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Finding and then retaining clients is one of the hardest aspects of running a business.  It’s no wonder that we scramble to obtain and then keep every single client, purely out of fear of being starved of revenue or being seen as unsuccessful.

I remember when I first started out that I was encouraged to attend various training sessions, to help develop my then non existent business acumen. Although this was extremely helpful, it barely touched upon the reality that not  every client is always a good one (or bad for that matter), and I certainly wasn’t taught or shown how to distinguish between the two.

How do you work out which is which?

To understand the difference you need to classify your clients and prioritise them in order to fully understand their true value. This is not being condescending or in any way undermining them as valuable individuals or enterprises, but you do need to be just as ruthless with them as you are with your finances. By not doing so, you risk emotional bias or bias creeping in  out of a misplaced sense of loyalty especially when that is not reciprocated.

All’s fair in love and war when it comes to determining who or not to work with

You often hear about A and D list celebrities which often refer to those that are on the top of their game, bankable, have a high net worth (A-list) and those still climbing up the ranks or wannabes (D-List).

It’s kind of similar in business but, then again it’s not…

An A-list client is one that is able or willing to make a major contribution to your business and one that you want to keep working with and developing. They work with you rather than against, have aligned goals or standards and meet you halfway especially during busy times when cooperation is needed to get the reports done.

A D-list client is one that consumes a lot of your time and energy but for little reward or gain. They are often demanding, wanting everything for nothing and expecting you to prioritise their needs over everyone else’s but then fails to reciprocate. They can, in effect, prevent you from enjoying the working relationship, consuming resources and hindering the amount of quality time you have to spend on your more profitable A-list clients.

In an ideal world you would be able to recognise D-list clients before you start working for them, however it’s never that easy or clear. Most working relationships start from an honest place with good intentions that then can change from being a positive experience to a negative one on both sides.

It’s at this point that you need to have ‘the chat’ and be honest with each other. If the working relationship is not salvageable then perhaps it’s sensible to say goodbye.

It’s not likely to be a comfortable discussion, but necessary and in a way you need to go through this to ensure that your business remains viable and healthy – so dont leave it too long and trust your gut feeling as often you will instinctively know if things aren’t right. 

When is the right time to break up?

Often we recognise the feeling that makes us stop and think ‘this isnt working’ but fail to act on it either through inexperience or worry that you may be making the wrong decision.

Although every situation is different, there are some signs that will help you to recognise the fact that you may need to rethink your position.

  1. You’re saying Yes when really you should be saying No

I am guilty of saying yes first (far too often) and then working out how to actually do what I just agreed to! Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits in taking calculated risks but you still need to understand and ensure that you have both the skills and time to deliver, as overpromising and under-delivering will impact your reputation as a professional and impartial provider if you receive negative reviews or feedback. 

There are times when the job being asked is either not cost effective, outside of your skillset or just not in the best interests of your company or service yet you say yes for fear of losing or upsetting the client. This could be completing a report that is out of your area or you haven’t yet been trained to carry out.

Remember; it is easier to go from a No to Yes but not so easy the other way round so if it doesn’t feel right and you are unsure then probably best to stick to No.

  1. Doing it their way and not yours

When was the last time a client asked for a report to be ‘altered’ or information added that you can’t verify or evidence? I’d hazard a guess at least once or twice. 

It’s not uncommon and again might come from very good intentions however once you start on this slippery path you run the risk of setting a precedent which is almost as unbreakable as ‘an unbreakable vow’ (yes I am referencing Harry Potter).

It could be a mark that you didn’t see on the carpet that the landlord wants to claim for, a level of cleanliness that the agent says is better than it is and therefore could you just say that it’s clean in the report  and ‘we will sort it tomorrow?’

It’s a tricky situation as on the one hand you want to be seen as flexible, helpful and accommodating but on the other hand you have set your standards and this is going against your service ethos of impartiality and evidence based reporting. 

Over accommodating at the risk of lowering your standards is not you operating on a level playing field and certainly won’t help you in the long term as you would have already compromised your service values.

Ask yourself: is this a one off, an acceptable request or a repeating pattern of unacceptable requests; if the latter then maybe it’s time to rethink the relationship.

