Why Give a Damn:

One month in, one client down. Thirty three days ago we formed our new business, Ben&Andrew. On day thirty one, we fired our first client.

The authors of this post, Andrew Missingham and Ben Gallagher, are problem solvers who specialize in strategic planning, prototyping and facilitation. In this series they are documenting the launch of their company benandandrew.com

More than anything else we’ve done to prepare for success, making the decision to fire our first client confirmed to both of us that our business wasn’t only going to do well, it was going to do great.

How can you run a business if you’re turning good money away at the door?

This might sound a bit crazy. We can hear you saying “What, are you nuts? How can you run a business if you’re turning good money away at the door?”. The thing is, the first clients you have as a business (almost like the first friends you make at college) signal your point of view, your attitude and, we’d dare to venture, play a part in shaping your character for the coming years. Choose wrong and you’re screwed.

If we want Ben&Andrew to be the success we’re sure it can be, it’s vital that our first clients reflect and complement our values. The client in question did not.

The first clients you have as a business play a part in shaping your character for the coming years.  Tweet This Quote

At first glance, it seemed great. Their business area was fascinating. They had an audacious new proposition, which, if successful, could revolutionize the market they are in, and realize billions (if not trillions) of dollars of value. And we’d negotiated not only a cash payment for the consultancy we gave the business, but a very attractive equity share.

So how bad could it have been for us to decide so quickly that it wasn’t going to work out?

The answer lies in the way we’ve prepared and launched our business. It springs from the many, many conversations we’ve had right from the time when Ben&Andrew was the first hint of a suggestion of an inkling of an idea for a business we were going to create together.

We came away from our first full day with an early client convinced that they did not share our vision. So we fired them.  Tweet This Quote

From the start, we’ve been very clear about the type of business that we want to build. Ours will be a business with honesty as the keystone, constructed on a bedrock of curiosity, creativity and openness to new, unexpected influences. We wrote about that here last week. Our Triple-Bottom-Line 2.0 approach, which combines the best learning from the cultural, social and for-profit business sectors, assumes that the people we’ll work with are equally curious, creative and open.

Last week, we came away from our first full day with an early client convinced that they did not share our vision. So we fired them. We told them that we weren’t the right business to take their enterprise forward. We told them that we’d like to be paid for the work that we’d done up until that point, but we’d not contest it if they decided not to pay us.

The company you keep sets up a direction of travel which will define who you are and what you do.  Tweet This Quote

You see, we didn’t want to waste a moment more of our energy with the wrong people. Ben&Andrew is small and it’s new, but we have to bake our values in from the start and make them sacrosanct. That way, we’ve got adamantine foundations from which we can build a business that reaches the stars.

Don’t hang out with the wrong crowd. The company you keep not only says more about you than you could possible imagine, it also sets up direction of travel which will likely define who you are and the things that you do.

The big learning for us, from firing a client so early, was that we needed to be better at being able to spot these tensions more quickly, saving both us and our clients time and energy – because, don’t get us wrong, our client wasn’t “bad”, they were just incompatible with where we were headed. With that in mind, here’s half a dozen tips that we hope will help you to spot if they’re a “wrong ‘un” at a hundred paces:

  1. Do you look forward to seeing them, as if they were a friend?
    There’s a feeling you get in your gut when you’re going to meet a client. It can be butterflies like you’re on a first date, it can be comforting, like going home, or it can be a knot in your entrails like you’re up in front of the principal. Listen to your gut. It’s not often wrong.
  2. Do they respect you for your difference of opinion and approach, as opposed to looking to you for passive agreement?
    If you challenge them, or if they challenge you, is it a process that’s exciting and, ultimately, positive? Do you find yourself disagreeing vehemently in a passionate, good natured exchange of views, then quietly using their view as your own at a later date? And is this exchange mutual? If it is, that’s a good sign.
  3. Can you learn as much from them as they can learn from you?
    Related to the last point, is your relationship one of equals, where it’s hard to see who’s the client and who’s the contractor; who’s the start-up and who’s the funder; who’s the student and who’s the professor? We believe, the more blurred this line is, the better.
  4. Do you talk about them and pass on their details to others?
    Are you so proud to be associated with them, you demonstrate this by tying your reputation to theirs by passing people you trust and love their way?
  5. Do they talk about you and pass on your details to others?
    Are they so proud to be associated with you, and so confident that your relationship is a strong one, that they’ll pass your details on to others, even if (on the surface) this risks them having less of your time or attention?
  6. Do you have to explain what you do in minute detail, or do they just “get it”?
    This is perhaps the most important sign. Good relationships seem to need little explanation. They just work. If it seems like it’s hard work, too much of the time, it probably is.

Unreasonable Challenge:

Look at the people around you – your colleagues, contractors, employees, even friends. Ask if they fit in with the vision of where you’re going. If the answer is “no”, take the time to seriously consider what’s stopping you from parting company.

If it seems like it’s hard work, too much of the time, it probably is.  Tweet This Quote


Author BenandAndrew

As founders of Ben&Andrew, Andrew Missingham & Ben Gallagher create solutions for cultural, for-profit and social businesses. They have a wide range of experience working with creative agencies, brands and cultural institutions including Wieden & Kennedy, Arts Council England, the British Council, BBC and Sony Music, BMW, and Nike Foundation.

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