale your business.
But as for saying yes to prospective clients? We just keep doing it. Good fit or not. You remember what it’s like to have zero clients. Because of this, we often say yes when we really want to say, “no thank you.” But let’s look beyond just standard burn out.
It can suck the joy out of the craft we love.
When you first start, you may think, “if I could just do this thing, make it into a business, it would be amazing,” and then time passes, and you’re doing it. But if you do the thing with too many people, you start not to love it anymore.
Again it comes back to the problem of– we remember what it was like to be small, hungry and maybe a little desperate. And so we said yes to clients we shouldn’t be working with.
It’s short-sighted and can make us hate our craft, we don’t love working in it like we thought we would. This doesn’t create the space for us to do our best work.
Whenever I have a business client who doesn’t enjoy the work anymore, I don’t first ask about “the work”. I ask about the clients they are doing the work with.
I don’t want you to hate your craft, and I don’t want you to get burnt out. To avoid this, we’ve got to turn down business. Even when its uncomfortable. Even when it feels like you are swatting away dollar bills. You gotta do it.
Understanding the signs of growth in your business will help prepare for this problem. Here are two unexpecting signs:
1. Turning down business opportunities. Whether you’re saying I cannot help you or refer the business to someone you’ve partnered with before. Maybe it’s because of your workload and the inability to service the client properly, or you may destroy your team if you take on the work. Regardless of your reason, THIS IS GROWTH. Not business suicide.
So often we make up stories in our head like “I should be able to handle this,” or “If I were better/more equipped, etc. I could do more.” But recognize it for what it is—you are growing.
2. Turning down business due to alignment. Maybe it’s not your ideal client, or it’s a misalignment of values. It’s okay to say no. We’ve all experienced taking on a client or company and thinking, “I don’t know that they are right for me, but I’ll make it work…” and then regretted it every day after. Am I right?
Another sign of growth… Firing a client.
Firing a client feels uncomfortable; and it can feel counterintuitive. It’s so easy to remember what it was like when your business was so small, and you were worried about getting your first clients. But if you are wondering if you should fire a client—then you already know your answer. Reset expectations and boundaries if you can—but then—off you go! “Let’s get you pointed in the direction of someone who can serve your needs exactly the way you want!” (not me…)
This feeling is often a scarcity mentality and its fear that keeps you from making the right decision for your business.
Working with a client that is not a good fit doesn’t yield your best work. And even if you knocked it out of the park, the misalignment will bleed through because—spoiler alert– they won’t be satisfied. So many entrepreneurs try to make it work and say, “I bent over backward to satisfy them—and it still didn’t work! They never appreciated it.” That’s because it was never going to work.
My tip for you: do not light yourself on fire to keep someone else warm. There is someone else who this prospect is a great fit for. It doesn’t need to be you. Off you go!
How do you know when to fire a client?
You should fire a client the second you start thinking, “I wonder if I should fire this client?” Bam! That’s when you know. Off you go!
We can either fix something or fire something.
It’s that easy. When you try to fix the problem, setting proper expectations is crucial. We often skip this step at the beginning and are surprised when our needs are unmet.
Uncommunicated needs will often become unmet needs.
It has been my experience, that most deals and partnerships go sideways because people were operating under a different set of expectations. That’s one of the most considerable forces in sales and negotiations. Everyone has a different set of expectations at the table. So be sure to manage expectations and be sure to communicate them up front. It doesn’t get easier AFTER someone crossed your boundary. But ultimately- if you cannot fix it, you then need to fire it.
As you scale your business, recognize these two signs and requirements of growth.
If you are sitting there questioning whether it’s possible to add one more thing to your plate, your answer may be that it’s time to turn down business. Or the answer may be that it’s time to fire a less than ideal client.
Pro Tip: When firing a client, look at your highest maintenance and lowest profit clients.
Are you interested in learning how we work with clients to determine what stage of growth they are at? We are happy to discuss an exercise we do to examine a book of business. You would be amazed how predictable this is. Trends emerge when you really dive into it, that blow your mind. Reach out if you’d like more information.
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Interested in learning more about crushing procrastination and getting more done in less time? Would you like to connect with April live? We are hosting a live FREE virtual event. You should be there. And maybe we’ll give you that prize we mentioned earlier. www.pivot-me.com/event
This article first appeared on April McKeegan-Garcia LinkedIn page.