To Do or Not to Do: When Do We Walk Away from Customers?

In business, one constantly has to make decisions. As business owners or entrepreneurs, the buck stops with us. We are the ones who have to make the hard decisions. No one else. When we are just starting out, I think one of the hardest decision to make is the decision on customers. Do we take this customer or not? Can we even choose our customers? I believe many of those who are just starting out dare not be picky about customers. Because that is better than having no customers at all. But is this the right thing to do?

When I started my company several years ago, I was operating alone in the first few months. I had only a handful of customers and of course, I was happy to get customers – any type of customers. So it was, a website company which I had dealt with told me about this person who was looking for a copywriter for his company’s website. Copywriting was not really my forte but I thought, sure why not? I could write and I could definitely do with customers and additional income.

It turned out that the boss of this company could not speak or understand English and hence, that was why he had not found a copywriter who was willing to take the job. I thought never mind that. The fee agreed was meagre but I was not fussy as I had time and not enough customers then.

It turned out to be a bad decision. As this customer could not understand or speak English, he had a hard time explaining to me what he wanted to put on his website (in English!). He also kept changing his mind. Many meetings and revisions later to the write-up for his company’s website which consist of just a few pages, we were not getting anywhere.

Each time, I thought he was alright with what was produced, he would sit in silence (while I stared at him) for about half an hour, then decide he wanted something else, something totally different. And we would be back to square one again. So much so, what he had paid me was not even enough to cover my petrol and parking cost for the many times I had to go to his office. I decided something had got to give. My father (who runs his own business and is my business mentor) advised me to walk away too.

So when asked again to go to his office again to discuss the content, I put my feet down and declined. The customer was angry and said he had paid me the upfront payment and that I should finish the job. He was surprised when I said I would even refund him the upfront payment but no, I would not be making anymore visits. To cut a long story short, in the end he accepted the final revision and paid me the balance as well.

This brings me to the question that requires us to make some hard decisions.

When they are constantly late with their payment? Not just late but very late?

When they have unreasonable expectations and demands? That is impossible for us to fulfil unless we own the world? Or suffer losses instead of make a profit if we comply (like my story above).

When they are willing to pay us a lot but what they ask us to do is unethical and against the law? But it has been made to appear as though it is legitimate?

When they expect some ‘under table’ benefit, every time they give us a project?

When they keep changing their mind on what they want so we have to do the same work again and again? This is especially hard for those in the service industry.

The question is do we dare to walk away? To do or not to do?

If we are starting out, I believe many of us will just take whatever customers that come our way. But at what cost? I guess we need to think about that.


About the author: Jeanisha Wan


J1 Consulting was started in 2010, by Jeanisha Wan who has almost two decades of experience in banking, retail and IT sectors. Prior to founding J1 Consulting, she was the marketing director of an IT company and had received awards for her unconventional marketing strategies. Her favourite questions are always ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ She believes we find the right answers only when we ask the right questions. Previously a columnist with the Star, Metrobiz, and the Malaysian Business magazine, she occasionally contributes to Bloomberg TV Malaysia’s website and other newspapers. She is also the founder of WEVents (http://www.wevents.com.my/), a non-profit women only social event and a published author. https://my.linkedin.com/in/jeanishawan

My blog (http://blog.joneswriter.com) and main site (http://joneswriter.com)

This article was first published by Jeanisha Wan