Want to Think Big? Time to start pruning


When an entrepreneur is just starting out, the instinct is to land any kind of business that will generate revenue.  And for the first 6 to 12 months of your business, that’s a good idea – you started with a grand vision and now you need to prove out what your new clients are actually willing to pay for.

However, as you start to grow that indiscriminate growth approach you had when you were getting started will choke your business.  In his new book ‘The Pumpkin Plan’ author Mike Michalowicz was inspired by the pumpkin farmers who grow those monstrous award winning pumpkins every year.  That monster pumpkin is your business…or at least what you want your business to be when it grows up.  It’s healthy, it stands out…and it’s bigger than all the other pumpkins!

In turns out there are a couple of secrets to growing those super size pumpkins—you have to start out with the right seed (a strong business idea), you have to constantly water (sell) and then once the vine starts growing, you have to ruthlessly prune back all of the weeds and the lesser shoots and pumpkins.

In business terms, that means you only sell your best stuff to your best clients and you get rid of the rest!

Your gut reaction right now is probably something along the lines of: “That’s crazy! I need all the revenue I can get…there’s no way I could afford to drop any of my customers!”

That’s the trap that almost every entrepreneur falls into at some point…and the same trap that ends up killing many businesses after years of struggling! Michalowicz makes this point very strongly…and it’s one that I agree with as well.

Here’s why it’s so important to prune back your bad pumpkins:

Bad clients are draining your resources

In the pumpkin field, the weak pumpkins drain the resources away from your potential prize pumpkin…which is exactly what happens in business, too. If you’ve been in business for a while, you have at least a few bad clients and they are draining you and your business in the same way. A bad client doesn’t pay quickly. A bad client requires a lot of extra hand holding. A bad client typically isn’t very happy…and certainly never refers you to others. A bad client resents every dime they pay you and tries to negotiate everything.  A bad client makes you feel exhausted every time you think about them.

Contrast that with a great client. A great client is the opposite of all of the above—they enjoy you (and you enjoy them), they invigorate you, they pay on time and they appreciate what you do for them. A great client will sing your praises, refer you and gladly pay you what you’re worth!

Great clients multiply your business and capabilities…bad clients act like an anchor.

Play to your strengths

Take the whole thing a step further—what do your great clients have in common? Are they in a particular industry? Are they only buying a particular service? There is some common ground between those clients?  Determine what that common ground is to establish your sweet spot. That’s when you’re in the zone, when you’re really playing to your strengths.

When you figure out what you’re best at and focus on that, it becomes very easy to sell and to deliver. You’re confident. The work is easy and you deliver great results. That’s what drives repeat business and word-of-mouth. That’s what your best clients love. That’s what really big pumpkins are made of.

Bad clients are not playing to your strengths…they’re looking for other things…things you’re not as good at (which is one reason why they’re bad clients). If you narrow your focus and only play to your strengths (get rid of those clients who aren’t in the sweet spot) then life immediately becomes a lot easier and more rewarding and you have more room for great clients!

Back to reality

Now you may be thinking: “Yeah, I have bad clients, but they do (eventually) pay me and some money is better than no money.”

Unfortunately that’s not true.

Those bad clients are slowly killing you. Think of it this way: You’ve got a finite amount of time and resources and when you’re spending it on a bad client, you’re not working with a great client. That bad client is directly keeping you from having a great client!

It’s time to step up and ruthlessly start cutting out those bad pumpkins. You don’t have to do it all at once. Develop a plan that lets you prune gradually over time, but take action now.

Imagine if all of your clients were great clients and all of your work was within your strengths! Not only would you have an awesome business that’s a lot of fun (who doesn’t love doing what they’re great at?), but you’d selling more with less effort and making more money!

Who are your bad clients? How quickly could you drop them?

Most business owners are really reluctant to make any cuts—what are your thoughts? Share your comments below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach