I always get a lot of push back when I start talking about firing clients, especially with new entrepreneurs who are still wondering how they will pay their bills every month. I get it because I used to think like this too. When I was operating from a scarcity mindset, I always thought, “If I let this client go, I have no idea if I can replace them.” It didn’t matter how the client treated me or if they were getting any value out of my service. I simply could not wrap my mind around the fact that if I released a PITA (pain in the ass), I made room for one more client who would be a joy to work with.
That all changed when I started my own fee-only advising firm. After the nightmare of losing a huge client because I didn’t properly convey my value to him, I made myself a promise that I would never again devalue myself or my work for any reason. Once you truly understand your own value and begin operating under the abundance mindset, it becomes easy to give up clients who don’t fit your business model. Most of the time, when I decide to fire a client, they fall into one (or more) of the below four categories. (For related reading, see: When (and How) to Fire a Client.)
They Only Want to Talk About Money
We’ve all had these clients. They’ve not even sat down at the table before they’re talking about this or that investment, what their bottom line is, and the strengths or weaknesses of their portfolios. You may try to get them to talk about dreams and goals or the concepts of emotional investing, but they want nothing to do with it. They’re interested in only one thing: the bottom line.
It may not be immediately clear that you need to fire a client like this because they technically aren’t arguing with you, wasting your time, or displaying the traditional red flags. However, one of my business values is that I am interested in working with clients who appreciate my knowledge of the soft sciences and behavioral investing. If I am working with someone who has no interest in that, they don’t appreciate my value and would be better off with an advisor who can just talk numbers with them.
They Call You Every Day to Check Up on Their Investments
Have you ever wanted to block one of your clients’ numbers on your cell phone? I know I have. The clients who think it’s appropriate to call you on a daily basis to either discuss, analyze, or complain about how their investments are doing are PITAs. They waste your time and are displaying clear signs of an emotional investor. They do not see your value and the strength of the long-term strategy you’ve put in place. You’re probably not going to be able to make this type of client see the errors of his ways, so it’s usually better to turn them over to an advisor who is happy to hold their hand.
You Just Can’t Seem to Get Along
I’ve had clients who understand behavioral investing, who have plenty of money to make my time worthwhile, and who understand the big picture of our long-term plan. But for one reason or another, we just can’t get along. This is the client who you dread meeting with because you know you’re going to get into a debate about politics or religion. The client who has a bad attitude and brings you down. The client who blames others for their place in life and takes offense at everything. If every interaction with a client gives you stress, you need to do yourself the favor of letting them go.
They Do Not Understand or Appreciate Your Value
As a fee-only advisor, what I’m "selling" every day is value. I’m not selling my ability to pick stocks or to read the future of the market. I’m not selling specific products and I’m not selling certainty. I’m selling the value of being a mentor, a lifelong learner, and an educator of the soft sciences. If your clients do not understand or appreciate this, you need to fire them so you can free space for those who will.
If you’re afraid to fire a client, it means you have not properly identified your value to yourself. It may take some soul searching and the help of a good coach or mentor to better establish your true value and to move to a mindset of abundance.
When you become a mentor to your clients, deeply understand them, and guide them toward a better future, then you've learned the ways of a financial caregiver. You've come to know what it means to be a true purveyor of advice, and how to use money as a conduit to a more fulfilling life for yourself and those you serve. (For more, see: How to Deal With (Seriously) Dysfunctional Clients.)