Does size matter to the solopreneur?

80_20_ruleIt’s a question I’m often asked by clients and other solopreneurs; does the client size matter?

We all know the 80/20 rule; 80% of our business comes from 20% of our clients – right?

Just this week I got a panicked call from a client who is freaking out that his biggest client is unlikely to renew their contract at the end of the year.

The client provides 80% of his total income and takes, yes, you guessed it, 80% of his time. Because he is so busy servicing this client, he hasn’t got the time to find new clients. It’s a real catch 22 for him.

Naturally, he’s scared. It’s a common problem.

Riding the wave

As solopreneurs we crave to swim with the big fish. The bigger the client, the bigger the returns, the bigger the credibility, and that feather in your cap.

But, the bigger the risk.

We can only be in one place at one time.

If your business soley relies on your skills, your prescense, and your participation you cannot outsource easily.

Riding the wave of success with your big client can be exhilirating, uplifiting, and lucrative.

However, it can be dangerous. If that client walks out you can find yourself in a mess.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

If taking on a big client means that you have no time to service other clients or look for new ones you should think long an hard about whether it’s worth taking on that client.

I have, in the past, turned down huge clients.

The risk of losing my business completely if they were to cancel was too great.

Outsourcing where you can is a viable solution. In Dubai I often outsourced in order to deal with the very large clients – the difference was I wasn’t selling my time in that business.

Short term gains vs. Long term losses?

Many solopreneurs do get blinded by the amount of financial gain attached to taking on that client.

But is that short term financial gain worth it in the long run? What if you spend all your time working IN your business leaving you little, if any time, to work ON it? How does that help you?

It’s dangerous territory!

Things to consider when that white elephant strolls in:

  • Bigger isn’t always better. You might be better off with 3 smaller clients that equal the same income as one big one. At least, if one doesn’t go the distance you only take a small hit.
  • Can you outsource? If you can make more time for yourself to keep growing your business and working ON it vs. in it then go fo it.
  • Manage their expectations. I’ve been bullied in the past by larger clients, they think they can throw their weight around because they are big multinationals. Make contracts, make them sign, and try not to over service and then struggle with the monster you created.
  • Say no. As hard as it is to turn down work and money sometimes it has to be done.

What do you think?

Have you had a problem with dealing with a big client in the past?

What do you recommend to other solopreneurs when they are faced with such a dilemma?


16 Responses to Does size matter to the solopreneur?

  1. Ah, the eternal “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”
    Your responsibility as business owner is to provide in the future as much as in the present. You can’t think only on today’s customers.
    A sustanaible business is the one designed with the future in mind.

    Having just one huge client today is definitely not enough. Clients come and go. Sooner or later they’ll leave.

    Ameena, very good advice in this post. The “ghost post”. Thank god we didn’t miss it completely, it was only delayed 😀

    • Thanks Cristina, you are so right – you can’t look at today as the goal. It’s true that one day clients move on – being prepared for that is important – if they stay a while then great but if they don’t it’s important that it’s not going to cripple your business!

  2. Valuable lessons here Ameena. Working with a single large client leaves no room for finding and working with others when you’re the sole service provider in the business. I learned that lesson the hard way with my first business.

    One thing I found is that even when working with larger clients if you manage expectations well you can have time to service their account as well as smaller ones too and at the same time finding more work.

    It’s imperative for solopreneurs to find others they can work with and learn to manage their own time and the expectations of the clients.

    Without those three things it’s going to be very rough going.

    • Hi Robert!

      Yes, managing expectations is important. It’s easy when you get a big client in to focus your energies on that one client. Over servicing is a slippery slope and working IN your business leaves you no room to grow and find more clients.

      You are so right that time management is crucial!

  3. All great lessons Ameena. Thank You. Agree with Robert about managing expectations. I am just looking forward to the opportunity to have this dilemna. Ha ! I need clients. Period. Appreciate this post. One I will save and remember.

    Thanks again.


  4. Agree that it’s dangerous to “put all your eggs in one basket” but it speaks to the real reason I walk away from any prospect – poor ROI. For me, it’s a matter of resource management. My business is a finite resource. My life is, too. If I feel a prospect is likely to be difficult, hard to please, overly demanding, etc. – I politely encourage them to search for a different solution. Why spend your time serving people who will be unhappy with you, no matter what, when you could spend that time serving people who are delighted. Put your effort where happiness can best be created.

  5. Hi Ameena,

    First off, thanks for your time just now.

    If the big client is one of your dew clients, than you got no choice do you.

    Big clients could also lure you into complacency. When you get them, you think you made it. You work less on marketing. Eventually you lose your edge. I think the smart thing is to work the big clients without your main resources and not change your efforts in marketing still.

  6. Hi Jimmy,

    My pleasure. You really are working on some exciting things!

    Thanks for your comment – yes, sometimes we can’t be so picky but it’s definitely a challenge. It’s hard to think about the future when we have bills to pay now!

  7. Hi Ameena,

    This is a very interesting predicament. I truly understand how tempting it can be to take on big clients, and I can also see the fear by losing one. Because I work at a University, “I’m” a fairly big client for a few small companies, and when I’m talking to the people in those companies, especially when it’s time to renew contracts or their hoping for new projects, I can see the fear in their eyes. I’ve told one client that we might not renew, and he has been calling me almost every single day for the past two weeks because of this. He’s doing everything he can to keep us as a client.

    I am a solopreneur, (one who doesn’t really have a business, clients or are earning any money), and I would never take on big clients. It would have been a lot more fun to work with small companies… at least that’s what I think. And you know me, I like to be in control 🙂

  8. Thanks Jens! You hit the nail on the head! Yes, if you take a huge client you lose control – they control you – your time and your cash flow.

    Personally I prefer to work with smaller businesses because I like to see the results happen in a shorter period of time, I prefer the one-to-one, AND I love connecting with fellow solopreneurs!

  9. Hi Ameena,

    Great points here. I’ve been in business for over 15 years and almost lost it once, but have been through this scenario twice. One was a software company right after I started my business. Once they were bought out my work dried up overnight. Probably closer to 60 percent of my workload, but it was still a pretty painful experience. The other was a large insurance company. Same thing, but this time I had at least diversified into other types of businesses and was designing for different media as well.

    I won’t turn down a larger client, but will spend much more time with them up front regarding planning and budgeting. If the expectations are realistic I’ll take it on. If not, I pass. Hopefully my days of nightmare clients are over 🙂 Now it’s mainly branding and web dev, so I outsource, but direct all the projects.

    Lately, I’m spending most of my time writing and managing.

    Now if I could just make some money in blogging 😉

  10. I can empathize with your client as a while back I faced a similar scenario. Ameena, your thought on this are very well received.

    Of course the downside of smaller clients is that much of the work does not scale, so depending on your space as a freelancer you end up get paid less for doing much of the same.

    The upside though, as many others have already commented is that most small business clients rarely tread into the “life is to short category” and the relationships you form tend to me more meaningful on a personal level.

    Nobody ever said it was easy.

    Best, David

    • Hey David,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Yes, sometimes the smaller clients don’t have the longevity, the project scale, and budget. BUT I guess I should have said that bigger clients with smaller projects are a very viable, and perhaps even ideal, solution.

      And, no, it’s never easy!!!

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