What Should You Be Trying For: One Big Customer or Many Small One’s?

Imagine your business in this manner. You have one great client that you love. They love everything about you and they pay you dearly for your services. Whatever you need to survive each month ($1,000? $10,000?), that’s the fee they pay you to photograph for them.

Sounds pretty impressive right?

What if we imagine your business in another light. Instead of one great client, you have 100 great clients. Every single month just enough of your great clients come in to give you the perfect amount of income you need to sustain your lifestyle. Your pricing is set up perfectly and they are happy to pay what you charge.

Now here is the question.

Which one of these situations is better?

I bet you instantly went one way or the other. And for good reason. There really is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has a different customer philosophy. Every business is built a little differently. Let’s look a bit further into the big client philosophy.

Some photographers head out looking for that one big client they can work for week after week, relying on them as their primary income source. Yet when you rely on one customer, that one customer becomes your world.

The one that pays the most towards the bottom line has the most control over you.

If that one customer decides they want to try something new, they can let you go literally overnight. Your income source drops out of the picture in one swoop. You lose it all instantly.

While the one big client may seem to be your “meal ticket”, it can also cause the most stress in your life.

Big clients can be a great way to run a photography business. Yet they also put you at the most risk, and can ultimately cause you the most stress, especially during hard economic times.

There really is no set rule to the number of clients you should shoot for in your business model. However, I’ve found to reduce stress, I look for no more than 20 percent of my income from any one source. So for my monthly income, that would mean I would need at a minimum 5 different sources to supply my income. Here’s why.

If you lose one big client and they supply you with 100 percent of your income, you literally can go from having a business to being out of work overnight. You can’t afford your bills if nothing is coming in.

If you have five clients each supplying you with 20 percent of your business, if one client decides to leave, it is still a 20 percent hit to your bottom line. But its much easier to absorb that shock for a few weeks while you find a client to take over that position. You can tighten your belt and spend quality time looking for your next client.

For me, that’s less stress.

Sound better to you? Or does the thought of losing 20 percent of your income still make you a bit queasy?

What if instead of having 5 clients provide you with 20 percent of your income, you went with 10 clients providing you each with 10 percent of your income? Or 20 clients providing you with 5 percent of your income?

The more clients you have, the less meaning each will have to your overall bottom line.

Before you get too excited with the numbers here, its also worth thinking about how your stress will move up on the other side.

When you have one client providing you with 100 percent of your income, you spend all of your time thinking of ways to satisfy that client. You provide them with top quality customer service. You look for the best products and services available to please that one client.

Everything you do is built for that client.

When you add other clients into the picture, you have more to think about. You no longer have to satisfy one client, you have to satisfy 5 (or 10, or 20). The more you have, the more you spread yourself out. Instead of focusing your energy on one thing at a time, you now must be good at multitasking. Client A may be coming in for a photo shoot, Client B may need a sales presentation, and Client C’s work may be in production mode requiring editing in Photoshop.

Each client demands your attention in a different way, every single day.

So what is the best answer? Big clients or small clients? The choice is yours. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I good at multitasking?
  • Do I get bored easily?
  • Do I enjoy working with lots of people or seeing the same person again and again?
  • What are my stressers, money or tasks?
  • What do I prefer to do every day?

There is no right or wrong answer. Only the best answer to suit you. Yes you may end up leaving money on the table. And yes, you may have the occasional problem along the way with either choice. But the key is in your overall strategy. Doing what’s right for you means you’ll always approach clients in a manner best suited for you. You’ll be able to give them the right amount of attention to fit the situation. They will love your business because you deliver what you promise.

And that’s really all we can hope for.

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