  1. You’re not feeling worth it

When was the last time you actually sat down and evaluated and audited your report rate card?

Do you know what your rates are for each client, the percentages, and or why you agreed to such vast differences? 

Have you actually sat down and worked out how much time you spend with each and every client and what they pay you versus the actual level of work required to go from booking in to the final report?

I know it’s easier said than done especially when you’re busy running the business. 

I know the ideal business model is that you work ‘on’ the business but juggling report orders, self employed clerks and providers plus all the admin that goes hand in hand with running a business often means you are ‘fire fighting’ a lot of the time and certainly in the early stages of start up. 

Often you just concentrate on getting through the day, the weeks, the month to get to invoicing day and then repeat.

Ideally you need to plan ahead and set aside a day or two, certainly at least once a year (and before the end of the financial year) to sit down and look at your rates, your outgoings and the amount of work you complete to get to those figures for each and every client.

Take a real hard and honest look at how much they actually cost you in time, effort (late night WhatsApp messages) and random requests and ask a very simple question: is it really worth it?

If you think yes but not at that price; raise your prices. By providing quality, robust and evidence based reports you will have and deliver the best service which will attract the best clients (A-list).

If you think no; raise your prices. Often those clients wanting everything for nothing will gravitate to a provider willing to sell their wares for less than they are worth (D-list). Wish them well and move on.

Don’t put your business or service at risk by focusing on relationships that cost you more in time and effort than is realised in revenue and are stressful to you and your team.

Trust me when I say, you are worth it but equally you need to show this.

  1. You’re being treated badly

There are going to be times when the clients behaviour is less than savoury bordering on downright unprofessional and demeaning. Sometimes this is due to stresses and strains on the client that you may not always be privy to; it does happen. 

We are all human and we don’t all react positively and behave in the way we should however if this is a repeating pattern and isn’t looking like it will be addressed or the client thinks a quick unmeaning ‘sorry’ will fix things then it is really time to rethink the relationship and look to enact your exit strategy and quickly.

Life is too short to be stressed as this will impact negatively on your work and those who work with you as often it is the inventory clerk that bares the brunt when collecting keys or having to redo the report or being canceled at the last moment because the client just wont get their act together. 

Try to talk with the client; set out the issues and the solutions you have to help them; you may find they didn’t realise that their behavior was so bad and welcome your input but if they don’t then say thank you and walk away as you and your team should be working with individuals and companies that value your knowledge, skills and expertise.

  1. Your impartiality is being compromised 

When starting a business many of us turn to family and friends to help out for unpaid work or advice which is understandable. Most if not all of us have availed ourselves of such support at the beginning of our journey.

The issue with this type of working practice is that often it’s more of a ‘wing and a prayer’ than a strategy and you may find yourself cutting corners just to get things done or to fit your support network rather than your standards. 

It can also get rather tricky when you need more from your team than they are willing or able to give yet your property reports still need completing. 

This is the point you may feel like it’s all not worth it as you drag yourself out of bed at silly o’clock and attempt to get all the reports done so you can get on with the day job of running the business.

This really won’t work medium or long term, so although asking friends and family for help in the initial phases makes sense you have to plan longer term. Get the right team of skilled professionals up and running either by employing them direct, engaging with self employed clerks or training new clerks, outsourcing via Workstreams or working alongside other businesses to manage your work orders.

It’s a fallacy to think that you have to accept every and all business that may come your way either directly, via referral or word of mouth.

Think about the value of the work – not just in the monetary sense, but also in how the relationship might benefit the business as a whole and do not be afraid to say no and walk away.

I know it’s difficult to do when you have little or no clients, and it is so tempting just to get them onboard. But don’t ignore the fact that your gut feels uneasy, that the rates being offered are lower than you deserve or that the report quality is being compromised by unethical requests to ‘look the other way’ when it comes to evidence based reporting. 

I know, I get it. I have been there and faced the same dilemmas. 

It’s neither comfortable nor, in some respects, does it make any sense to turn away work and revenue, but you will thank yourself later when your client base is made up of A listers who work with you to attain the same standards and attributes which then elevates you from being not just a service provider but a professional property service provider.