Yoga is supposed to be an escape to mindfulness and physical rejuvenation.
But running a yoga studio is like any business, and Patrice Simon has had to refuse some customers. Once, she even had to summon police to her busy Costa Mesa, California, spot, Bikram Yoga Studio, when a student became alarmingly verbally abusive.
“It’s been a lesson in psychology for me. There are individuals who intentionally raise their voice at the desk or become insulting—and they do it so an audience can hear them,” explains Simon “I don’t let it get that far. I say, ‘You need to leave, and now.’ I get a vibe from dealing with people at this point. This individual went far over the line.”
It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it’s best to turn down a customer. Many business owners say it’s rarely as straightforward as encountering an unruly person at the other side of the counter. It could be that the limits of your own enterprise are overstretched, or their deadline is impossible to meet. Mostly, it’s just one of those things that only your gut can tell you.
Everyone’s in business to make money, but when are those dollars just not worth it? Here are four situations that small business owners say they’ve encountered on the road to saying “no thanks” to new customers.
1) It’s never going to be profitable
Some projects require an investment to keep relationships with big potential growing. And there are times when you have to hold your nose and say yes in order to keep your doors open. But those numbers need to add up somewhere on the horizon.
Michael Bremmer is founder and CEO of TelecomQuotes.com, a Marino Valley, California telecommunications-solutions provider for small and midsize businesses. He says 20 years of trial and error have led him to ask three questions of himself for any new customer: 1) What’s his gut feeling about the individual or business? (“Every time I’ve ignored my gut, I’ve paid the price,” he says.) 2) How reasonable are their requests? and 3) Is the amount of profit worth the time and effort? “Even if you’re struggling to start your business, you have to choose so wisely because your time is your most valuable asset,” Bremmer says.
For example, Bremmer has had to send some customers to competitors or outright “fire” others. He says he recently had to cut off a longtime family friend who became unreasonable about pricing. He struggled with the decision because he could see how stress had made her irrational, but “the client who keeps you awake at 3 a.m.—that’s the one you’ve got to fire.”
2) Haggling over price
John Olson calls them “the price hunters” and he’s learned to turn them away over his 20 years in business. They’re the people who call or email GrayStone Industries, his pond and fountain-supply company in Cleveland, Georgia,, with eyes only on the price tag. He says his staff gets calls from people who say they’ve contacted them and their competitors, and will buy from whoever has the lowest price.
In those cases, Olson says “we will not even provide a quote, which would force some other poor seller into beating it by sacrificing their own profit. That’s not the way we want to do business.” His products and these projects, he says, require a “modicum of intelligence” from customers, and his staff is constantly trained to assist anyone with questions before or after a sale. So forget about a retail race to the bottom, he explains. “Anyone who cares more about the price than the company selling these type of products is setting themselves up for failure—it will come back to haunt any company who caters to this type of customer.”
The customer is always right? Let’s hope not, judging by the unprecedented abuse that business owners say they’re experiencing via the Internet. Melinda West, founder and CEO of SwagsGalore.com, a curtain and window-treatment ecommerce site based in Lakeville, Pennsylvania., says she has a greatest-hits collection of the crude, angry, or wacky messages she’s seen from the site’s order-comments box since she opened in 1999.
“People seem to have no problem leaving messages, but in person they likely wouldn’t be that crass,” West says. “The comments are so rude or bizarre that you don’t know whether to take them seriously.” So she’s had to block some users’ IP numbers from the site, canceled orders with a brief note, or told the pushiest ones that their goods were out of stock—just to make them go away. Though West says the overwhelming majority of the company’s orders are pleasant or at least uneventful, cutting off negative new customers no longer keeps her up at night. “Sometimes people are nasty and they don’t even order anything—how can they be so irate over curtains?”
4) A bad fit
Maybe the work is too outside your specialty, the budget is a tough stretch, or ethical or personal lines are crossed. Don’t ignore the red flags. Frank Ebysen, a founder of Santa Monica, California-based OnClick Marketing, an SEO and social media services company, says he’s adopted a “serious person” test, a concept his business partner learned from co-workers at a company overseas. For example, there are clients who have good ideas, but the lack of a sound game plan makes them problematic, he says. Now when they discuss whether to take on a client or turn them away, it comes down to whether the person is genuine and worth their expertise, or if they come off as “not a serious person.”
Or you could turn the tables. One PR agency executive says her small agency has started asking potential clients for a list of their references before they agree to do business. “They’ll get the feeling that you are selective and not just looking to make a buck. You’ll appear to be the leader in the situation—but mostly it helps to ward off the ones who will be a headache,” she says.
Perhaps turning away someone’s business could possibly help make that customer look within, to see that they were —gasp!—wrong. Simon says that yoga client who sparked the police call came back to her studio a year later, seeking forgiveness and promising to behave. He’s been a regular on the mats there for years now.
She says it’s added to the meaning of her business. “You never know what’s going on in someone’s life. There are students I see that are in such despair and in a heightened state of anxiety. They are coming to me to take care of that,” Simon says. “When you can understand that, then you’re doing your job.”