I've been there--accepted clients I have a bad feeling about. Let me tell you, it's just not a good idea. Even when money is tight, signing a client who isn't right for you and your business can have devastating results. I've worked with entrepreneurs who have come close to losing their business because they tend to dump all their time and energy into the wrong clients. The perpetually unhappy client is not only a time suck, but they may write bad reviews, complain about you in social media, or haunt your thoughts for years to come.
These warning signs indicate that you should steer away from a prospect and spend your time marketing to the right audience. If you spend your time marketing for your ideal client rather than indulging this client, you will make more money, help more people, and save your sanity.
1. They complain about other professionals.
This is a big red flag. Don't let the fact that they've worked with five other people in your field who did not get it right inflate your ego. What it really means is that, in their mind, you will never get it right either. It can also mean that they are not clear on their business model or marketing plan, so this client will set you up for failure right from the beginning.
2. They want something outside of your expertise.
If you don't have enough income, it may be tempting to say yes to a prospect who stretches the boundaries of your business model. So many of my clients have multiple avatars before they begin coaching with me--it's confusing, messy, and non-productive. If you have to spend hours in a trial and error situation, or endlessly research ways to deliver what you've promised a client, you will lose money. What's worse, is you may lose faith in yourself. Being in the position of not knowing can diminish your confidence and self-esteem. Stay within your expertise. This does not mean you should not challenge yourself, just do it productively.
3. They appear desperate.
When someone searches desperately for the answers, and that search continues for years, they won't recognize the solution when it's right in front of their eyes. Usually there is no solution because they haven't identified the real problem: themselves. This prospect is too caught up in fear to gain clarity. Unless you are a therapist or a very experienced life or business coach, it's not likely you can help this person. Feel free to test this theory by giving them some "homework" and asking them to give you a progress report in three or so days. They won't.
4. They talk your head off.
Sure, it's fun and interesting to spend a bit more time on the phone with a prospect than you should. But if it becomes a habit, your hourly wage plummets to minimum wage or below. If you see signs that this person will not respect your time or expects free advice, run the other direction.
5. They are unfocused or scatter-brained.
A brilliant mind is difficult to focus, since it's got so many wonderful ideas popping in. You should be able to tell the difference between someone who has no shortage of great ideas, but understands where their focus needs to be, and someone who only has ideas and no follow through. This person will not get you the information you need to complete a project. They will change their minds often, and expect you to go beyond scope.
6. They are not committed to their success.
Any one of these warning signs could mean that your prospect is not positioned to succeed; all of them combined means they are prone to self-sabotage. Again, if you provide a service outside the realm of therapy and business coaching (with mindset training or a background in mental health), this is not your ideal client. You don't want to sabotage your business due to someone else's unhealthy mindset.
Know your ideal client as though they are your closest friend. Identify their personality, attitude, goals, problems, and dreams. Print this description and keep it close to serve as a reminder; don't stray from this portrayal of your perfect client. This isn't always easy because you want to grow your business and you may even wish you could help everyone. Trust me on this one; when you place a healthy focus on what you want, rather than dipping into oceans of fear searching for what you think you desperately need, your ideal client will come knocking.