Episode #77: How to Fire a Difficult Customer with Terra Bohlmann
The Fast-Track Woman Podcast: Episode #77
How to Fire a Difficult Customer with Terra Bohlmann
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Meet Podcast Host + Business Strategist, Terra Bohlmann.
Terra Bohlmann in a business strategist who helps female entrepreneurs accomplish in one year what would normally take five-years. As the creator of The Business Map Method™, she has crafted over a hundred custom business models for clients who have gone on to build six and seven-figure businesses.
Through her speaking, training, coaching, and live events production, she's impacted thousands of female entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada. Terra has been featured in publications and podcasts including Forbes, The Huffington Post, and The Sigrun Show. She's also the host of The Fast-Track Entrepreneur Podcast with Terra Bohlmann.
She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, three boys, and spoiled rescue dog and cat. Terra's forthcoming book, The Fast-Track Entrepreneur: Create Your First Class Business with Clarity and Confidence, is due out in 2021.
About this Podcast Episode.
In this episode, Terra shares her 3 step process to fire a difficult customer in a way that protects your brand, eases your mind, and creates a win-win situation for both you and your customer. Difficult customers come and go in our lives and it's how you handle it with grace and confidence that removes the stress out of your life while opening up space so you can serve your perfect customer.
To learn more about working with Terra in her signature program, The Fast-Track Woman ACCELERATOR, visit www.TerraBohlmann.com/accelerator
Resources, Tools, and Links Mentioned in this Episode.
Apply for your complimentary Fast-Track Session with Terra HERE.
Read and Download the Transcript for this Episode.
When you give smart women a five-year plan, simple business strategies and a positive mindset. It's amazing how fast your business can grow. Welcome to the fast track woman podcast with your host and business strategist, Terra Bohlmann. She helps women business owners stop winging it and board the fast track to success. When she's not making high flying dreams, the reality you can find her traveling to random destinations, desperately tracking down Chanel, broaches, or sipping overpriced coffee drinks. Her purpose in life is to help you build a profitable first-class business, smooth out the bumpy ride, and finally have more time, energy and freedom. So buckle your seatbelt because this episode of the fast track woman takes off right now.
Terra Bohlmann (00:56):
Welcome back to the fast track woman podcast. I am your host, Terra Bohlmann. And today in episode 77, we're going to talk about how to fire a difficult customer. I know firing a difficult customer. It can feel scary. It can feel exciting. It could feel all of the things, right? So the main thing I want to make sure that you understand when you go to fire a difficult customer, and we all have to do it from time to time until we can really understand our perfect customer profile so that we're attracting the right people. But sometimes as things are getting started in our business, anyone who wants to work with us is a paying customer and we're just excited and we take it on and we learn things as time goes by, or, you know, maybe, you know, for me, I do a lot of consultations and I call them fast track sessions and conversations.
Terra Bohlmann (01:58):
And sometimes you think, oh my gosh, this person is like, perfect, because you've only chatted with them for 15 minutes to 30 minutes or an hour. But then as time goes on, you learn more and more and you realize, oh, this person isn't quite who I thought they were in order to work with them. So a couple of things when it comes to difficult customers, and I like to give what I refer to as a soft landing to these customers, because at the end of the day, you have to remember your business is your brand. You're personally responsible for putting out there, how people experience you. And so sometimes difficult customers in our lens have to be reframed as maybe they're not difficult. They just may be difficult for us because, you know, I don't know their personality is different than yours. You're introverted, they're extroverted.
Terra Bohlmann (03:02):
They love to talk on the phone. You want to answer by emails, all kinds of things will come about to make that customer quote unquote difficult when it's really just a mismatch. And sometimes we just need to bite the bullet and take ownership of that and just say, it just isn't the right fit. And I know oftentimes we use the word right-fit fit quite a bit. And I don't want to throw that term around loosely because a right fit needs to be on both sides, your customers to feel like you're the right fit for them. And a lot of the times what we don't do, but need to do is go, is this customer the right fit for me? And sometimes we get in this scarcity mindset of, oh, we need customers. We need paying customers. I'll take on anyone. When in fact we have to go through a lot of frogs to get the prints or, you know, the princess or whatever you have to get, you have to learn over time.
