In this episode we’re talking all about the pitfalls of falling victim to the ‘More Client’ trap – something we can all relate to as creative professionals.
If only you could get more clients – everything would be better right?
But what is more clients isn’t the answer?
I put on my narrator hat once again and read a chapter from the Secret Weapon book – grab your favourite beverage of choice and have a listen!
Avoiding the More Client Trap
“How do I get more clients?”
This is the single most pervasive question service providers have. It keeps us awake at night, it invades our thoughts when we’re trying to be present with our families, and it nags at us as we try to fall asleep at night. This single thought is the driver behind the majority of our actions outside our client work and tasks.
The need for more clients is almost like a disease. It’s catching.
Getting more clients is the backbone of millions of online articles and blog posts floating around the interwebs. They tell you the only key to success as a service provider is to get more clients.
And where does this leave us? Thinking the only solution to our problems is more. That if we’re not getting more clients each and every day, each and every week, we’re not good enough, we’re not doing this whole business thing right.
They give us techniques and tools to get more clients. Techniques which make us feel uncomfortable in order to ‘get our name out’ or ‘land clients’ as though they were some hereto undiscovered tropical island we’ll plant a flag on.
I call this the more clients trap – and it’s got us firmly in a vise-like grip. It leaves us feeling as though we’re not good enough, that we’re failing as service providers and business owners because no matter how many useful tips these articles give us, they fail to identify how much is good enough. More is just a concept; it’s an empty pit of expectations. Hopes and dreams wrapped in a sinking, sliding feeling of not enough.
But what if getting more clients wasn’t the answer?
When I first made my foray into freelance services, I fell into this trap, hard.
I hunted down clients as though they were prey, and it made me feel as though I was willing to do anything if someone would just please hire me. The constant search for more clients was exhausting, it left me burnt out, and honestly, the clients I did get were the ones who could smell my desperation on the wind, and knew I was willing to do anything to get their business.
For the first five or six years of my business, I vacillated between needing to get more clients and becoming overwhelmed with what I “had” to do to get them. Write blog posts, network, post on social media, create an email newsletter, sending out promotional mailings, cold call businesses, get referrals, put out job for hire advertisements, and advertise in local newspapers. The list went on and on and every article I read, a different technique was introduced, which promised to be the one to get me more.
No wonder that in 2014, I almost shut down my business and got a job. The constant search for new clients was absolutely exhausting. It left me no time to actually do the work I did secure, and the rest of my life suffered terribly for it.
It was only when I decided I would focus entirely on being a referral-based business that the pressure eased up enough that I had the space to recognize the vapid, soul-sucking succubus that’s been spawned in the name of more clients.
This focus on more and more clients has spawned an entire industry of marketers, business coaches, and consultants who primarily focus on getting you more clients. They might dress it up as client acquisition, audience growth, or revenue growth, but boiled down it all comes to one thing – you need more, and I’m going to help you get it.
You can’t go two paces online without running into one of them, and the messages they spew about how you’re somehow not good enough if you’re not fully booked out, leaves us wondering if there’s something wrong with us. If we’re not wildly successful and have a client roster a mile long, then are we even successful? If we aren’t generating scores of revenue and relaxing on a beach somewhere, (while God knows who is actually serving these clients we’ve acquired), then we can’t consider ourselves a success.
Success Does Not Equal More Clients
What if there’s nothing wrong with us for not wanting to serve hundreds of people a year? What if instead of serving as many people as we possibly can we instead focus on the chosen few who make the most difference?
What if we’re not supposed to operate from a place of lack and constantly needing more and if we do, it draws from us instead of serving us?
As service providers, we are doing the work day in and day out and we like it that way. Having too many clients leaves us scattered and unable to live up to our full potential. Focused work is where we thrive, and we can’t do that when we’ve got a plate overloaded with both project work and client attraction activities.
The constant hop from project to project can leave us on the verge of burnout, and we end each day feeling exhausted to the point of not wanting to get up the next morning. For seven years, I worked in this manner and never even questioned it – it was just what you had to do to be a successful web developer in this market.
I kept telling myself the hustle and grind were the industry and what I had gotten into. Dealing with numerous clients, the constant feeling of being interrupted, and pulled from one client to the next on a constant rollercoaster of work was just normal.
But this wasn’t sustainable. For me, or for any service provider out there. We can’t go on like this and expect to experience any sort of meaningful growth, both in our business and in our personal lives.
The rates of burnout are increasing more and more every year amongst the service provider industries – I see it constantly, and the fact it’s being talked about more online shows the problem is only getting worse, not better.
When I was talking to Vicky, a graphic designer out of New York City, she told me how she joined a mastermind, where the leader was constantly pushing the members to get more clients. There were stats boards and races to the top, and everyone enjoyed the games at first, but she said after a while everyone started to show signs of wear and tear.
