As an independent, your business lives and dies by your client roster. And without enough work from enough clients, you don’t have much of a business.
But what about having too many clients? Is this an actual thing? Or is it another case of entitled people complaining that their diamond shoes cause blisters?
When I started out, I knocked on every door, used every contact, and exhausted my network to drum up business. But much like a dog chasing a car, did I really have a plan for what would happen next – if I actually got all that business at once?
The truth is you can have too much work from too many clients. And when each client has a reasonable expectation that they're your priority, you’ll find yourself stretched too thin pretty quickly. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and you can’t give six of them to each of your 12 clients.
But it’s hard to turn work down, especially with the understanding that any freelance or independent work has its ups and downs. There’s always the fear that you’ll turn work away now and be stuck twiddling your thumbs with boredom three months later.
However, taking on too much work – or too many clients at once – can actually hurt your business. Think about it. You’re stressed. You’re tired. You’re unfocused. You’re rushed. And unless you happen to be a master project manager, deadlines will start to slip, and details will fall through the cracks. None of these factors contribute to quality work. And when you don’t deliver quality work, those clients start to look elsewhere.
So yes, while your instincts may tell you to keep drinking from that fire hose of clients, eventually, you’ll drown.
But what can you do to help keep your roster – and sanity – in check?
But don’t go to extremes and cut your roster down willy-nilly. Having only one client can be as bad as having 12.
A good rule of thumb comes from MBO Partners’ annual State of Independence report, which finds that the average independent has about four clients at any given time. Just enough to be diverse, but not so many that you don’t have time to eat and sleep.
And once you have a system in place that works for you, THEN you can think about expanding.
Well there you have it. There can be too much of a good thing. Want more insight on managing work and client relationships? MBO has something for you.
When your independent business is slow, follow these 6 tips for a quick recovery.
Planning for retirement as a self-employed professional can seem like a daunting task. Here’s what you need to know about the SEP IRA option.