Terra Bohlmann (04:05):
What makes a customer difficult in your mind versus are they really difficult? Cause they could be the perfect customer for somebody else. And that's what I love about thinking of this. So in terms of firing a difficult customer, let's use it in terms of how can we give them a soft landing and make it win-win win-win for us because we don't have to readjust how we are working or you know, how they're interacting with us or whatever it, they can actually go and find somebody who's a better fit for them. And you can find somebody who's a better fit for you. So a couple of things come to mind that I want to share with you when I have had to coach clients of my own on how to do this, how to fire a difficult customer and what comes when they come to me, they're usually in overwhelm, they're in I'm Terra.
Terra Bohlmann (05:03):
I'm just, I'm done. I can't take it anymore. I've tried, I've tried. I over-deliver, I do this. I do that. They're just never satisfied. I, and so I say, okay, I get it. Let's, you know, take a deep breath on this. And you know, I got you. Cause there's a three-step process that I take them through in order to either try to reconcile and resolve a customer relationship and get it working. So it's win-win for both of you or if the re if you really do need to say goodbye. And a lot of the time, a lot of the times more than not, we have to say goodbye, but I, I don't advise just saying goodbye, you know, because you're just at your Whitsett. And I want you to think about this from a logical perspective, because there may be some things that you can do to resolve it.
Terra Bohlmann (05:58):
And so what does it look like to have a difficult customer? Well, a difficult customers don't want to pay you on time. So you're having to chase down payment or, you know, they always have something to say when their bill comes every month which takes more time that you didn't allow for. And you're, you know, say you're on a monthly retainer, a difficult customer is just no matter what you seem to do. They're not going to be happy. A difficult customer will always push your boundaries. And the one thing I want to make sure that we understand is a lot of people push boundaries, but they only are pushing boundaries most likely because you haven't put yours in place. So a lot of the times we feel a customer is difficult and pushing our boundaries, but we ourselves never established the boundaries or didn't correct the behavior on the first episode of when it happened.
Terra Bohlmann (06:57):
And then they just keep pushing and pushing, not that it's right. It's boundary pushers. That's, you know, they're not my jam. But they are some people's, which is totally fine. And, you know, but you want to kind of think about it in terms of that, how else do difficult customers show up? They like to buck your system. So say you have a step-by-step process on how you work with people or your methodology of how you run your company and deliver, deliver your products or your services. And they want to not follow that. And that's always my first warning sign when they don't want to follow my step-by-step. It's like I have to put a lot of time, energy money, and have a lot of social proof that the step-by-step process works. Trust me on this. And if they instantly want to ignore that, well, I don't feel like they're trusting me, let alone trusting the process, which they would just paid for.
Terra Bohlmann (07:53):
So that's usually a red flag, another red flag for a difficult customer is, you know, they, if you, if you have, if you lay out your communication strategy, but they don't follow it and they want to work around it, you know, like I'm, I'm cool with some people like being rebels and especially in entrepreneurship, I, I work with a lot of, you know, creative entrepreneurs and whatnot, you know, and, and I love that, but it's on me to go. I know you think that would be great, but here's how we do it. Are you in, because if you're not, that's okay, that's just not going to work for me. So we have to get really strong with our boundaries. And then the stronger we can get with our boundaries, the less difficult customers we have. And another red flag of a difficult customer is when they're one person, when they show up to talk to you you know, for your initial sales call or onboarding or whatever.
Terra Bohlmann (08:56):
And then they kind of turned from, is it Jekyll and Hyde situation? And then when they're in stress, they can get real or overwhelm or, you know, anything like that that has them fired up in some way, they project that on you. And that's not okay either because we're in business as professional business owners, we, we will give respect and we expect respect back in return. So those are just some of the red flags, a lot of, you know, my clients. And even me personally, especially when I first started out, oh my gosh, I could have wrote a book on this because it was just, it felt like it was always happening. And I had to really take a look at my internal processes and my customer experience that I was providing. And even more importantly, I had to get a little stronger in my boundaries, which has now came more because you might've been in business over a decade.