“Every week we’d show up, and the bags under our eyes were getting deeper, we were more listless, and less engaging. It felt like the energy was being slowly sucked out of everyone in the group and when we started, we were so vibrant and excited to grow our businesses. I think about half of us ended up quitting after six months, because we just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Vicky ended up closing up her business, and getting a job working for an agency to recuperate from the experience. And these types of stories are everywhere. Droves of service providers, feeling as though it’s their fault or there was something inherently wrong with them for not making it work.
I’ve personally felt the effects of burnout many times and tracing it back to the idea I needed more and more clients is easy in hindsight, but while I was in the thick of it, I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me.
In 2015, I was serving about 12 clients at once, and at first I thought it was absolutely fantastic! There was a good amount of revenue coming in, and the projects I was working on were interesting and fun. But I slowly sank into a deep feeling of never being able to catch up. There were days when dragging myself out of bed to face the stream of emails, the work piling up on my plate, and the day to day struggles of running my own business was just too much.
It became a chore to get myself out of bed. I winced every time I opened my email, and the projects I was working on felt like a three-hundred-pound weight on my shoulders.
Couple this with just having my second child, and the joys of being self-employed with no maternity leave – I felt as though I had no other options. I had to just plod on, trying to be happy with a situation that on the outside, seemed like a dream career.
During this time, I did actually apply for and seriously consider taking a job outside the home, so I just wouldn’t have to deal with the demands anymore. It was soul crushing, especially when the whole aim of my business was so I could work at home with my children. But it was too much, the projects were too much, I had too many clients.
I had been sucked into the trap of more, and I couldn’t see a way out.
On The Other Side of More
Luckily for me, I did end up coming out the other side of the experience with a fresh take on the idea of ‘more clients.’ In experiencing it, I realized just how toxic the message of more was to a service provider. After the haze of post pregnancy hormones wore off and I saw clearly what the real issue was – my chasing of the idea of more clients – I knew I needed to put some constraints around this idea, in order to not get sucked back into it.
How do we put guidelines and constraints around this idea of more clients, so we’re operating from a place of strength, rather than constantly trying to catch a bus that’s pulling away five minutes early every damn day?
The first step is to put some guidelines around what the word ‘more’ means to us. More is intangible, fleeting. More has the soul-sucking power to never be fulfilled, because it’s so vague. When you take the concept of more and replace it with clear constraints around what you can realistically provide by way of your services, it takes the power away from more and releases you from its hold.
More is unlimited, but when we know we only physically and mentally have the capacity for a certain number of clients, or a certain number of projects, more loses its hold and we can keep hold of our sanity.
Begin by sitting down and identifying how many hours a week you have to work on your client projects. Factor in things like sleep, rest, days off, and family time if needed. When I sat down and clearly wrote out how many hours per week I could conceivably work with my two children in tow, and my love of a normal sleep schedule, it turned out to be roughly 3-4 hours per day, and five on a day when the nap gods smiled on me. Multiplying this by five gave me between 15 and 20 hours per week I had to work on client projects, and in my business. Very short of what I would have needed to successfully serve the 12 clients I had taken on before then.
Once we know our own magic number, it becomes easier to say no to projects or schedule them later, so we’re able to better serve them. Just like making sure we’re on top of our schedule, this technique helps to beat back the more beast by setting the limits of what more means to us.
If we only have 20 hours a week to work on projects, then it serves to reason there is a limit to how many clients can fill those hours. When we know this data, we can shift that feeling of needing more into something that doesn’t seem so intangible and fleeting.
Shifting From More to Better
Once we have the feeling of more constrained, we can start taking the next step of this process. Focusing on quality over quantity. From more to better.
If we know we only have so many hours per week to work on our projects and serve our clients, wouldn’t it be better if we could serve fewer clients more fully, than rapidly hopping from project to project each day? For the vast majority of us, we’ve been kept under this spell of more clients for so long, we just keep looking for the next one and the next one – never stopping to think about how some of the most common business principles apply very much to us too.
In marketing and advertising, it’s well known that it costs more money to acquire a new customer than it does to serve an existing one. Whole departments are devoted to reducing the churn rate for this very same reason. It stands to reason this would also apply to us as service providers, don’t you think?
The more trap is seductive, and we often fall victim to the allure of bigger numbers, because they’re sexy and give us the false illusion of our success. If we have served 100 clients – doesn’t that seem better than serving 50?
What if instead of focusing on getting more or new clients, we instead redoubled our efforts to get existing clients to work with us again and again? What if we took those 50 clients and instead increased the average project size, and doubled the revenue from each one? In the end, the results would be the same, but we’d have far fewer clients to manage and the experience for both us serving them and them being served, would be far smoother and less hectic for everyone involved.
When you shift the lens to accepting clients based on quality rather than quantity, you start to make more money and decrease the time spent running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This simple shift in my own mindset allowed me to really see where I was undercharging, and how I could reduce the number of clients I was working with, while also seeing an increase, (or at least, not a decrease) in the revenue I was bringing in each month.
