Being a freelancer or running an agency is an amazing and rewarding experience. You get to set your own hours and work when you want (in an ideal world), and you only take on as much work as you feel you can handle at any given time.
There’s just one problem: what will you do when the work dries up? What if that one big client you have suddenly doesn’t have any work for you, or unexpectedly cuts their budget and has to cancel your contract?
There’s nothing worse for stability and security for an agency or freelancer than falling into the “single client trap”. As the old adage goes, don’t put all of your precious eggs in one basket, which is exactly what happens when you become too reliant on one or even a couple of “main” clients. If you find that 80% or more of your income comes from just one client, then you’ve fallen into what’s often referred to as the “Single Client Trap”.
Let’s look at how to get out of this all too common “trap” and into a regular rotation of clients and work that is consistent, reliable and dependable.
What Can You Do if You’re in the Single Client Trap?
1. Practice Better Budgeting
What does budgeting have to do with having a single client? The less “overhead” and operational expenses you have, the less reliant you’ll be on any single large client to “float” your business/income month to month.
One of the best things you can do right now is to tighten your belt and reduce both personal and business expenses. When you factor in the costs of taxes and how much you spend on overhead, every dollar you cut from your budget comes out to about $2 less than you have to earn while looking for new (and often better) clients.
2. Distributed Focus at Work
Once you’ve taken control of your budget, it’s time to better manage your schedule. Do what you can to increase your productivity, and be more disciplined when working. Set boundaries for yourself and spend half of the working day each week on clients other than your main one.
Slowly work towards finding a balance that helps you maintain results for your core (large) single client while enabling you to prospect for and service other clients.
Don’t’ have any other clients yet? Now is the time to build up your roster. Use this extra time to develop and execute a marketing and sales strategy aimed at helping you onboard new clients or towards organizational objectives that will put yourself in a better position to handle the extra work when it does come in.
3. Purposefully Set Aside Time to Find New Work
Even if you’re nearing peak bandwidth, now is the time when you need to explore new ways to bring on more clients and make adjustments to accommodate. Having more clients not only brings in more revenue, but adds a level of stability to your business while decreasing financial risks. Further, a deeper roster of clients may put your agency in a better position when it comes to negotiations and closing contracts.
You may also want to consider utilizing proven business proposal templates that will increase your close and response rate. In today’s hyper-competitive landscape leveraging technology is a key way to stand out amongst the sea of competition.
Simple and Effective Places to Look for New Clients
Short on time or money needed for a big marketing campaign? No problem. The fact is, there are a number of free or nearly free places and ways you can get the word out about your business.
There’s no better time than the present to begin building up your profile on major freelancing and “gig” sites such as UpWork or TopTal. Many freelancers and agencies (over time) have great success on these platforms earning upwards of multiple six figures yearly from work earned on such sites.
Start small, overdeliver, and make sure your communication is clear, consistent and friendly. As you complete projects you’ll increase your ratings, confidence, and ability to handle larger roles that can add to your bottom line and earn you long-term clients that get you out of the “one client trap”.
Social Media, Forums, and Groups
Social media is an often under-leveraged marketing medium. We all know you can run ads, but, for those on a budget, organic reach can be just as — if not more — effective.
Find out where your ideal customers “hang out” and spend time online. Be active, present and provide value and support in those places. Just make sure not to spam or “sell”.
Networking both on and offline is a time-tested and important way to develop new business connections that can lead to fruitful long-term work. Talk regularly to other agencies, recruiters, businesses, freelancers, and past clients.
One of the most impactful ways to expand your potential customer base is by partnering with other businesses that service similar clients but are not in direct competition to your business. By doing so, both you and the other professional(s) or business(s) can cross-promote each other freely and effectively.
4. Renegotiate with Main Clients
By the time you get here — whether it takes weeks or months — you’ll be doing a lot of work. That also means your finances are likely in better order and more stable. You’ll ideally be making enough to live on from your main client along with another 50% or so from short-term projects that you spend the rest of your time on.
At this point, you’re likely also enjoying the benefits of lead generation and having clients come to you with extra work. This newly taken opportunity should bring with it a sense of relief and comfort knowing that you are no longer a “slave” to a single client that could tank your business if they (for any reason) decided to sever ties.
Many of us took on that one big (or first) client from a position of “needing” them more than they needed us. As such, the terms of that original agreement may not be as favorable as new deals you make. This can place unnecessary strain on your operations and bottom line. Now may be a good time to renegotiate with your other client and secure better rates or better hours.
The goal here is not to gouge your old client(s), but to find a fair rate that is representative of the value you bring to the table. In order to support the terms of this new deal, be sure to present clear and concise data that demonstrates what you’ve done for them and the return on investment they have enjoyed. If the new deal falls through, you now have a roster of other clients to fall back on. Which is to say that you shouldn’t be afraid to cut ties with a “bad” deal if it no longer makes sense for you or your business.
Closing Thoughts on the Single Client Trap
When you get down to it, one of the main reasons many of us, as freelancers, fall into the single client trap is the same reason that we deal with many of the other problems faced by newer and budding agencies: desperation/need.
During the early stages of your freelance writing business when new clients are scarce, or when a client is so large they make up a major portion of your income while also taking up massive internal resources are two situations that often lead us into the “single client trap”.
The only cure for this desperation is to have options at your disposal. You need to know that you’ve got choices so that you can move and act from a position of power. Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets to escape this “trap”. You’ve got to put in the work, but it does pay off.
By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide you can work towards freeing yourself out from under the single client trap before it inevitably leads to catastrophe. Now is the time to put a plan together that allocates your resources in a way that will reduce risk and position your brand for success now and in the future.
Take charge of your career’s trajectory, reduce risk, spark growth, and increase your bottom line.