Successful businesses grow, and that’s a really good thing, especially if you’re the owner of said business.
But what they don’t tell you about growth is that it comes with a series of shifts you probably weren’t expecting. One of the big ones involves a deviation from what you consider your “ideal” client.
Maybe you’ve decided to pull a 180 and refocus your entire clientele. Maybe when you started out you took whatever you could get, but now you understand the market a little better and you just want to shift some of your clients. Either way, it’s totally normal for you to start looking for greener pastures.
Altering your clientele can be a difficult task, however. You have to decide which of your current clients you’re going to keep (if any) and how you’re going to support your business financially while you shift gears.
The good news is that it’s totally doable. Here are a few tips to help you refocus while still keeping your business in the black.
Don’t Alienate Current Clients
Unless your company won the lottery, the biggest thing you’ll need to focus on is having a good financial strategy during your transition.
Chances are when you started your business, you were jumping up and down when anyone wanted to work with you, so you said yes to whatever clients came your way. But even if you were confident enough to say “no” from the start, now that you’re ready to move on, you’re going to have to start saying no more often.
The biggest issue with saying “no” is that you have to remember some of your clients really, really like you. You have a great business, and you’re providing helpful services, and they rely on you to keep their business profitable. The last thing you want to do is kick them to the curb without a good reason.
Sure, some annoy you, so don’t feel bad about giving them the pink slip, but there may be some that you really enjoy working with. Is there a way for you to keep providing a service for them? Is there a way to upsell them on your refocused services?
Basically, if you don’t absolutely have to dump them, don’t. Loyal clients are hard to find, and they can actually be a huge asset as you start making changes (hello, referrals!).
If, however, you know that you’re ready to move on, don’t send them a Dear John letter just yet. You’re still going to need income to support your transition, especially if it means hiring new contractors or investing in new software. You still have to run your business, so letting go of a perfectly good paycheck isn’t the best way to stay afloat.
That’s why you should…
Introduce Changes Slowly, But Confidently
Whether you’re keeping all of your old clients or ditching them completely, at the very least you’ll need to let them all know they’re in for a change. No one likes to be blindsided, so the sooner into the process you can tell them, the better.
Consider sending a quick message to your main contacts that says, “Hey, just wanted to let you know we’re going to be making a few changes to our brand as we move forward.” You certainly don’t have to reveal any of those changes unless you want, but do let them know that if they have questions they can contact you.
Here are a few suggestions for handling these sorts of client communications:
Go easy. Remember that nobody really likes change
Be vulnerable. Make sure you communicate why those changes matter to you
Use different channels. Don’t just send an email, but use every resource available, like social media, newsletters, articles, or blogs
Just make sure that you’re not gun shy about introducing changes. After all, this is your world and they just live in it.
Once you’re officially ready to start making drastic changes, assure your current clients that you still care about them. Think about it terms of introducing the new baby to its older siblings. For instance:
Include your current clients in the process by keeping communication open. No one wants to be forgotten about or feel like they’re being replaced. Make sure they know they’re still your clients.
Have a strategy in place for answering questions. As new clients start to come in, you may find yourself at max capacity. Have a way to make sure that everyone’s needs are met, whether that’s temporarily hiring a new contractor to manage the transition or simply pulling double-duty until the job’s done.
Continue to do excellent work for them no matter what. Whether they ultimately stay or go, your clients serve as a badge of honor for the integrity of your business. Make sure you’re ready to uphold that, even during times of refocusing. If you’re overwhelmed, seriously consider hiring a transition manager or virtual assistant.
Start shifting focus to your “yes” clients. Make updates to your website, your blog, your newsletter, and anything that lets people know what it is that you do. Start courting new blood, and don’t be shy about it. After all, these are the people you want to work with over the long haul, so make sure you give them all the attention they deserve.
Remember that changes to your business can take years to implement, so don’t feel like you need to start making those changes immediately. Have a plan in place to incorporate transitional elements over time. Bonafide has a great checklist for companies looking to rebrand.
Once those changes start building momentum for your business, you’ll be able to say “no” to clients you don’t want because you’ll still be working with a base of clients that haven’t left yet. Transitioning slowly gives you the chance to build without sacrificing your foundation. Even if your timeframe is a few months rather than years, in the long run you’ll be happy that you didn’t rush through everything.
Say Goodbye Professionally
Finally, at some point your long-time clients may decide that your services no longer fit their needs, and even if you originally listed them as “stays”, they may decide to seek greener pastures of their own. Or perhaps you were always ready to let them go.
Either way, eventually you’re going to have to say goodbye. If you’ve been introducing changes slowly and sending out regular communications about those changes, you should have less of a problem with the dreaded, “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation.
When it comes time to have that conversation, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Above all, be professional. You never know the hidden value of a client. They may come back to you in a few years needing your new services, or they may run across someone in need of a good referral.
Communicate their value to you. Don’t forget that they were there for you when you needed them the most, even if they weren’t great to work with. Anyone who helped you out deserves a modicum of respect, so make you share just how much you appreciated their business. Send them a gift. Do a nice gesture. Give them a plaque. Whatever it takes, show that you care.
Set expectations. Whether they’re transitioning as soon as you have the conversation or they leave over the span of a few months, let them know how you’re going to be handling all of their information. Tell them when they can expect any important documents, if there’s any further paperwork involved, when and to whom you’ll be passing off their files, and what kind of relationship they can hope for in the future, if any.
Don’t forget to upsell. Again, they may not need you now but they may need you in the future. Make sure to offer your services should they ever need it, and, if you’ve done a good job, don’t be shy about asking for referrals.
Transitioning isn’t easy, but by remaining professional, taking things slow, and making sure you have strategies in place for dealing with the months or years of refocusing ahead (seriously, have you considered hiring a transition manager or virtual assistant?), you’ll have a much easier time. After that, just keep focusing on the types of clients you want to say “yes” to and you’ll come out on top.