In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

I don’t remember who said it to me first, many years ago, but the advice has always stuck with me:

Not all business is good business.

What does this mean? Simply this: there is business you can take on that will likely hurt, not help you.

We are all tempted to take on certain clients and projects because of one overriding factor: Revenue. I’d like to suggest that you make each of those decisions based on a different factor: Purpose.

Here are examples of business that may NOT be good business:

  • Taking on a project with a client who is hard-nosed, and/or cheap, and/or indecisive. There is such a thing as a bad client. Avoid – let some less wise competitor suffer.
  • Taking on a project that has very poor definition, and in which you cannot seem to get more information. This will become a moving target of scope creep that will frustrate you for months on end – guaranteed.
  • Taking on a project that is a good bit out of your sweet spot, with an existing client. Don’t endanger the relationship with a high-risk-of-failure attempt to keep all the client’s dollars to yourself. Short-term gain often equals long-term loss.
  • Taking on a project or client that moves your company and its resources into a direction that you really don’t need to pursue. Rabbit trails waylay any kind of focused growth and dilute your message.
  • Taking on a project or client despite warning bells of good judgment and conscience. Don’t let dollars delude you into ignoring your better instincts.
  • Trying to compete in an area where you are just one of many potential suppliers, and your offering cannot rise above a commodity level. Find a more narrow niche that you can dominate.

Over and over again, as I’ve counseled small business owners and consultants, I’ve heard the tales of woe that result from pursuing or taking on not-good business. The best way to avoid this trap: have a clearly-defined purpose and highly-focused offering (including the clients you wish to pursue) so that you have a solid basis on which to say no. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your efforts by chasing (ultimately) unprofitable revenue. And that’s a game at which nobody can win.

What would you add to the list? Put your lessons in the comments!


Do you need a clearer purpose and message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> Using Words to Say Nothing


About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

18 Responses to In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

  1. Chris Ziomek says:

    Excellent points Steve.
    Taking a positive perspective, I will reiterate many of your points.
    As business leaders, we should pursue those business opportunities where:
    – we have the core competencies to provide compelling value,
    – we can dominate a market (often a niche) with a compelling value proposition,
    – with customers who make buying decisions matched to our value proposition.

  2. In working closely with sales people over the years, I’ve always valued the ability to identify bad business. Going beyond proposing and closing requires some real business acumen, and (from a career management standpoint) I see that ability was a real differentiator. You’re absolutely right – there is such a thing as a bad client. A mindset of “sell, sell, sell” without discernment or real business judgement is an expensive proposition. Being discerning is key to being a trusted advisor. You certainly are, Steve, and thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. Pingback: In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever | Small Business Advisor |

  4. God have we realized that! It stinks, because all business = money. But stress and turmoil, makes it a bit uneven. Trying to convince my co-founder that we shouldn’t take all business? Well, that’s a bit hard. But I’ll do it!

  5. I wholeheartedly endorse Steve’s advice. Taking on clients that aren’t a good fit hurt you in the long run. Sure, it’s hard to say no to income. But when you dread seeing the client’s name in your email inbox on caller ID, you aren’t doing your best work and you are the one who will suffer for it. All clients talk, trust me. Leave your time free to find a client who is a better fit and for whom you can do outstanding work.

  6. Hi Steve and folks

    Yes, the overriding factor can, and often is, revenue/cash flow – and it’s not always the only or best justification for taking on business (or a particular piece of business), as we’re agreeing. Though it is, at least partly, understandable.

    Another, potentially very attractive and alluring reason to take on a particular client is the expected reflected prestige.

    Yet, in this case, I’d say: “Beware. On the plus side this kind of business can, indeed, be extremely rewarding; on the minus side of the equation it can also turn out to be one of the mostly costly mistakes your business is likely to make… low rate, late pay, prima donna attitude, changed goals…”

    Lesson? Maybe go for sound profitable business rather than the inflated ego a “star” client might, just might, mind, provide…

  7. Great comments! Anyone want to play devil’s advocate and propose a different angle? Are there times to take on business that you have reservations about?

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  12. elisabeth says:

    Really enjoyed this post! I firmly believe what you are saying, even though saying “no” can be tough! As a sales person it can be difficult to say “no” to customers- there’s concern over jeopardizing the relationship and a loss of current and repeat business. Focusing on a purposeful relationship and mission with your work/clients is (imo) a way to ensure long term growth. It is important to ask ourselves: “are we doing the right thing?” Doing “the right thing” might not always pay dividends in the short term, but in the long run I have found it to be a true barometer for success.

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  18. Chuck says:

    Does anyone have a political correct way of firing a customer when you’ve made a poor decision up front?

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