“Decisions. We can think about things, turn them over in our minds a million times, play out possible scenarios, but really when it comes down to it, you have to go with your heart and move forward. Maybe things will go well. Maybe they’ll turn out poorly. Every decision brings with it some good, some bad, some lessons, and some luck. The only thing that’s for sure is that indecision steals many years from many people who wind up wishing they’d just had the courage to leap.” – Doe Zantamata
Certainty of the negative without equal certainty of the positive keeps businesses frozen in time.
The one theme/question that comes up the most when I am speaking with entrepreneurs (that have been in business for a while) is, in short form, how do I fire bad clients without killing my business?
It is easy to say to just get rid of them but we all know that means a drop in revenue, profit and often a reduction in expenses (and staff as part of that) as an offset. I have given a variety of answers and strategies but none are truly satisfying because the implications to the business are often severe and point to a much larger issue.
I’d like to talk about that larger issue and question…
How do I make a decision that I know will hurt my business in the short term without 100% (or even 80%) certainty that it will help me in the long term?
You know what you have, even if it is not making you happy or as successful as you want, so how you do make the leap of faith to damage your business in order to make it better?
Maybe you have clients that cost you more than you earn from them. Maybe the market is shifting under your feet and you need to make a big investment to change how you do business. Maybe you need to make some key new hires to allow you to handle larger clients long before the revenue from those larger clients comes in.
How many of these decisions are you putting off? How long have you been struggling with the status quo? How bad does the pain have to be in your business before you make these hard decisions?
Here are a few better questions to consider:
How can I do everything I can to ensure the successful outcome after I make these hard decisions? (i.e. Execute, execute and…. execute)
How can I get more comfortable with the short term pain these moves will create so I can get through them with more ease?
First, I must admit that while my thinking on this topic is not fully “baked” the pervasiveness of the problem for entrepreneurs is crystal clear. For any of you wrestling with this issue, I want to bring it back to the front of your brain. Putting it off will never make it better.
Second, the reason there is no perfect answer to the “What do I do with my bad clients?” question is that the answer will involve some level of discomfort that you may or may not be ready for. The fear of self-inflicted damage to our business, despite it being the right thing to do, stops the decision. Cold.
With this in mind, I want you to think deeply about the downside you are worried about. How real is it? How long have you been putting it off and at what cost to you and your business? At what cost to your staff that has to deal with them? At what cost to morale? At what cost to the clients that you love?
Can you think through all the steps you would need to take that will take you from the hard decision to the lasting change you want to make? How can you create a plan that minimizes the pain and gets as close as possible to guaranteed success? When will you do it?
If you can take the time, and space, to meticulously think through the path to a much larger future for your business, and still will not take action to create it, then the only thing that is stopping you is fear.
If you will indulge me here a bit further, I want to relay a recent lesson about fear that I have found to be a helpful mantra: “Fear is in the waiting.”
In it, a young boy is grappling with being bullied and an overall lack of confidence after a tough year of school. His Navy Seal Uncle is coming to spend the summer and, among many other things, teaches the boy to swim. The culmination of this swim instruction is a leap off of a bridge above the river they have been swimming in. The young boy climbs up to the bridge but is frozen with fear despite knowing that he is now a very strong swimmer and has watched his Uncle jump off the bridge many times. His Uncle explains to him that the fear he is feeling only exists in the waiting. The fear is from all the bad possible outcomes that are filling his mind despite having done everything necessary to be ready for the jump.
The fear is in the waiting.
You may never be 100% sure about the outcome of the tough decisions you need to make to dramatically improve the future of your business. However, if you have done everything possible to prepare for the leap you know you must take then the only thing stopping you is fear.
Put in the planning. Get comfortable with things being worse before they get better. Be confident in your plan.