Walking away from business can sometimes be the right decision

  • Business
  • Tuesday, 21 Oct 2014

Tough choices: For the small-business owner, turning away customers can be a difficult thing to do.

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. After many meetings and revisions over the write-up for his company’s website, which consisted 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 costs 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.

So when asked again to go to his office one more time to discuss the content, I put my foot 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. Customers give us money.

Do we walk away from money? If yes, when do we walk away?

When they are constantly late with their payment? Not just late but very late? When they have unreasonable expectations and demandsthat are 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 even though 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 come our way. But at what cost? I guess we need to think about that.

> Jeanisha thinks walking away from customers or turning away prospects can be a hard for SMEs. If you agree (or disagree), share with her at talk2jeanisha@gmail.com

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Opinion , Starting Out column


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