Avoid the #1 Business Mistake Smart Entrepreneurs Make

Even the smartest entrepreneurs make mistakes, and there’s one business mistake they make regularly. Heck, even I’ve made this mistake. Well, I’m done watching you make this mistake. I’m here to help.

The #1 Business Mistake

You know you’ve experienced it- that feeling in the pit of your stomach, that utter dread before meeting with a client who is just a bad, bad fit for you. Yes, the #1 business mistake smart, service-based entrepreneurs make is taking on clients who aren’t a good fit. Let’s be honest: we’ve all done it. The trick is to learn from this mistake and stop doing it.

Don’t Feel Bad

Don’t feel bad. We’ve all made this mistake:

Lesson: take a job or a client that’s bad for you, and it’s pretty much soul-crushing.

Avoid the #1 Business Mistake Smart Entrepreneurs Make image iStock 000003342473XSmallAvoid the #1 Business Mistake Smart Entrepreneurs Make

If you feel like your head’s about to explode, then you can rest assured: that client is a bad fit.

Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Make This Mistake

I’ve seen entrepreneurs make this business mistake for many reasons:

  • They’re just starting out and need to fill their calendar.
  • They’re in a business slump and need more clients so they can pay the bills.
  • They think they have to take all clients who want to work with them.
  • They haven’t clearly identified a target market or an ideal client.
  • They don’t know how to qualify and educate clients properly before taking them on.

So how do you alleviate these problems and get rid of all of the reasons for taking on clients who aren’t a good fit for you?

Why a Client Might Not Be A Good Fit

The primary reason that you might not have a good fit with a client is because you haven’t gotten clear on who your target market is- if you aren’t clear about who you want to work with, then you’ll most likely end up with a bunch of clients who are a bad fit, simply because you don’t know what a good fit for you is. So start by getting a clear sense of who you enjoy working with most and who you can serve best, because the more you get “bad fit clients” the more you’ll be frustrated and annoyed at how little you can accomplish for them.

But even if you are clear on who your target market is, clients might not be a good fit in several other ways. For example, they might have a temperament that doesn’t fit with yours. One of the characteristics of my ideal client is that they’re pleasant and friendly to work with. If you’re not a generally friendly person and you don’t laugh occasionally, then we probably won’t work well together.

Clients might have a working style that doesn’t fit with yours. If you work slowly and methodically, you won’t work well with someone who wants to move very quickly.

Clients also could be a poor fit if they aren’t committed to getting whatever result you can help them get. If you’re a coach, for example, you know that your best clients are the ones who are willing to let you help them and who are willing to do the work to get results. If you’re a personal trainer, the clients who show up for sessions and put in the sweat are your best ones, right?

Sometimes clients just don’t know they have a job to do, too. If you’re a web designer, you know there’s nothing you can do for a client if they don’t give you the content for their web site. If you’re a chiropractor, you know you can’t help your patients if they don’t tell you where it hurts.

And let’s face it, it’s not just about who’s a bad fit. On rare occasions, you come across a client who is rude or disrespectful of your time.

Qualifying and Educating Your Clients

It is for all of these reasons that I encourage you to qualify and educate your clients, even before you start working with them.


Qualifying your clients requires some forethought on your part. What are the characteristics of your ideal client? What would the best client you can imagine working with be like? What are some red flags that you need to pay attention to, in terms of clients you won’t work with? Think back through the history of your business to the clients you didn’t enjoy working with. What were some key phrases that they used that you could look out for now? What things that you can see now were red flags that you might have missed?

Create these lists and then design your initial consultations to ferret out the red flags and weed out the folks that aren’t a good fit for you. When you do this, you’ll enjoy your business more and you’ll get much better results (and have happier clients!)


Educate your clients from the first moment you begin talking with them. When I’m talking with a prospective one-on-one client, I let them know what my expectations are for our working relationship and what I will give to them. For example, one of the things I tell them is that I will be on time for our meetings and will be fully present during every meeting, and I expect the same from them. Likewise, you should let your clients know upfront what you need from them to be successful. So make a list of what you need to do your absolute best and then be clear with your clients so that they know they have a job to do as well.

When to Let Go

Sometimes, no matter how well you qualify and educate a client, a bad seed slips through. The first thing to know is that it’s not your fault. We’ve all been fooled. The second thing to know is that, as soon as you know it’s a bad fit and it’s not going to be a successful relationship, don’t wait, don’t (as my mom would say) dilly-dally about. Just make the break and get on with your business.

That said, if you work on a monthly fee or retainer, you’ll find it easiest to let a client go right before the start of a new month, before they’ve made their payment.

How to Let Go

In my experience, the straightforward, polite approach is to let your client know as soon as you realize that it’s not a good fit. Diplomacy and kindness are key here, because the last thing that you want is someone leaving your business with a bad taste in his or her mouth. Sending a client away with an unpleasant feeling is a sure way to get bad word of mouth going. Instead, focus on the positive as much as you can, and never make accusations.

Bottom line: it’s super easy to make the big business mistake of taking on clients who are a poor fit, but if you put the time and energy into qualifying and educating your clients upfront, you’ll end up with clients that are a great fit, and those are clients that you’ll be able to make real difference with. You’ll be doing the best job you possibly can, and you’ll be much, much happier in your business.

Have you made this mistake in your business? Tell us how you realized it, how you handled it, or how you stopped making this mistake again in the comments. Looking forward to your stories!

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