Terra Bohlmann (09:53):
And so I've learned to be like, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, hold the phone. You know, let's talk about this and get them back on track. Right? So when it comes to firing a difficult customer, here's my three-step process that I've coached, not just myself over time, but also a lot of my clients that have dealt with this and we have coaching calls about it, or they bring it to our group session, or whenever I'm facilitating a mastermind of some sort, this always tends to come up. And so what I've learned is are usually our lowest paying customers. This isn't an always, but usually our lowest paying customers are the ones that tend to be most difficult. They have these sometimes unrealistic high expectations. And what happens is at first, you may be just excited because you've got a new customer, but then it just starts to wear on you over time.
Terra Bohlmann (10:50):
And you've re risen your rates or the price of your product has went up. And so you start going, oh, this isn't even worth it. Like, you know, and you start doing this comparison that they may not be aware of because they got in at a lower rate, but then they also have these expectations of you that may or may not be warranted. You know, in a lot of cases they're not. And sometimes they are because maybe that's what you sold them on. So what I always tell my clients is, all right, here's the deal? How much longer is your contract with them? Assuming you do have a contract in place and you know, and if it's just a month or two, you know, can we just ride it out and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel? So if we can just finish up with what we promise it's going to solve itself, we just don't resign them or get into another deal with them, or, you know, have them continue to purchase our product.
Terra Bohlmann (11:51):
Right? So the three step process on how to fire a difficult customer and give what I call a soft landing, which I'll tell you more about in a minute. I want you to think, and step number one, is this difficulty because of you or is it because of them? And I ask you that because sometimes we have to explore I really all the time off to have to change that language. A lot of the time we have to explore what we may have done to make this customer difficult, because remember we teach people how to trust and treat us in return. So, you know, maybe you continue to let them push the boundaries or you didn't take the time to establish them at all. But remember we teach people how to treat us. So if you're, for instance, a service provider and you get email support and someone emails you, and you respond in like 10 seconds and, and you're really proud of that.
Terra Bohlmann (12:54):
And then if you do that all the time, and then you go take you, we've created an expectation to our customer, that we respond really fast. And then something happens where maybe you're sick for a day, or you have to go run an errand or you want to vacation and they're flipping out because you haven't responded. So we created that because we taught people how to treat us and, and they were treating us the way we were putting out there. So we want to make sure right up front that we have our, you know, the ways that we're going to work together. And we have some expectations outlined within your contract or in a separate agreement or on an onboarding call of what they can expect. So, you know, sometimes I get back to you really fast. Sometimes it may be 24 hours on average, I will get back to you within 24 hour on a business purpose.
Terra Bohlmann (13:47):
And this day or something like that, you know, that's kind of language and expectations. You can set up front with them type of thing. So that's just an example. Like I have one client who she likes to batch her work, which is really cool. And I'm all, I'm a huge fan for batching. And so she'll batch it out, but then she schedules the emails to go out, you know, like over a series of a few days, right? Because she said, what happens for her is once she starts responding to customers, then they're responding back and she gets in this back and forth. And next thing you know, the whole day is spent just answering emails when it could have been a five minute phone call, or it could have just been handled differently or whatever. So you can use tools that help you teach people how to treat you.
Terra Bohlmann (14:31):
So let's ask ourselves, okay, can I take any ownership in this? And if I can, okay, well then we're going to put that in the, in that category. But if you've been always like perfectly nice to them and you know, this kind of stuff, then we're going to put that in another category. Most of the times we have to be able to take ownership of what we've done. The second step is I want you to communicate your boundaries. So in the case where either case, whether you knew you were at fault on some things, maybe you created this monster of a client type of thing, because in your words, or your promises or your you know, expectations, or by not putting your boundaries as a stake in the ground, that's okay. We're going to get there now communicate that. And in cases where the customer, you have done a lot of things, right.
Terra Bohlmann (15:26):
And you're like, I've really done this internal work Terra. So I've done the internal thought process that there wasn't much that I did. And that's okay. That may be your case too, then that's okay. Great. You can communicate your boundaries still. So no matter what we want to now communicate your boundaries as a step two. And if you haven't yet, you know, take the time to do it. So before you just go one to three, which is you're fired, go number one. Can I take some accountability here? And if so, what does that look like? And what boundaries did they break? Number two, did I have I communicated those boundaries? And if it's no, then we need to take time to do it and ask for a changed behavior to make the relationship win-win right. And use that as a time to say, what can I do differently as well?
