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Five Mistakes Absolutely Guaranteed to Drive Away Your Best Clients

By Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.
Posted Friday, January 28, 2005

We all work hard to attract even one paying client. In fact, we work hard to attract serious inquiries. Yet amazingly, many business owners seem determined to drive away business! Every example cited here is based on true, thoroughly documented experiences, with both newbie business owners and five-star marquee players.

1. Defensive plays. Client tries to order a product, only to be thoroughly buffaloed by a confusing form. Client writes a complaint, expressing frustration. The business owner writes back, "I have written five best-selling books on customer service, so I know what’s reasonable. Nobody else has complained. And we can’t do anything anyway."

A twenty-five dollar CD isn’t a big deal, right? But you probably make these offers to entice big-ticket clients. And if they’re testing the waters, they want to see how you operate.

Better: Skip excuses and accept responsibility, even if your client seems to be a complete techno-idiot. He’s paying, right? "I am so sorry you were inconvenienced when you attempted to order from us. Thank you for making us aware of this problem. We will discuss the situation with our web designers in our next meeting. Meanwhile, please download a complimentary Special Report on a related topic."

2. Stealing home with disguised sales pitches. Clients sign up for a teleclass hyped as "Secrets of helping you make thousands of dollars with low effort. A content-rich teleclass that will change your life." After dialing to the other end of the planet, and maybe paying a fee, they hear an hour-long sales pitch for a book, coaching program or four-figure seminar.

Better: Nothing wrong with a brief sales pitch. But if you’re adding value during the class, you may not need one! Prospective clients listen to the way you answer questions. They want to see if you’re really delivering creative solutions or serving up recycled content that’s about as tempting than soggy fries reheated in a microwave.

3. Throwing a curve ball. You’re supposed to throw curves to your opponents – not your teammates. And your clients ultimately join your team. So why would you toss a teammate a curveball?

Throwing a curve ball means offering the client a service he had no reason to expect – and probably never wanted. Client wants a marketing plan – so you ask about negative thoughts, fears and self-defeating beliefs. Client wants a sales strategy – so you ask a lot of "what do you think" questions and talk about accountability.

Clarify outcomes and deliverables the client can expect to obtain. Be especially clear on the difference between consulting, coaching, mentoring and spiritual guidance. Expecting one and getting another can feel like a ball’s landed right between your eyes.

4. Holding out your foot to trip the runner. Ouch! You’d never do this, I hope!

"I sent Coach Elrod a draft of my website copy to see if I was on the right track. He told me he would charge my credit card an extra $35 for editing. When I said no, he shrugged and said he’d keep the editing to himself. I never asked for editing! I just wanted a quick overview – I was still drafting copy. "

Better: This one’s a no-brainer! Ask what the client wants. Warn about charges ahead of time. . And once he blundered ahead, refusing to show the client the edited work suggests that he and the client are opponents, not teammates.

This is a true story. Up to then, Elrod’s client thought Elrod walked on water. Never mind who generated the misunderstanding. That thirty-five dollars cost Elrod the client’s goodwill, future coaching calls and countless referrals. And let’s hope Elrod didn’t go ahead and put the charge through. We don’t want to go there.

5. Getting the players mixed up.

When clients pay for one-on-one consultation, they expect you to remember their names, their positions and their quirks.

"X kept talking about building my confidence. Confidence isn’t my problem. If I were any more confident, I’d be more arrogant than Don Rickles." "Y suggested I complete an assignment before our next meeting. When we got together, she’d forgotten the whole thing." "Z kept referring to ‘your experience in advertising.’ I never worked in advertising! That must have been another client!"

Better: When you can’t keep your clients straight, you need fewer clients or a better filing system. And just because most of your clients have confidence problems, this one doesn’t mean this client does!

Bottom line: We could come up with dozens of examples of client-killing errors. The bad news is that mistakes are inevitable, simply by the nature of service delivery. The good news is that correcting a mistake can create a new bond with your client, firmer and longer-lasting than the original.

Example: When you miss the mark on a call, you can say: "Thanks for sharing your feelngs so honestly. I want to give you real value. We can schedule a make-up to focus on whatever you need." The make-up might be only half an hour, rather than the original full hour. The client may even say, "Don’t bother – I expect an occasional mismatch."

But you’ll earn enormous goodwill for making the effort. Focus on recovery and you’ll win loyalty every time.

This article is based on "Delight your clients and keep more of their money" (

About the Author
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., wrote Making the Big Move (New Harbinger 1999). She works with professionals who are tossing and turning over a career decision and need a coach to help them brainstorm a solution.
Website: ( Your Next Move Ezine: ( or with "YNM" in subject line. Contact: 505-534-4294


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