How to be OK with letting even profitable clients go to grow

Every day, you make business decisions that define your success.  The harsh reality is that far too many of them lead us down the path of working more, harder, and for less than is deserved.


These decisions include who to serve, what to charge, what exceptions to make, what services to deliver, and how.  You decide who to hire, how to train and manage your people and what standards they’re held to.  You decide when to arrive, when to leave and everything that goes on your task list in the time in between.


But we often fail to realize, in our daily busy-ness, that the gap between where we are and where we want to be lies as much in the decisions we don’t make as the ones we do.


Take one of my clients, Tanya, a successful advisor who has made significant personal and professional gains in the last three years.  She’s left a dysfunctional partnership, started her own firm, focused on her niche, raised fees, transitioned clients, built a service plan with workflows, and hired a practice manager.  This has allowed her to double both her income and time off.


Now she’s ready for her next up level, except Tanya has no more capacity.  What she does have are 30 clients who are profitable, but who do not meet her new minimums.


“What’s holding you back?” I asked Tanya.  “What does letting these clients go mean to you?”  She didn’t hesitate to answer; it meant that she was an awful human so focused on making more money that she no longer cared about her clients. You know, that kind of advisor.


I admire this sentiment; it’s innately caring and selfless.  But as a business owner, you have an obligation to safeguard the interests, not just of your clients, but of your staff and the business itself.  Somewhere in creating a client-first ethos, our profession has eroded the basic standards of business management.  You have two obligations as an advisor: deliver massive value and run an excellent business.  If you do those two things well, you’ll serve clients’ success and your own.


Never transitioning clients or raising fees means that you set your pricing model once, permanently.  No other profession follows that model.  Senior legal, medical and accounting professionals all charge more than their junior counterparts, as their experience and value deepen.  Taking the mindset that it is bad, greedy or wrong to raise fees or transition clients for the sake of generating more revenue keeps advisors holding onto situations that no longer serve them.


Nor does this mindset best serve their clients.  As soon as Tanya “knew” that those 30 clients were an obstacle to her goals, her attitude toward them was forever shifted, unintentional though it may be.  Wouldn’t it be better for her to transition those clients to another advisor who would be delighted to serve them?


Raising fees or transitioning these 30 clients doesn’t mean Tanya is greedy; it meant that it’s time for her to grow in ways that support her goals.


Having had and coached thousands of advisors through such conversations, I’ve learned that you can do this in a way that allows both parties to leave with their dignity intact.


How does that work?  Consider this conversation: “Bob, Mary, as I continue to focus on ways to deliver deeper value to a select group of people like you, in a way that allows us to run a successful business that’s satisfying professionally, it’s time for us to increase our fees.  Starting next quarter, our fees will be (quote fee).  I realize this is a change, and it’s not one we made lightly.  But it will allow me to better serve you and our others, and I don’t want to offer anything less.  I appreciate that this change may not be OK for everyone.  If that’s the case, I want you to know that I won’t take it personally, and I’m happy to refer you to another advisor.  If you’re comfortable continuing under the new fee schedule, the new fees will be reflected in the next billing cycle.  Is this OK with you, or would you prefer to talk about other options?”


In this scenario I’m clear, direct and define the standards for the decision, while making it clear that their preference is my priority, giving them a comfortable exit that allows them to leave on their terms.


Whether you’re dealing with difficult partnerships, stalled-out staff or uncomfortable pricing issues, solving the business issue means first getting clear on the stories that distract you from making the decisions that will move you forward.


Or, as I shared with Tanya, the less you hold onto, the higher you’ll go.

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