Terra Bohlmann (16:19):
So we're just doing a check-in. So you don't need to have scheduled meeting and call it like the boundaries conversation. No, it's just a, you know, customer relationship, check-in, you know, 15 minute call or something like that. And, and just speak your heart, which could be, you know this is what's going on. This is how this is making me feel this and this and that. I don't know if that's your intention, but I want to make sure we're on the same page. I want to respect your boundaries. And I want you to respect mine. Can we do that going forward and get a yes. Right? And if it's a no, or it becomes a blame game, awesome. You have some more data to work with, which will then be number three of the firing of a difficult customer. We'll call it a framework.
Terra Bohlmann (17:08):
Number three is if that behavior doesn't change and they know your boundaries, and they're still continuing to push them, or if it's just straight up impossible and it feels like it's something you need to do now. Like they need to be fired yesterday. I want you to schedule a one-on-one call for just five minutes and let them know that things are changing in your company and you won't have the capacity to serve them anymore. Now we're not going to send that via email, right? You're going to send an email or a text that says, Hey, when you have five minutes, will you let me know? So we can, I can give you a call so we can hop on a call. I want to do a check in here. I have something to tell you or whatever, like it's not going to be, this is the phone call that is like, there is no negotiation it's done.
Terra Bohlmann (17:58):
There's no, I'll be better. No, this is like, it's going to happen. That's why I want you to think in terms of five minutes. And this is where the soft landing comes in. So you can tell them, you know, you don't have capacity because maybe in your mental capacity, you just don't have capacity to serve them anymore. And you can give them a soft landing when possible, like, please like think of something you can do to give them a soft landing, which I kinda think of like, rather than making something really ugly or uncomfortable, you put a big pillow or cloud under them. So it doesn't sting so hard cause you don't need to call, you know, it doesn't need to be, Hey, this is Terra. Just calling to tell you, you know, don't feel like our relationship is working anymore. And you're really pushing my boundaries.
Terra Bohlmann (18:43):
So I'm going to fire you. Like, that's not what we're going to say. Instead, it's going to be a reach out to say, Hey, will you let me know when you have five minutes? So I can give you a call about something. We want to keep it vague because in their minds, they're going to go, what does she need to talk to you about, oh my gosh, what is this? What is this? You know? And we want them to stew on that. Cause they're going to show up usually on like really good behavior. And then you can just let them know. Things are changing at the company. You won't have capacity to serve them anymore and then give them the soft landing, which could be, you know, because of that, I want to give you a reduced rate in your next month or this month will be the last month.
Terra Bohlmann (19:23):
I'll be able to provide services for you or starting next month on the 15th, you know, whatever, whatever, just be really clear on when the relationship's ending. And you can also let them know that you're gonna reduce the rate. You know, I've had clients who are just like, you know, I'm starting this, you know, so I'm not going to invoice you for the last two weeks worth of work, you know? And instead I'm going to use extra time to record videos. So that you're the next person that you hired to do. This has, you know, something to start from or whatever we don't want to just like, bye. And let them just be off on their own because usually they're gonna be mad. They're gonna be talking about you and remember you want to protect your brand. So we want to give them the soft landing, maybe reduce the rate.
Terra Bohlmann (20:16):
You can let them out of their contract early. You can, like I said, create those how to videos so that they can give them to a new provider of how you did things to make it easier. You can offer to have a transition meeting or meetings with their new provider. You can, you can do something above and beyond to make it easier for them because it's anyone who we work with. It's always going to be a pain in the butt for them to have to like start over from new. Especially if they didn't know, like where's this coming from, you know, we're not going to say they're a difficult customer. We're just going to say it's not a right fit anymore. Okay. And when possible, and this is huge. I want you to refer someone else that can serve them, right? Because it may not.
Terra Bohlmann (21:01):
And you don't want to probably refer somebody who you know, is not a good fit, right. Refer somebody out. Or if you can't refer them because you don't know anyone else do a Google search and come up with like five, you know, websites or something that do similar services or have similar products to you so that you can give them somewhere to start from. Okay. And then we want to give them that last date, or, you know, say, Hey, if you don't want to reduce their invoice or reduce anything from a cost perspective, let them know that, Hey, you know, our last working date is, you know, whatever month on the 15th or whatever day you pick, but let them know that you've allocated, you know, two hours for additional support, you know, on the track during the transition or something like that. Like, you know, to make it a soft landing, which we want to try to do and then definitely refer them out.
