I am asked this question a lot.

I am surprised how often I am asked ‘Should I take on/keep working for this client?’ My answer is always the same.

I say, ‘Well the fact that you have to ask suggests that you have some concerns about this client; tell me more.’ The answer is nearly always that there are issues that haven’t been discussed and fixed resulting in an unsatisfying relationship. It’s become win/lose where you are the loser and its making you unhappy.

Next I tell them a story. It’s about an accountancy firm I did some work with several years ago. I started by asking the firm what were their client acceptance criteria (mine has 10 elements and a prospect has to achieve at least 8). They laughed and said ‘anyone who can pay’. But they meant it. I soon discovered that this was a firm in trouble.

This was confirmed when later on they asked me to do some specialist work outside their area of expertise for one of their clients, a well-known businessman with a national reputation. After carrying out my due diligence I politely declined. He had some dubious associates and had been involved in some questionable transactions. ‘You can’t decline’ they screamed, ‘we’ve told him we’ve approached you.’ Too bad. Why would I risk my reputation?

And it’s not only the dodgy prospective client. I’ve come across numerous business owners who try “not to lose” business. They never “push back” at the prospect no matter how ridiculous the request (or demand). They accept the payment terms the prospect wants, even though they are unfair. They negotiate their fee, even though the fee already provides a huge ROI for the prospect. They allow scope creep. In short, they do everything possible not to lose the sale and wind up gaining the sale but losing money, time, profit, and any chance of a meaningful relationship. They become just another supplier.

We need to enter into conversations with prospects and clients in which we want to win business, in a very traditional sense, and not try not to lose it. The former is a confident and assertive attitude; the latter is a scared and tentative attitude.

Here is my five point plan for addressing a conversation with a prospective client:

1. I have tremendous value which I have to make clear and not assume the prospect will understand it unless I do so.

2. I can create assertiveness by questioning the prospect, contradicting any misconceptions, and suggesting new ideas instead of merely accepting his or hers.

3. I don’t need this business, and certainly not on unfavourable terms. I can find other business.

4. If I accept unfavourable conditions now, they will inevitably become worse during the project.

5. I need to direct this conversation as an expert, and not merely try to hang on for dear life!

I’ve seen business owners accept poor business which they’ve tried not to lose and get locked into a time commitment that precludes them from finding good business.

Life is too short for that; we are privileged to be here for such a little time. Our lives should be filled with things that bring both meaning and happiness or else we waste our days. Only when we are immersed in both do we create an optimal life in which we are making a contribution.

I find that usually answers the question.

Noel Guilford, Principal at Guilford Accounting
Noel Guilford is the principal of Guilford Accounting a small business accountancy practice specialising in advising owner-managed businesses on current accounting, finance, and tax matters. You can reach him via email at noel@guilfordaccounting.co.uk or by phone at 01244 660866. He is the author of the 'Figure it out - an entrepreneurs guide to understanding your business numbers' which you can obtain by visiting guilfordaccounting.co.uk.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ His latest book, How to Build a Successful Business' will be published in 2018.

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