What Are You Really Looking for in a Client?

When I started my business, I realized at one point that my robust weekly schedule consisted only of lunch breaks and the occasional haircut. I was desperate for appointments and in danger of falling into a couple of entrepreneurial traps: scarcity of clients and the belief that my business could serve everyone.

These two traps can lead to clients who consume a disproportionate share of time for the effort that they’re truly worth. Ill-fitting clients don’t respect your values, rules, processes, or the worth of you or your team. They drain your team’s energy and may even cause them to question what’s going on: “Why are we putting up with this terrible client? Is the company that desperate?”

It’s okay to stop chasing riffraff that aren’t worth your time or efforts. Instead, what you need are clients who are like someone you know very well—yourself. 

For example, if you’re hardworking and loyal, then your clients will be too. If you’re a big thinker who appreciates knowledge, then your clients will be the same. In short, the energy you put out is the energy you attract. Just like the people you hire, your clients should align with your values and mission. That means figuring out your nonnegotiables and core values from the start. 

Your Nonnegotiables and Core Values 

What are you absolutely not willing to compromise on—those are your nonnegotiables? Let me share a couple of my own. 

The first is to always beat the client to communication. If we’re waiting on a third party for information but it’s delayed in coming, we phone the client and let them know that we don’t have it yet, when we anticipate it coming, and when we’ll touch base again whether we have it or not. That’s better than scrambling for an answer while the client stews on hold or leaving them in limbo with the silent treatment. 

The other nonnegotiable is treating clients like they’re truly special and cared for. We’ve all been on hold for a customer service representative only to have the call disconnect after waiting for an extended time. We’ve encountered customer service individuals who couldn’t care less if we were there. You may even have called about an issue only to be treated like you were the issue. At my firm, we talk to clients like their call is the only one we have that day and we’ve been waiting all day to hear from them.

Once you identify your nonnegotiables, then consider your core values. Our firm has seven: 

  1. Create a wow experience. We’re high-tech, but our magic lies in the human connection. Talking on the phone with somebody creates a more personal interaction than just texting or emailing. We want to create a memorable experience that makes clients say, “Wow, I want to work with your company.”
  2. Be a dependable team player. No prima donnas here. We’re a team, and we all succeed or fail together. Everyone pitches in because we’re all in the same foxhole. 
  3. Maintain emotional fitness. You must be the calm, steadying force no matter the level of stress. Clients may have emotional breakdowns, but it’s up to you to be the beacon in the storm. 
  4. Have great people skills. We offer money management, financial planning, insurance, and retirement planning, but the truth is we’re in the people business. That means every member of the team needs to be great with people and a good communicator—with everyone. 
  5. Adopt a growth mindset. We’re always reaching for greater heights, from creating logical processes and setting priorities to being a place where team members are able to build real or multigenerational wealth for themselves as they help build this company. 
  6. Be confident but humble. Arrogance and hubris are ugly. Period. But as the master of your business, you must be a confident problem-solver. By feeling gratitude for the people who trust you to be part of their lives, you can consistently achieve successful results for them in a humble, serving way. 
  7. Be innovative and abundant. Innovation can minimize your risk of being disrupted, build energy, and make your team unstoppable as they work toward a common purpose. That can lead to abundance, where you can make a difference for more clients whose values align to yours.

Once you have your nonnegotiables and core values, then you can be clear about the type of people you want to have as clients. 

Set Expectations, Weed Out What Doesn’t Work

When I was a kid, three main television stations had programming for mass audiences. Today, endless stations cater to very specific demographics or niches. Entrepreneurs need to target clients in the same way. Whether its specific demographics, groups, ages, gender, or other elements, your best results will come from reaching the people who need or want your services or products. 

Once you’ve piqued their interest, then share your value proposition so that they can opt in or out early on. A fast “no” is much better than spending weeks, months, or years of time, money, energy, resources on a client who doesn’t respect the way you and your staff work. Now, as a general rule, if the client wants things done a certain way, try to accommodate them. But you must also protect your team from clients who are rude, disrespectful, and a waste of your good efforts. Bringing in a dollar of revenue shouldn’t cost you $10 of chaos and pain. 

To ensure your business targets the right clients, be clear about how it will make their lives better, easier, happier. Over time, that may change, and then you’ll have some decisions to make. For instance, we’ve gone through great pains over the years to continue to service clients that were loyal to us from the start, instead of turning them loose because they no longer fit. 

But when attracting new business, instead of transactional customer relationships that can end for any reason, we prefer transformational client relationships with people who value the experience they get with us and who we are honored and privileged to serve. We want to work with big dreamers and big thinkers who improve the lives of everyone they touch. We’re just not the right firm for scarcity-minded folks who think nothing good or new can happen. So we have a process for weeding out clients who don’t believe that their future is always bigger than their past. 

“Firing” Clients

What happens if you discover you’ve taken on the wrong client? How do you fire them? Our approach is similar to employees who are no longer a good fit. First, put the onus on the client to come to the right conclusion. Be transparent: Let them know that you see they’re not happy or that they’re too talented to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work.

If the client has been blatantly improper—yelling at staff, for instance—then be direct, yet sensible. Point out how the relationship may not be a good match. Give examples of how the firm has tried to hold up its end by doing what it can to make the client happy, but ultimately receiving ill treatment in return. The truth is, a lot of companies out there are happy to take on any business, so without being confrontational, you want to help the client realize that another firm out there is undoubtedly a better fit. The goal is for the client to be gone, but in a respectful way that maintains the integrity of your company and its reputation. 

Over time you will find that you’ll need to weed out fewer clients and eventually you’ll attract and retain those clients who are the right fit from the get-go.


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Mark B Murphy

Mark B. Murphy is the Chief Executive Officer of Northeast Private Client Group, a national financial planning and wealth management firm. Mark has been ranked #1 in New Jersey and #15 in the nation on the Forbes America’s Top Financial Security Professionals List for 2022.

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