The entrepreneurial journey is a series of exciting firsts – your first client, your first employee, your first positive profit margin. Now these are all events well documented by those now at the peak of their powers, who nostalgically look back upon their roads from rags to riches via a series of tell-all books. But what about the firsts nobody ever talks about? Your first staff discipline issue? The first time you couldn’t afford to pay yourself? And perhaps most frightening of all – your first client break-up.
Now as business owners, we tend to talk better than we can walk, frequently lamenting the various shortcomings of our clients, and threatening to fire them for their bad behaviour. But let’s face it, we all know that’s not going to happen. Firstly, the simple fact is we need their money, even if it does come with a side order of acute psychosis. And secondly, the prospect of actually cutting ties with anyone so early on in a business’s life cycle seems foolhardy and perhaps a tad overconfident.
That is, until the rug gets pulled out from under you. Yep, I got fired this week. It was quick, it was polite, but it stung like a million knives tearing into my soul. Sure, it was a troubled relationship and yes, I’d many times lamented its ability to waste time and induce unnecessary misery. But still, it was MY time wasted, MY misery. And all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Just like that.
Over and above the obvious financial implications and ego bruising, this most undesirable of firsts serves to illustrate a business’s mortality, shaking its foundations and issuing a timely reminder that laurels should never be rested upon.
Will I miss the painful daily interactions with my now dearly departed client? I hardly think so. In fact, upon further inspection, I’m a little bit ecstatic about it (although that could just be post-traumatic hysteria – I’ll keep you posted). But since this curt announcement of our break-up, the business feels somehow less solid beneath my feet, the future murkier than it felt just 24 hours ago.
Now this might sound dramatic, especially given that it was a client I neither liked nor enjoyed working on. But hear me out for a second. You see, during the initial phase of a business, it’s natural to go through a gathering phase, picking up clients and employees like a curious magpie. Some are good. Some are beyond appalling. But in the back of your mind, you always imagine it’ll be up to you to decide what sticks and what’s returned to the heaving pile of flotsam and jetsam.
So when that decision is made for you, it’s a little….shocking. And also a tiny bit liberating. Because once the initial surprise has worn off, one starts to take stock and realise that this unproductive relationship might in fact have been curbing rather than sustaining your growth.
The endless hours you spent trawling through stock photos and crafting narcolepsy-inducing blogs guaranteed to be read by precisely nobody can now be put to more productive use. With extra time at your disposal, you can start seeking out clients better suited to your culture and less likely to cause spontaneous bursts of unconsciousness. You can spruce up your company website. You can brush up on that credentials presentation. Hell, the possibilities are endless.
And sure, these particular undertakings don’t exactly pay well (or at all), but they’re all fundamental elements of nurturing and growing a business. Yes, you won’t feel the effects immediately in your bank account (the less said about that bottom line at this point the better), but if you want to position yourself for greater growth in future, it’s vital that you get your house in order.
So, in short, yes breaking up sucks. There are no two ways around it. No matter who was at fault or who pulled the trigger in the end, the aftermath leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. But the point is that, unless it’s under exceptional circumstances, clients and agencies only part ways when things aren’t working. And if there’s any element of your business that’s broken somehow, it’s important that it be fixed before it’s left to fester.
So in some ways I’m grateful for this latest business first. Yes, it hurt. Yes, I am still questioning what I could have done better. But, I have also now realised that an enterprise can bend without breaking. Clients come and go, but if you’re armed with a strong core and culture, you can weather just about any storm (we will check back in six months or so just to verify this particular claim).