Whenever I hear how simple a horse will be to start under saddle – or a client repeat how easy they are to work with – I get concerned. More than twenty-five years in the business has taught me those who find a need to sing praises are either delusionary or dishonest. Everyone in the equine industry has experienced a time when they’re hungry enough to dismiss their gut in deference to the dollar signs. Survive in the game long enough and you come to realize there’s no winning with certain clients (on so many fronts).
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your business – and you sanity – is fire a client. We did this recently with a client who started the relationship with a slew of unusual and significant special requests that should have been a red flag. We missed the warning signs. Given our prior relationship with him that didn’t involve the Halcyon Acres® facility, we thought we could wow him with our beyond expectations approach, but should have picked up on the litany of stories he shared of vendors who had done him wrong.
Warning signs an equine client may be trouble
There are a number of clues your prospect client creates more pain then they’re worth. Heed them.
Are other horse professionals counseling you?
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate colleague cautions. In younger years, I was naïve and arrogant enough to believe the problem arose from the provider (and the advice was borne from resentment of a chosen replacement). Now, when a competitor takes the time to contact me and offer wisdom from experience, I listen.
If you’re hearing from others this is not a client you want to take on, run. No amount of promised income (try getting a last payment from one if these jokers – good luck) is worth the cost such a troubled soul levies on your business – and you. It’s not just the extra expenses you incur trying to accommodate them (and of course, the time spent trying to collect), but also the drain it puts on you, your resources and employees. Add to this the associated parting gift of an all-out effort to sully your name (these types put extreme effort into what they see as just vengeance) and there’s just no amount of income worth trying to accommodate such a client.
Does your potential horse client vilify others?
Danger, danger, danger. If much of your conversation with this individual is spend listening to them criticize others or innumerate the ways they’ve been burned, read between the lines. They’ll welcome your sympathy, understanding and agreement, but know, you’re next.
Do they expound on how perfect their horses are or how great they are as a client?
Few good clients feel the need to tell you how perfect their horse is or how easy they are to work with. In fact, most with good sense will focus on the issues they see with their horses and assume you expect them to be decent to deal with. Sure, every great client loves their horse and sees their potential, but they also recognize there’s a reason they’re seeking training help. If you find yourself hearing an ongoing mantra about how simple it will be to achieve expected results with the horse and/or how much you’ll appreciate the client relationship, reconsider. If the prospect enumerates all the people who have made him a victim, know you’ll be the next crook they talk about.
Are they willing to pay your standard fees for equine services?
If you find yourself talking to a potential client seeking a deal before you even begin, it’s not a good sign. Sure, some people simply don’t have the funds, but if they can’t afford your fees, how will they handle possible unexpected costs, vendor payments (vet, blacksmith, etc.)? The fact is, most people of character understand the benefit of engaging a provider and come prepared to pay an appropriate fee for the benefits they receive. If your early conversations with a new client center on dickering, expect complaints about every item charged along the way (and challenges collecting on invoices).
At Halcyon Acres®, we now generally require an upfront starting fee for young horses coming in. We’ve only had two clients (in almost 20 years) baulk at this to the point of our relenting. Both left us with a considerable unpaid bill. What we have found is this policy keeps board payments current. Training stops if board bills are more than twenty days past due (and we make this policy clear, upfront). When clients are already invested they tend to be more motivated to ensure they get a consistent return. Of course, we’re flexible with people we know have good intentions but hit a bump, but it’s proven to be a good policy for those with less honorable intentions.
Saying goodbye to an equine client
When you’re dealing with an irrational soul, it’s likely they’ll respond with a lot of hostility (no matter how carefully you craft the message or deliver the news), but it’s worth the short-term nastiness to offload the long-term costs. Some people spend their lives being victims that can no one can please. You may be golden for the moment, but there’s a bevy of former vendors being criticized and chastised in their wake. Run away. There’s no amount of money worth the burden you bear accommodating unreasonable people ready to attack another when life turns sour. When your gut fails you initially, but chimes in later, listen.
There’s something so liberating about firing a demanding and unreasonable client. It’s akin to ending a bad marriage. You suddenly realize your life wasn’t your own. The stress you bear dealing with unreasonable demands, belittling, what’s going to set them off next and doing cartwheels to accommodate their whims for someone who responds with ‘not good enough’ isn’t worth it. When you do the numbers (and I did on this one) you discover these clients wind up costing more than fees cover as they have you jumping through hoops and accommodating their moods and fancies.
Of course, it’s best to set your radar to avoid such characters, but we all make mistakes. If you find yourself stuck in a no-win situation with a client, you’ll thank yourself if you muster the gumption to end it quickly. If you are known for excellence, most people will dismiss their character assassination as unwarranted.
What’s your equine experience?
Do you have any great stories about clients you’ve fired and how this decision improved your quality of life? Please share in the comments below.