The Risks of Relying on One Big Client

The risks of relying on one big client

What happens when you win a big client that makes up a significant proportion of your monthly revenue, and consequently demands a disproportionate amount of your time?

Well, excitement can quickly turn to long hours, and that, in turn, can detract your attention away from your other paying clients. 

In this episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I share some of my thoughts about the pros and the cons of winning and relying on a large client for your agency. 

If you are in this situation (and many have been) then I will also explore how to mitigate your risks.

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[1:06] 

The excitement of winning a big client

[1:26] 

How to avoid over-servicing your clients

[2:11] 

Importance of getting your team clear about service levels

[2:33] 

Tips in handling big clients

[3:28] 

How to win new clients (so you are not just dependent on 1 or 2 big clients)

[4:13] 

What is the biggest challenge in running an agency?

[5:12] 

Importance of identifying the risk as early as possible

[5:40] 

How to anticipate famine on your agency

[7:39] 

The importance of having your business development and plan in place

[9:12] 

Why you should not focus on one big client

Quotations

“..my advice to anybody that is thinking about putting all their client eggs into one basket because they've won one really big client is you need to spread your risk one way or another. And I would ask you to ask yourself what would be the impact to my agency on my business if I lost this one big client..” - Rob Da Costa

“Something else to bear in mind is that larger clients can often be worse payers and can have a significant impact on your revenue and your cash flow. Just make sure that you are getting really clear around payment terms.” - Rob Da Costa

“Just remember that having the lion's share of your business tied to another company also means your fortunes are tied to theirs if their business flounders, if they change tact or they decide to move supplier, you could find yourself out in the cold through no fault of your own without sufficient alternative sources of revenue.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

What happens when you win a big client that makes up a significant proportion of your monthly revenue, and consequently it will demand a lot of your time?

Well, excitement can quickly turn to long hours, and that, in turn, can detract your attention away from your other paying clients. 

So, what are the pros and the cons and the risks of winning a large client? That's what we're going to be covering in today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. 

Accelerate your agency's profitable growth with tools, tips and value-added interviews with your host agency owner and coach Rob DaCosta.

We had some interesting conversations in The Self-Running Agency Group call recently, where we were discussing the pros, the cons and the risks of winning a big client that ends up accounting for a large percentage of your revenue. 

I'm sure you can relate to this because it's probably happened to you, too. So I thought I'd record a podcast episode to share some of the thoughts that we shared in the group with you today. 

It's super exciting when you win that really big client, and that excitement quickly turns to well, now we've got to service them. ‘How are we going to cope?’ And this can lead you to hire new team members juggling things around and, of course, making sure that you deliver what you promised this new client. 

But one thing to be mindful of is if you win a big client that might be 2 to 3 times the size of your next biggest client. Then there's a tendency in the agency to give that new client carte blanche access to you and your team. After all, you want to do a great job, and you are super happy that they selected you over perhaps bigger agencies. But if you're not careful, this can really quickly lead to over-servicing, working long hours and getting lots of stress in the agency or to keep this new client happy. 

So even if their fear equates to a lot more of your team's time, we still need to be really mindful about putting clear boundaries in place and making sure that we don't end up over-servicing that particular new big client. 

You also need to make sure that your team understands this, and that means that there's a clear scope of work that they're working on. That you've broken that down into time allocation. Everybody's self managing their time. And obviously, everyone in the team knows what they need to focus on, but also that they don't take other clients for granted as well. 

Now winning this big client might be one step on your agency's journey of growth. So know that when you've won this big client, you've got two choices. You either use it as an opportunity to take the next step in your agency, hire more people, set more systems and processes in place and then work super hard to win more clients of a similar size. Or you recognise the risk that this large client brings because you are putting all your eggs into one basket, and therefore you work super hard to spread that risk by winning more slightly smaller clients.

Now without being the bearer of bad news, history says that at some point, probably through no fault of your own, you're going to lose this client even if they're a retainer for you and you're doing a great job. That's going to happen. 

So let me quickly tell you a story about when I ran my agency. We grew over time. As you know, we had 25 staff in the end. But maybe about three or four years into the agency, we won our first super big client. This client was probably three times the size of our next client. Then very quickly, we won our second big client. As I've already said, we worked super hard to do a great job for them. We were kind of punching above our way in terms of the size of agency that we were versus the size of agencies they've been used to working with in the past. That made us want to work even harder to prove that they've made the right choice. We kept these clients for quite a long time. But within about a space of six months between the two, each of our clients got bought out. One of them got bought by IBM and the other one got bought by Adobe. 

