It’s very easy to believe that lots more clients is exactly what you need.
Of course it is. After all…
- Lots more clients means lots more income.
- Lots more clients means you can pay your staff and suppliers.
- Lots more clients means you can take on an extra pair of hands.
- Lots more clients means you can pay yourself properly or take a dividend.
- Lots more clients means you can grow.
- Lots more clients means you can stop worrying.
Or does it?
Apart from the small matter that more clients makes for a larger company which is harder to manage, I’m going to explore the basic assumption that having lots more clients is what you should be aiming for, from a new business perspective.
In comparison, that is, to whether having just a few more of the right clients is a better goal.
Lots vs. the few
One obvious thought you may be having is that perhaps our goal should be LOTS more of the RIGHT new clients. OK. I get that. And if it was that easy to attract the right clients, then fine. But it’s not.
So – as an SME – start small. Get the hang of attracting the right ones, and then scale that up.
Don’t go for volume first, with the hope of filtering out the wrong’uns later. That is much harder than you think. (You’ll see why at the end).
How do I know who the right, new clients are?
This is the fun stage.
Think back to your school days and Venn diagrams. (Anyone who hated maths, wiki reminder here.)
You are going to draw circles, loops, boxes – or whichever sort of shape your brain likes to work with – which will illustrate the different features of your right, new clients.
For this exercise, keep your bestest and favouritest clients ever in mind. Refer back to whatever it is about them that makes them so lovely. (If you don’t have any clients like this – or never have had any – then it may be time to shut up shop and go home.)
Draw a shape for each one of these sets:
- What type of work do those clients want from you?
- Which sector(s) are they in?
- What size or structure are they? How many employees – or what size turnover?
- Where are they based? (Remember, if you’re small, this can be a vital factor)
- What type of work is most profitable for you?
- How much could/did you charge? (Remember, best client and projects in mind).
- What type of work do you enjoy most – or… what makes you feel that you are plugging the biggest gap for your client?
- What type of work is on the up? (And conversely, what is rarely required any more…)
That’s a big old Venn diagram.
But it doesn’t have to be a fancy one.
Here’s a photo of mine. (Illustration was never my strong point – but I am quick). It hopefully shows you that you don’t need all the answers yet, but it’s still worth quickly jotting this stuff down to get things clearer in your own mind.
It’s not really what your Venn diagram looks like at the end that matters.
It’s the fact you’ve gone through the process of asking yourself these questions. You will be working out some important things.
- How to do more of what you are brilliant at for those customers that really need it and value it
- Where those customers might be – in terms of sector and location
- What they might look like – in terms of size and structure
- What they might feel like to work with
What do my right, new clients look like?
So, as an example – my own Venn diagram (see above) says that my ideal clients look a bit like this:
- B2B firms of 3-20 employees
- Based in Hampshire or Surrey – (Dorset, Sussex or Wiltshire fine, but slightly less ideal)
- Feel they need a part-time sales and marketing director – but wouldn’t be big enough yet to hire one
- Need clarity and direction on how to go about getting new clients
- SMEs that like face-to-face input – so facilitated workshops or meetings are likely to be a part of that process
- Firms that value strategy at or above £500/day
- Want – and are in a financial position to invest in – ongoing support for at least 6 months
- Have a culture of openness and learning, and are quick to place their trust in me
- Listen to what I tell them (and ideally action it!)
So you’ve defined those right, new clients. Now what?
I still haven’t tackled my original point. Why would just a few of the right clients be better than getting lots of general clients?
Hopefully, some of my questions above will have started this thought process.
If not, a word on general (or non-ideal, by which I mean not really right for you) clients. If any of the statements below strike a chord with you, then you’ll see what I mean very quickly.
How many of the clients below do you want?
- Don’t pay on time
- Result in unprofitable projects because they change the brief at the start three times; ask for more and more ‘tiny changes’ once you’ve begun; want everything ‘yesterday’; never answer the ‘phone when you need a quick decision; …
- Use you for your lowest-margin work and little else
- Never use you for the type of work you love and are actually best at
- Pay less than other clients because you got them on board through some early discounting and can’t move back up to your normal rates without losing them
- Quibble over every quote – including the £7.50 for a courier – even after four years of working together
- Go out to market for competitive quotes from suppliers they’ve never worked with in order to negotiate or get you to price-match. Nearly every time.
- Are miles and miles away from you, want face-to-face meetings regularly, but won’t pay for your travel time
- Ask you to do work which is well out of your comfort zone – but you don’t have a strong enough relationship to feel safe explaining why you’re not the best company to do it
- Change structure or staff so often that you are never quite sure which person is your buyer
- Are in a sector that you know so little about you feel as if you are having to ‘wing it’ in meetings
These are what I think of as general clients. There are plenty of them out there.
But these are the dangerous ones.
Not through any fault of their own – but they are dangerous because they are the ones you will get more of most easily. Unless, that is, you focus on attracting the right ones.
And – here’s the crunch.
Because of all the features of those general clients (the low-margin, poor paying, long distance, price sensitive etc.), you can get more and more and MORE and EVEN MORE of these clients, and never actually improve your business, or earn any more.
Oh, your turnover may increase.
In fact, it almost certainly will.
But what about your profit? Your sanity? Your love of what you do? Your ability to recruit, or give your team a bonus?
Arghjghjg ! Fat chance of any of that. You’ll be far too busy servicing all those exhausting clients just to keep yourself standing still and out of the VAT man’s little black book.
So – the moral of this story is simple. Go and get yourself some lovely new clients – just a few of them. Leave all the rest for someone else.
(A quick pointer here to a post on something I’m passionate about which can help get you started on the next stage, and that’s about giving things away for free to attract more of the right, new clients.)
Could you please do something for me?
I write posts like these so that people don’t make the same mistakes that I made earlier in my career when I was responsible for bringing in the new business in a marketing agency.
I also write them so that people can see (or rather hear) the way that I think, and the way that I work. If they like the sound of that, they can hire me.
So if you’ve found this article useful in some way – please share it with others. I recommend using the LinkedIn button at the side.
Muchas graçias. (No, I can’t speak Spanish, but I often wished I could).