Terra Bohlmann (21:55):
And just and if it's not a personal connection, you have, you know, give them, you know, five to seven things to websites to check out, you know, type of thing. They'll appreciate that effort, even though they may be shocked, right? So I want you regardless. It may feel scary to let go of what we would consider guaranteed money, you know, but at what cost your sanity, it's absolutely not worth it. And I know it feels scary to have these kinds of conversations and just think five minutes. That's why I said, it's a five minute phone call. You know, the communication of your boundaries may need to be 15 minutes, but if it's just not working, just do it five minutes, our brain can get behind five minutes or less because how long does it really take to say, I want to let you know that things are changing at my company and I'm not going to have the capacity to serve you anymore.
Terra Bohlmann (22:50):
Right. And give them the soft landing and the recommendations and move on. Right. And follow up with any mouth. You'd like, I know in some cases, people have paid you and they're locked into some sort of contract and there you're you feel like it's not a fit. I personally, and this is just me personally, because I've seen it on many sides. I would refund them. The remaining I've had a case where I took on a client and I should have never taken her on my heart was completely like there. And my company, I did a full business map for her and, you know, she came into hardship and, you know, and it just, I stretched out a payment plan longer than I should. And she, it just was everything that could have went wrong with this agreement dead. Like I completely like, I let her walk all over my boundaries.
Terra Bohlmann (23:44):
I did, to be honest. And the first thing, that's why I start with the first step. And the three-step process is because is this because of you or because of them? No, I was very much, I w I knew I could help her. I knew I could help with our business. Like, that's my jam, but I wasn't, you know, I didn't know of later, you know, like a couple months into it, after I had delivered all the service, like the big part of the service, I didn't know, like she came into some family things and you know, and that kind of, it just got in the way. And back then, I didn't have the, I didn't have the training that I have now to be able to help work people through that. And so I did, I said, okay, you know what? This wasn't about you.
Terra Bohlmann (24:26):
This was me. And I'm gonna refund you. And you know, I wish you, I wish you well, and I don't want you to feel anything weird about it. And you know, this was my fault, not yours. And I took full ownership of it and let her out of her payment plan. And that was it. So, you know, now I'm smarter about it, right? I know some are warning signs and stuff like that. So you have to just be able to weigh what is your sanity worth, right. What's the w you know, you gotta balance that the best that you can, and, you know, sometimes it's just not worth it. And, and what I mean by that is because everyone we work with and transact with has space in our life, right. They're paying us for something of usually higher value or equal value.
Terra Bohlmann (25:16):
And when we're doing that, and the value gets misaligned because they're, we're waking up in the middle of the night, stressed out, or, you know, ignoring our kids because something, you know, they're saying something's urgent or whatever, quote unquote makes them difficult, then what's that really worth, okay. So you're saying it is worth something. So sometimes if you have to give a refund, I would rather refund somebody all day long, then have them talk about me in the world. Like, it just doesn't feel good. It's not why I do business. It's not, that's just me personally. I just don't think it's just, my integrity is bigger than that. However, I've had clients and I've had situations myself where, you know, I've thought I did all the right things and, you know, and sometimes it just doesn't work out. Right. So I put it on me as the, as a leader to say, when I say yes to work with somebody on a consultation, the way they're saying yes, I want to pay you to be part of your program or work with you or hire you, or have you ever seen do a map for me or whatever, you know, I'm saying yes to them.
