Guidelines for Dating Your Clients

Before we begin, let me explain that, no, this post is not about how to get dates with your clients. Unless you are running some sort of escort agency, for the vast majority of business owners, dating your clients is always a bad idea. In this post we will examine the similarities between how we learned the ropes when we started out on the dating scene and how we learn the ropes as business owners. And sorry, no dating advice to be found…

first date with a home inspector

For most of us, our teenage years were brutal. Trying to figure out how the world worked at the same time we were trying to figure out how our own minds and bodies worked. It was tough, but most of us got through it (relatively) unscathed. Coincidentally, starting and running a small business is a lot like growing up. It’s tough, with a lot of difficult (and often painful) lessons to be learned along the way. Thankfully, just like when we were teenagers, there are no shortage of mentors and resources that we can lean on for guidance. Now that we are smarter adults, hopefully we are more open to utilizing these resources than we were during our know-it-all teen years.

Think back to the beginning of your social life, when you first entered the dating scene. You were young and were (obviously) lacking in wisdom when it came to dating and personal relationships. If you were like most people, you were just happy to be able to get a date; any date. Hopefully, as you matured and gained wisdom regarding the dating scene, you eventually became a bit more selective in your dating criteria, turning down some offerings that you realized were probably not in your best interest. But, at the start, the thought of being overly selective really never entered your mind. You just went with the flow.

Those of us who learned to be more selective (probably) ended up with fewer problems in our social lives. We took our hard-learned lessons and put them to good use, utilizing those painful experiences to mold our decision-making criteria. We learned from our mistakes and lessened the possibility of future problems for ourselves.

We often have less drama in our lives as we become more selective about our associations and relationships.

The same can be said about the progression toward maturity in our business. When we first start out, we are happy to have any paying clients. Our selection criteria are pretty minimal: 1) “do you want my services” and 2) “are you willing to pay me for them” are pretty much the only questions we ask.

Business and income: what more can a fledgling start-up ask for? A new business cannot afford to be too selective in their clientele, as clients represent income and that income is desperately needed if you ever want to make it past being just a start-up.

paying for a home inspection

However, just as we matured in our thinking regarding the dating scene, our thoughts about our ideal customer base should grow and mature as well. Instead of settling for any business at all, we should begin to be a bit more selective in our choice of clients.

Some clients are simply more valuable than others.

Think back to your last problem client. You know, the one that stressed you out and cost you all those sleepless nights worrying about what’s going to happen next. Maybe they ended up costing you some money. Maybe they caused you to drink a bit more than you should’ve. Probably pissed you off a good bit. Hell, it was probably was a little bit of all the above.

Imagine that you had the chance to travel back in time to the moment you first encountered them, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to avoid having them as a client?

traveling back in time to avoid a problem home inspection client

“I’m sorry, but this is my busy time of the year. I’m booked up solid for the next three weeks. If you like, I would be glad to give you the number for one of my competitors. I’m sure they will be able to accommodate you more quickly than I can.”

(Not that I would ever consider doing that to one of my competitors…)

Getting a better class of clients sounds easy enough. The tough part is that for your business to garner a higher quality clientele, your business must continue to grow in quality as well. Better quality clients don’t just show up on your doorstep because you want them to. You need to work for them.

Think back again to your younger self. In order for the quality of your dating partners to get better, you needed to offer a better product. Maybe you started exercising and eating right to get in better shape. Hopefully you made some strides in personal hygiene, bathing and brushing your teeth on a regular basis. Maybe you started paying attention to your appearance, ensuring that you wore clean clothes, matching your outfits to present a more polished appearance. Possibly, you even did some research on relationships and interpersonal communication.

The point is you upped your game in order to better your options.

You should approach the appearance of your business in much the same way. Make sure that you’ve covered all the legal things you need for your business to be in “good health.” Present a professional front, so that your business persona (marketing, interactions and outward appearances) suggests that you are the expert you attest to be. Do some research on relationships and interpersonal communication (again), so that your business interactions are increasing your standing, not detracting from them. Continue to learn, educating yourself as much as possible, so that you are the one that people call on whenever they have questions about your industry.

There is no better way to grow your business than to become an expert in your field.

Problem clients are simply a necessary evil when you run a business. Not everyone in the world is a nice person; some people are assholes simply because they get personal satisfaction from making other people’s lives miserable. You will never be able to avoid every one of these people in your (life or your) business.

angry home inspection client

No matter how hard you try, eventually one of them is going to break through. Yes, it would be great if I could put the finishing touches on my next product: “The Asshole Force-Field Shield” (patent pending…) But until that day, the best you can hope for is to minimize the number of “problem clients” that you must deal with, and quickly dispose of the ones that do find a way to break through your defenses.

Avoiding problem clients is one of the easiest ways to garner more enjoyment from your business. Improving your product and your offering is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your clientele.

And knowing that those difficult people are now working with your competitors? Well, that’s just icing on the cake…

I welcome all feedback (both positive and negative) on this post. Please take a moment to leave a comment below. Thank you!

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector