Not that I ever believed it would be the case, but owning a small business is not rainbows and unicorns. There’s so much to deal with on a daily basis – time management, supplies, deliveries, manufacturing, internet security, effective e-commerce, social media… when you have to throw unprofessional people into the mix, it just seems frustratingly unnecessary. However, the reality is that having the ability to know when and how to part ways in a professional matter is an incredible skill to have in your small business toolbelt.
Sometimes you just have to fire a customer. Adam Robinson of Hireology explains: “Unfortunately, customers can sometimes get in the way of your ability to live the company’s core values.” The question comes down to defining your own core values and limitations. It’s not always easy to understand those limitations, so I advise my clients to simply trust their instincts; when something feels worse than it should, if it causes more anxiety than gain, it’s not worth the effort.
I recently had to fire one of my customers in my Scents the Moment business. I actually love this customer and think she is a wonderful and brilliant businesswoman; however, her requests for customization and small quantities of each requested were taking a toll on me. Whenever one of her orders would come through, I would feel a deep rush of anxiety because I felt like I had to drop everything to make these products for her – and the reality is, it wasn’t even her pushing these demands. However, the custom work for the low profit of this type of item led me to finally realize it would be in my best interest to part ways.
I sent her an email simply explaining that I am cutting down on all custom work to focus on the retail end of my business. I thanked her for her loyalty and her time with me, I promised to complete the most recent order, and we parted professionally. I was lucky because I was dealing with someone who could understand my honesty, it’s not always that simple.
If the customer lashes out after your professional email or phone call, you simply don’t respond and thank them for their time. It may even be prudent to direct them to someone else who could serve them better.
The trick is not to lose yourself in your small business.
Employees or Partnerships
Revisiting Robinson’s point on core values, this needs to apply to any employees or partnerships that you have, as well. These could be your immediate employees, your downline, suppliers, or other forms of professional partnerships. If the person is creating more negativity than productivity, it may be time to part ways.
This relationship is a bit more complex because the income being affected here is not just your own, it’s the other person, as well. For this reason, you want to offer progressive measures by first speaking to the person for whatever has been questionable.
Start with a quick in-person conversation – albeit uncomfortable, it’s certainly the most professional way to begin. You give the person the opportunity to explain his/her behavior and you diminish the risk of your tone coming off incorrectly. If the behavior persists, send an email specifically addressing what the problem is. Keep your tone matter-of-fact, avoid using hedge words or personal commentary – stick to the facts. Finally, if you still feel it is not working, let the person know directly and immediately (through a message, in-person conversation, phone call – it all depends on proximity) that you feel it would be best to part ways and you wish them well. You must follow-up with a formal letter or email clearly terminating the relationship.
Key Points to Remember
- Stay true to yourself, your business model, and your core values. Nothing and no one is worth diminishing your sense of self or your health and well-being. Lost income is tough, but you’ll never focus on fresh opportunities if you’re being sucked-down by things upsetting you, either.
- Always start with the benefit-of-the-doubt. Give people a chance to talk with their voice, either in-person or via phone. To immediately start with in-writing is intimidating.
- If it does come to the point of in-writing, keep it professional by focusing strictly on facts. Wish them well on their next steps, and move on. Ignore any responses.
If It Gets Ugly
…and sometimes it does, cover your bases by including: “Any measure to replicate the products and/or brand, make and share unfavorable or defamatory references about COMPANY NAME, may result in legal action” (Rolande Sumner of Butter Angels, LLC).
Wishing you best and success in your business, always.