Underpinning Clients: Your Bread and Butter

If you have to go out and win every new project for your business from scratch, and you don’t have any consistent work, you’ll find yourself working to the chase-your-tail model. This means focusing all your attention on delivering the client’s project, and then suddenly realizing once you’ve done so that you need to sell another job to keep the business afloat. It’s always a feast or a famine. How can you avoid this trap? By having a range of regular, repeat underpinning clients.

When I took over one midsized web design business, I reviewed the client base and found that a single client represented 33% of that business’s revenue. While this client was big, and a great relationship had been established—and it garnered us a lot of press coverage—I saw that client as our biggest risk. If they left us, the business was in real trouble.

Of course, as a large organization, it was always being approached by advertising agencies and other web companies who wanted a piece of the pie. Additionally, because it was a large client, there was the added risk of it being difficult to control.

More Clients, Less Risk

While I didn’t want to reduce the business we received from that client, I did want to expand our underpinning client base. Over the ensuing months, we continued to service this client very well, but we set about building other underpinning clients to provide greater stability and stronger foundations, removing our new web business from such a precarious position.

The underpinning client is part of a stable of clients that give you regular, consistent work that keeps the rent paid and the wages bill in check. It also gives you the opportunity to spend more time winning work. You spend less time on selling bread-and-butter jobs, and can dedicate your time to performing strategic tasks for your business. In short, underpinning clients provide a foundation for solid future growth.

Building Solid Relationships

As you complete your first project for any client, you should be assessing their needs, and looking for additional ways to work with them. Some—but not all—of those clients will continue to work with you, and they may well become valuable underpinning clients for your business. For those that do, you have the benefit of knowing the clients and their business, and you’re confident that you can work well together and rely on each other.

Undoubtedly, you’ll also receive great references from these clients—and that’s crucial. When another prospect wants to speak to your existing clients about your work, you can refer them to your underpinning clients, and be sure to receive a fabulous rap. Gradually, you’ll expand your underpinning client base, giving your business the foundations for future growth.

So which clients are most likely to become your underpinning clients? They typically have an organizational mentality of outsourcing work to experts, and ongoing, complex needs. Do you know any companies that fit the bill? Perhaps you should make contact.

Peter Williams authored the new edition of SitePoint’s popular Web Design Business Kit – which will equip you with the business skills required to turn your talents into a successful, thriving business. Check it out!

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  • netnerd85

    Good article, but I would like to see something catered for freelancers about the same subject. As a freelancer your time is limited. People come to you to get a job done, not for you to outsource it to someone else. How do you effectively manage multiple underpinning clients as a freelancer?