Many professionals do not refuse clients out of fear of losing money. However, there is another side to the coin — the high price of the negative effect of accepting everyone who walks in the door.

One happy professional I know, a lawyer, always has a clear view of both his service and his ideal client. Contrary to the conventional notion never to turn away a client, his laser beam approach about what he offers and for whom has brought him so much business he is now in the process of hiring associates to handle the work.

He has a procedure he follows to determine which clients he accepts and which he doesn’t. Everyone is afforded an interview during which the client outlines their expectations. As a patent attorney, he describes the process, the cost, and the reality that after a very long period of time, probably years, of living with the case, it may not work out as they hoped. He and the client ascertain if they can live with that kind of commitment.

Next, he clarifies his billing policy stating that nothing will move forward, no filing, litigation, or act of any kind without advance payment. Phone calls are billed in 12-minute increments and calls will be returned within 24 hours. He won’t tolerate foul language or any kind of abuse of his staff. At the end of this interview, it is usually pretty clear if he and the client will be a good fit.

Though my example is a lawyer, professionals in any field can benefit from this type of clarity when taking on new clients.

What can you do to make your practice and life less stressful and more enjoyable when it comes to clients? Here is a suggestion: Make a list of your clients. Design a scale from 1 to 5 or another that makes sense to you. For example, rate polite and patient, reasonable expectations, provides needed information in a timely fashion, constant phone calls during late hours and weekends, abusive behavior.

Which clients are pleasant? Which are high maintenance, have high expectations, cause you grief because of unrealistic demands on your time and attention? Which pay on time and which are in arrears? Which clients are worth your time, aggravation, and effect they have on your health and enjoyment of what you do?

Note the details that constitute a pleasant client or a miserable one. Use the information you glean from this exercise to choose new clients more intelligently. Perhaps find ways to bring present client projects to closure or make a referral to someone else in your network.

Additionally, can you honestly say you are the best professional for all of your clients, or did you accept some of them because of your policy to accept everyone?

Rate yourself and your staff on how well you meet reasonable expectations. Ask for feedback about your service from clients you value. Act on it.

Holding yourself and your clients to a high level of integrity will serve you well in attracting the right ones to you and you will benefit in other ways: lowered stress, more time for yourself and family, a more pleasant work environment, more efficiency, and a happier staff.


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