And guess what? We really had the rug pulled from our feet because we didn't really get a chance to re-pitch, because obviously IBM and Adobe had their preferred agencies and they just wanted to roll all of their marketing services into them.

Therefore we didn't even get a look in and our client contacts were really sorry, but that we were let go. So with a space, we kept these clients for maybe five or six years. But then, within a space of six months, we lost both of them. 

Now, fortunately, during that time, we had put some of the advice I'm giving you today into practice, and we started mitigating our risk, and we started increasing the average order value of most of our clients. 

So whilst they weren't as high as the two clients we lost, they were much closer. This meant that when we lost these two clients, it wasn't the end of the world, and we didn't have to make some bad decisions, which I'll talk about in a moment. 

So my advice to anybody that is thinking about putting all their client eggs into one basket because they've won this really big client is you need to spread your risk one way or another. And I would ask you to ask yourself what would be the impact to my agency on my business if I lost this one big client, and often the answer is fairly significant. Then start focusing on spreading your risks so that if you do lose your large client, it won't be catastrophic and you won't have to make some really difficult decisions as you lurch into that space of famine, such as being desperate to win some business to replace that revenue, which often means discounting. Or it could well mean taking on the wrong kind of client or even worse than that, it could be letting staff go. You need to anticipate all of this and plan for it. So, as I said, the question to ask yourself is ‘What would be the impact on my agency if I lost this client?’ and then start planning as though that's going to happen.

So that means making sure that your time isn't being sucked up into this new client and you actually still have time to focus on business development to win more clients. Obviously, you need to make sure that you are putting the right structures and infrastructure in place to support this new client and giving yourself the capacity to support more similar clients or making sure you're winning more small clients. 

As I said, this was a conversation in our group coaching call this week that someone asked, and a lot of people could relate to that particular challenge. The member of the group has just one, this large client, and they're already thinking about this. They're already worried about the impact on their agency, both from a positive sense in terms of growth, but also a risk as well. So I just wanted to share with you my thoughts on that today. 

Something else to bear in mind is that larger clients can often be worse payers and can have a significant impact on your revenue and your cash flow. Just make sure that you are getting really clear around payment terms. And if their payment terms are not favourable to you, then you want to really think carefully about whether you want to take them on. In fact, one strategy might well be in your agency to deliberately not win a big client because of the risk it puts and the strain it will put on your agency. 

Of course, another risk is that you get so consumed with servicing this client that you have no bandwidth in your own time or your agency's time to focus on business development. And it really can cause you to lurch from feast to famine. Because, as I said, if you lose that client, you just don't have anything in the wings to replace it. 

So this is something else that you want to think about, and when you're working on your vision and your plan for your agency, think about the size of clients that you want to win. ‘What should the average order value be? How does that increase over time?’ And, yes, winning a big client may well catapult and speed up the delivery of your plan. But you also need to be cognizant of the risk that it presents as well and not just get flattered by having an ego stroke that someone wants to pay that much money but actually say, ‘Does this fit in the strategy of our growth? What is the risk to the agency?’ And, of course, ‘What's the fit for them as a client? And do we think we can do a great job?’ 

Just remember that having the lion's share of your business tied to another company also means your fortunes are tied to theirs if their business flounders so much yours, if they change tact or they decide to move supplier, you could find yourself out in the cold through no fault of your own without sufficient alternative sources of revenue.

And that is a really risky place to be. Okay, a short and sweet episode today. But I just wanted to share my thoughts with you because, as I said, I've been in this place before, winning a large client and being very excited by it, and I'm sure you have as well. But you need to look beyond that. You also need to be thinking about how this aligns with our vision and be planning accordingly and planning for what happens when you lose that client at some point in the future.

If you do that, then you will be able to win these clients. You’ll be able to service them really well, but you also have the time to focus on backfilling with more clients in the future so that you are not just relying on one client and putting all your eggs in one client basket. So food for thought.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with this, so please do feel free to send me an email. My email address is in the show notes, but other than that, I hope this was thought-provoking. Have a fantastic weekend and I'll see you next week for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.

    Rob Da Costa

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