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Industry • Best Practice

How to Prune Your Client List for Healthier Business Growth

Breaking up with mismatched clients can be hard to do, but it’s almost always for the best

If you didn’t have a fire in your belly about giving clients the best possible self-care experience, you probably wouldn’t be here right now. So it probably feels pretty unnatural to start thinking about how to shed some of those clients, even if they do cause more than their share of headaches for your business. But you only have so many hours in the day, so many appointment slots to fill, and so many half-used products to give satisfaction-guaranteed refunds for.

If problem clients are getting in the way of your business’ growth, you owe it to yourself, your staff, and your other clients to get them in shape or say goodbye. But how do you make the call on what churn is good churn, exactly? And once you do decide who’s gotta go, how do you let them down with minimal drama? Like most good business decisions, it starts with data.

Dial in the clients you want to retain

If you keep in touch with your staff about the ups and downs of their days, it’s easy enough to do a gut check on whatever clients are good for the vibe of your business. Pair that instinct with a quick glance at your reporting tools to see their impact on your bottom line, and you can rest easy knowing that whatever speedbumps your more “perfectly imperfect” clients may throw your way, they’re worth sticking with for the long haul. It’s also easy to single out somebody who immediately tanks the vibes of your business as soon as they step inside with constant drama or belligerence. Don’t let the door hit ‘em on the way out.

The tough part is making the call on clients who fall somewhere in the middle. Maybe they always ask you to give them an old, lower price since they’ve been coming here forever. Maybe you could set your watch to them returning for a re-do or touchup because it “just doesn’t look how I pictured it.” Maybe they expect special treatment even though you already do your best to make everybody feel like a regular.

Good business relationships aren’t a zero-sum game, but making business decisions that open the way for growth is nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve gotta prune a tree if you want it to grow up healthy and strong, and not every client who walked through your doors in year one will still be the best fit for your business in years two, three, or 25.

Five tips for pruning your client list

Like we said up top, intentionally parting ways with clients probably goes against a lot of your instincts. But if you trust your business to keep getting better as it grows, it’s time to trust the process of clearing out room for that growth.

1: Communicate your expectations and listen

It’s easy to get in a rut with clients who have been coming in for a long time, especially if you aren’t in the habit of deliberately taking them through the six stages of client experience. It’s possible that changes you’ve made to your business since they started coming in have given them pause, which may manifest in negative comments about prices or services offered. Or they may have gotten into the habit of no-showing for some appointments and late for the rest.

The next time you hear a problem client griping, simply explain that your business must sometimes raise prices to retain a commitment to quality. If they mention that they’re going through personal or financial issues that make it difficult to come in as often as they used to, suggest another service or schedule that could help them make the best of things. The only way to know for sure about where your business relationship should head next is to communicate.

2: Transition time-intensive clients to junior staff

Clients with complicated schedules tend to, well, complicate your schedule: They come in late, they make last-minute changes, and they get disappointed when high-in-demand staff members don’t have the availability they need. That doesn’t necessarily mean these clients aren’t a good fit for your business, but it does mean it’s time to make a change — specifically, by moving them over to a more junior member of the team with a more open schedule.

This can be a helpful move for three reasons:

  1. It lends more stability to the schedules of seasoned staff, so they can reliably service more clients.

  2. It gives junior staff an opportunity to learn how to meet more demanding workloads, with built-in mentorship opportunities during the transition period.

  3. It helps the client get more of what they want without feeling like they’re being rushed out of the chair or off the table.

It can also be a good move for clients who are more price sensitive. In either case, if the client isn’t amenable to this change, it’s time to either get them on track with the realities of their preferred employee’s schedule or skip down to step No. 5.

3: Selectively promote your referral programs

More referrals are always a good thing, right? Not always, no. Picture this scenario. You have two regulars: one always orders off the menu and pays the standard price, the other always asks for special off-the-menu treatments you don’t offer anymore and pays the old prices for them to boot. Referrals from the first regular are more likely to come in ready to meet your business where it is now, while referrals from the second regular are more likely to expect further special treatment that causes headaches and cuts into your revenue.

Focus your attention on bringing in referrals from clients who are a pleasure to work with and you’ll keep the good vibes (and better bottom lines) rolling.

4: Make the best of natural churn

Some clients will just stop coming in for any number of reasons. A marketing suite that can automatically send rescue emails to get them headed back is a great first line of defense against this natural kind of churn. But if they stay gone, that doesn’t have to be the end. Make a habit of checking the profiles of clients who have gotten scarce recently, and touch base with whoever worked with them last.

If they seemed like the type of client you’d like to keep, reach out and ask if they’d like to schedule a session. Either way, be sure to ask for feedback about why they decided to move on. This attention to their needs may be enough to get them to come back — but even if not, it’s valuable information for your business.

5: Recommend next steps before parting ways

Sometimes things don’t work out, and if that’s the case, it’s best to take clients aside privately for a face-to-face conversation at the end of their next appointment. Tell them you’ve appreciated their business, but it seems like you just aren’t a match in terms of expectations (if this sounds pretty close to a breakup tip, well, yeah).

Finish the conversation with a few recommendations for where they could find the service they’re asking for — or at least try to find that kind of service, depending on how realistic their requests may be. This will drive home the fact that you’re a professional who wants to make sure your clients’ needs are met, even if you’ve come to the regrettable (but oh-so-necessary) conclusion that yours isn’t always the right place to make them happen.

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