Terra Bohlmann (26:27):
They're saying yes to me, I'm going to own that. Okay. and I feel that it, the world just kind of works out with people who may or may not take advantage of my kindness. So I'm strong, but I'm, I'm communicative with my boundaries. And I'm also hold myself accountable to things, too. Okay. So if you, sometimes you have to issue a refund, just make it go away. Right. That is it's, it's sometimes it's business. I have had clients and people in my life and friends and former friends who never wanted to ever give a refund because, you know, whether it was cashflow or they didn't think it was right or stubbornness or whatever. And it's like that, then if that ends up going to court or arbitration, you want to talk about real headache, man. I've been through that in my corporate job, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Terra Bohlmann (27:23):
So that's when it starts to get even more expensive. So something to think about your sanity is worth a lot. And when you can free up your time, I mean, you can now go find that right. Fit customer. That is a perfect customer for you. That's probably going to pay you more because you charge more now. Right. And, you know, I just, and I don't want you to be stressed about having a scary conversation because it's just five minutes, that's it or less, you know, and don't do the breakup via email. Instead. I want you to send an email or a text to ask them when they have time for a five minute chat with you, be kind of mysterious about it, leave it vague on purpose and on the conversation, speak your heart. You know what I have to do honestly, still to this day, when I have, have to have difficult conversations is I I'll take a few minutes and write it out, like write out the bullet points of what I want to make sure I get get across that way.
Terra Bohlmann (28:26):
I'm not fluttering over my words or letting them dominate me or whatever. So on the conversation, you know, prep for it ahead of time. And then on the conversations, speak your heart. And I want you to take the high road and ownership of the relationship and give them that soft landing and end date. That's it, right? I mean, people come into your life for a reason or a season. And sometimes customers come into our lives to teach us something, you know? So so you're probably right now, you're, you know, if you have that difficult customer, you're probably working it up in your head to be a bigger deal than it will be this conversation that I'm asking you to have, but I can tell you, your heart will thank you down the road after it's over. Because as soon as it's over, and then your transition process kicks in, which is you're going to do what you promised.
Terra Bohlmann (29:18):
If that's, you know, send the final invoice and then block off time on your calendar for two weeks, to be able to support them on a transition, give them the five names, you know, whatever you're gonna do it just as a transaction and a to do at that point. You don't have to worry about that person continuing to be difficult in your life. And now you'll have time and capacity in your, in your mind to be able to find that perfect customer, which is what we all strive to have. And when I say perfect customer, you know, usually if we can get within 50% of who we define as our perfect customer, it feels so good. And I can guarantee you that difficult customer broke a lot of your core values and your boundaries that were in place that maybe you communicated or you didn't.
Terra Bohlmann (30:06):
But now is the time where you can define that and communicate it to all future customers. So that you've learned from this. All right. So what if you want to learn more about how we can work together? I just invite you to check out the fast track woman accelerator. It is my group program, and it's a done with you program, which is different than any other group business program. It really is a done with you. So there's you get me personally, we also have a community that's fantastic. And we co-create all the strategies you need in your business. And it culminates in what I call your business map is what I've trademarked. And it's super it's just to go through the processes. All I can say is what my clients have told me, which is the clarity and the confidence that comes after we go through the business map method and produce their business map.
Terra Bohlmann (31:00):
It's life changing. Okay. So what I love about the business map method and working in the accelerator is we, co-create your perfect customer profile together, which is foundational to having a business model that you love, allows you to attract. The perfect customer is not the difficult ones and will scale and profitability over the next five years. So if you're interested in learning more about the accelerator, just go to my website, www dot Terra, bohlmann.com/accelerator. And you'll learn all about what you get when we get to work together over the next six months, the most affordable way to work together. And I have really honed the process after doing 175 business maps. So I've like created a hundred and seventy five, six, and seven figure business models for clients. And you can be part of that as well. So I would love to chat with you, or if you're ready, just to enroll, you can enroll right on Terra Bohlmann.com/accelerator. But this is the time that it for you to be able to put that stake in the ground, declare what you want in your business, how you're going to make your money and be able to put those boundaries around you that define out your core values and what you stand for, what your company stands for and who you want to attract as your perfect customer. So we don't waste time and energy and money dealing with difficult customers. All right? So until next time, take care and fast track that business.
And there you have it. Another jam packed of the fast track woman podcast. Don't forget to visit Terra Bohlmann.com, where you can get more business tips and strategies learn how we can work together to accelerate your business success or access this podcast. Episode show notes with a full transcript and links to resources mentioned today. And if you enjoyed this podcast, I invite you to leave a review so that we can help serve more women business owners to like you until next time here's to owning your time and valuing your word.
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(Oh, by the way, I love to do shout-outs on future episodes and you just may hear your name!)