Never ever ‘take’ somebody else’s clients, here’s why

Never steal facilitation business clients
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

Never ‘poach’ or take somebody else’s clients. Some facilitators take work with a training company and somehow convince themselves that they can persuade that company’s client to work with them instead. 

It is truly amazing that some people think that they can bite the very hand that ‘feeds them’ and get away with it. Let me save you the anguish of trying. You won’t succeed. 

First of all, it is simply dishonorable and deceitful to attempt to appropriate other people’s hard-won clients. You may get no work from the client or from the training company ever again. 

You are a professional facilitator or coach so you know the rules of the game. But others think rules are to be broken. Is it really worth the short-term gain?

Here are some things to think about: 

You can be trusted

Less than 3 years ago, I was approached by a delegate at a workshop I was running for a company. He was very impressed with the training and took the opportunity to speak to me over coffee. 

He wanted to know if I could coach him on a one-to-one level. Without hesitation, I told him that as an accredited coach that I was qualified to do so and would be glad to help where I could. 

However, this would have to be approved by the training company first. I then had a quiet word with the Managing Director, Úna and explained the situation. 

Úna was grateful for my bringing this to her attention immediately. She knew I was making a point here. Without saying it out loud, my message was this: “You can trust me. I don’t steal clients.” 

Be open and honest

As luck would have it, Úna agreed that coaching was strictly not part of the training company’s remit at that time and was happy for me to engage with the individual on a multi-session basis.

It didn’t take her more than a few moments to decide what to do. Because I had taken action immediately, there was no risk of anyone getting the wrong idea. Speed eliminates confusion. 

I agreed to pay her 10% commission on my coaching rate (out of which I would pay my expenses). She was happy, I was happy and the client was happy. Perfect.

In fact that coaching client went on to book me for a three more ‘packages’ of four coaching sessions. Each party to the agreement got what they wanted. Openess and honesty paid off. 

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Winning clients costs money

A training company owner or CEO is understandably wary of the possibility of facilitators trying to poach clients and is therefore determined to eliminate any possibility of this succeeding. 

In episode 35 of the TrainingBusiness podcast, I spoke to Jo Ellen Grzyb, Co-Founder of the London-based Communication-Skills training company ‘Impact Factory‘.

Jo Ellen told me how she had been seriously let down when some of her trusted trainers decided to take some of her clients with them when they started their own facilitation brand. Bad move.

If you have signed a contract which stipulates that you do not solicit work from a company’s client(s), you stand the risk of being taken to court and being sued if you willfully contravene it.

Read the small print

Somewhere in the black and white print of your ‘Associate Training Agreement’ (it may be called something else), you should see an important clause like the ones below. Read it carefully.

It will categorically stipulate that you may not accept work or solicit work directly from clients of the training / facilitation company etc. The legalese language may vary in each jurisdiction.

The following are excerpts from real ‘Associate Agreements’. [Shown with permission of authors]

You shall not at any time during the Restricted Period in competition with the business of [training company name removed], solicit or deal or interfere with any person, company or organization who or which is or was a client of [training company name removed], and with whom you had personally dealt during the course of your Engagement, during the twelve months preceding the termination of your Engagement for any reason. 

Another non-solicitation clause as well as a non-compete clause. It’s pretty clear what you are agreeing to if you decide to sign.

The Consultant shall not at any time during the continuance of this agreement or for a period of twelve months following the Termination Date, canvass, solicit or otherwise seek in competition with the Business of the Company the custom of any person who is at that time a Client or has been a Client at any time during the twelve month period preceding the Termination Date or who is an Agreed Company Contact. 

Avoid law suits at all costs

I have heard various arguments that clauses like these have no legal basis in law. That’s a risk I am not willing to take and I would never advise anyone to ignore their inclusion either.

Do you want to get bogged down in a law-suit? I haven’t time or the money for this. I have never set foot in a court room. Not once. For any reason. And I don’t intend to.

So you might want to check with your legal representative for an informed opinion. if you sign a contract, you are morally bound by it. Either way, such a paragraph is to be honored in spirit.

Be grateful for work

The fact is, that there is training work out there, which you will never win. Because of the size of the contract, its complexity and risk to the client, your chances of being shortlisted are small.

Aramco in Jeddah were once interested in working with me until HR learned that I was a one-person consulting brand. They had hoped that I represented a much larger consultancy business.

Perhaps a training company requires a panel of at least 10 trainers or a minimum turnover before it can be considered a suitable partner. Trying to poach this kind of work is simply ridiculous.

Associate work as a facilitator and coach has given me fascinating exposure to blue-chip brands. I might not otherwise have had access to these clients. For that, I am very grateful. Are you?

Conclusion

Be honorable in your dealings with every business you work with as your future is dependent upon your reputation. Screwing up is forgivable (I have). But stealing other people’s clients is not. 

Inform your client of any instance where their client makes overtures to you to engage you in work directly. The quicker you are seen to do it, the less room for doubt or mistrust.

Be grateful for the exposure to fascinating clients, challenging projects and inspirational people. In the long term, you get your own clients by building trust with other people’s first. 

What are your thoughts? Any experiences to share? Add them below now!

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