Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Letting Go

Posted by debrahelwig on March 24, 2009

Yard Sale Sign

This past weekend, I saw my proof that Spring is finally here. No, not the pretty flowers and singing birds; those have been around for a couple of weeks now. I mean the incontrovertible, definitive proof that great weather is here to stay.

Yard Sale signs.

Practically every subdivision I passed last Saturday had a sign out. Homemade signs, big store bought signs, balloons, dancing children holding posterboards – pretty much any means the sellers could think of to entice folks to come and buy.

This got me thinking. With the economy so topsy-turvy, people are looking for deals. Maybe now is the time to make a little money from all that “stuff” lying around in my basement and the garage.

So I came home, rolled up my sleeves, and started rummaging. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I found – or maybe you would. Things like a 1983 Star Wars “Yoda” hand puppet in its original box. A handblown crystal chandelier that hung in my grandmother’s house. An absolute collector’s paradise at $5 and under. I could make a mint.

But here’s the kicker – I’m having to work really hard to make myself get rid of any of it. Though I aspire to the streamlined living of great people like Erin Doland at Unclutterer, I’m just not that great at letting go, even when the benefits (money, space) are obvious. Every time I pick up a piece, I put it back down again, strangely insecure about how I’ll feel if it goes away.

Many of us are like this in our business dealings too. I guarantee that if you look through your list of clients and focus on the relationships you’ve built, there are a handful that you’d be better off without. Not a “dump and run” of treasured folks just because their revenue stream isn’t high enough, mind you. I’m talking about relationships that were extremely valuable to you at one time, but who now have been relegated to your firm’s equivalent of the basement keepsake pile.

In this evaluation, size is irrelevant. What matters here is synchronicity. Do they match your current expertise and vision? Is it still the work that you are best suited to do? Maybe not. Maybe they came to you years ago, and your business has shifted its niches and focus since then. Maybe that client takes an inordinate amount of resources to service, compared to the return they bring. Maybe the relationship just isn’t humming along like it used to, and you find yourself dreading their phone calls. Referring clients like that to other firms who are a better match would be such a relief for everyone. And, in addition to being a true client service, it would open the door for you to pursue new opportunities.

But just like me with my grandmother’s chandelier, you haven’t let go yet.

Why? Because these clients are safe. And in this economy, where new business is hard to come by, making the effort to find different homes for them feels uncomfortable at best, suicidal at worst.

But it’s not.

Here’s why. By making great referrals for your clients who are no longer a good match, you strongly improve the possibility that inbound referrals of your ideal clients will increase as well. You make space for new business to happen. You remove the drag on your staff that comes from working with issues that no longer resonate.

Remember the movie Miracle on 34th Street? In that classic, Macy’s Santa sent people wherever they needed to go to buy the perfect toys, regardless of what it meant to Macy’s business. Customers quickly realized the company had their best interests at heart – so they shopped there more, not less, and referred their friends. Better yet, the other department stores, wanting to seem equally altruistic, sent plenty of business back to Macy’s.

Win – win – win. And win. And win some more.

It comes down to this: is it worth a lot of initial discomfort to gain the reputation for doing what’s right for every single one of your clients? Or will you be known for hoarding business that isn’t quite right for you, no matter how unhappy the relationship might become?

Maybe it’s time to sort through your client list, just like I’m sorting for my yard sale. Then, make a date to let the referrals begin.

My yard sale is April 24th. When will you let go of the relationships that are holding you (and them) back?

Photo by DaquellaManera (license)
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One Response to “Letting Go”

  1. Stephanie Hill said

    Another brilliant and timely post.

    In my own fledgling business, I lost a major client this week, one on whom I have depended for the lion’s share of my income during these difficult times. This is make-or-break time for my business, and while I didn’t have the luxury of referring them to someone else, I was able to make some suggestions for them that I hope will ultimately prove beneficial for them.

    I have been looking at some other clients who would be a better fit for my new business direction, but I was reluctant to take them on with the outstanding commitments I already had. Maybe God made the choice for me. Either way, that client is going to be happier, and I have the freedom to make my business exactly what it needs to be.

    And can I get a preview of the yard sale goodies??

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