I started quoting more for my services, and the projects I bid on. I informed my existing clients the rates I charged two, three, or even five years ago would no longer apply. While scary at first, the vast majority had no problem with it. They were more than understanding about the cost of living changing in that time period. I had gotten far more skilled, and more often than not, I could finish the same project in at least 25% less time than when we first started working together.
It was a win-win situation for us all. Plus, it allowed me to realize which of my existing clients were quality and worth keeping, and which were not a good fit for me any longer; who perhaps were there because I hadn’t vetted them more thoroughly.
Doing this consistently allows us to re-qualify our clients. It’s a hard fact that the clients we worked with previously may not be a good fit for us anymore, and vice versa – we may be going in a direction with our services which doesn’t suit their needs any longer.
This shift occurs for every service provider moving from hired gun to Secret Weapon – there are clients who simply hired us for a one-off project, or who thought of us as an expense and not an investment in their business. We can absolutely feel free to lovingly release those clients to find another provider who would be a better fit for their needs. It’s not our job to change them and turn them around to this new way of working and showing up. If they don’t jive, then they don’t jive, and we can let them go.
This frees us to focus our efforts on finding the clients who do fit us perfectly. Because I guarantee you, for every client you have to let go, there are several more waiting in the wings who need your services, and need a Secret Weapon to help them badly.
Refocus on Your Schedule
Focusing on quality over quantity makes the most amount of sense for us as service providers, because there is a limit to the number of hours we can work in a day. We’ve talked about being aware of our schedule and not overbooking ourselves, and this knowledge also helps us to escape the allure of the more trap, because it focuses us to be very pragmatic of our time and energy, we have to serve any new clients.
By consistently remaining focused on our schedule, and our limitations in terms of how many clients we can serve, we can ignore the alluring siren call of getting more clients. Because let’s face it, just because we sign more clients, doesn’t mean we can actually serve them.
Whenever I feel the more trap reaching out to snare me, my heart feels like it’s racing and I get lightheaded. I can feel the reaction in my body, and at first, I used to think this stress reaction was because I wasn’t doing something right or I was failing somehow. Because if I was doing well, I wouldn’t be stressed out right?
But I soon realized the racing feeling I had wasn’t because I wasn’t doing well, it was because I was feeling more stressed than usual – most likely because I had lost sight of my schedule, and was feeling out of control.
You might relate to this when you feel you don’t know what’s going on with your projects, (even though you probably have them well in hand). Or if you feel as though you have nothing coming up in your schedule and will be on the streets in a week (which is total bullshit, and you know there are more projects coming in). Even when you get a particularly rough piece of feedback, and you’re convinced you’re horrible at what you do (which honestly, if you’ve been doing this for any length of time, is most likely an overreaction).
All of these emotions are fodder for the more trap, and it can cause us to kick into overdrive, slam the accelerator to the floor, and drive as fast as we can for More Clients, USA. Which I have to say, is a shit town in a very bad county.
The regulator on these feelings is our schedule.
Always, always refocus back on your schedule to calm the feelings of overwhelm and get back into a place of feeling in control of what’s going on. Redo the exercise of how many hours each week you have to work on your business, how many clients you feel comfortable serving at one time. This helps ground us in reality and calms those feelings of not enough the more trap feeds on.
When we do this exercise over and over again, (honestly, I’ve probably done this close to a hundred times by now), it helps give ourselves proof of the fact we are not, in fact, failing and we’re doing very well, thank you very much. This proof is based on the number of hours we have to work on any given project for any given client.
Knowing we have such a specific amount of time to work on projects for our clients, it helps us say no to the more feeling of needing new clients. We can honor our schedule and give ourselves the margin to work properly on everything we take on. When you solidly know how many clients you can (and want) to serve, then the more clients trap becomes irrelevant, because even though more may sound enticing, you know it’s not for you.
The more clients trap can be seductive, it can be alluring, and it can seem like the holy grail of fixing our problems. But in the end, it only serves to bring us bigger problems.
We’re not able to serve our clients to the best of our ability, because we’re managing too many projects at once. We don’t do the best work we’re capable of, because we’ve imposed such strict deadlines on ourselves, so we can finish fast and move onto the next project.
The biggest drawback to the more client trap is it perpetuates the idea that you’re a hired gun. Because you’re rushing through the work, because you’re not performing as well, because you’re not working to make your clients feel supported – they’re left with the opposite impression we want when we’re transitioning to becoming a Secret Weapon.
And above all else, the more client trap leaves us with an empty hole that just can’t be filled. We can’t define more, and so it’s an endless chase for something we can’t quantify. It causes us to stress the eff out, because we feel as though we’re doing something wrong since the feeling of needing more just won’t ever be satisfied.
Overall, the more client trap is something which takes a while to identify in yourself, and to make sure you put in checks and balances to combat every time it arises. It still gets me, even now, and I’m running with the assumption that this will continually plague all service providers until the day we hang up our shingle, and call it a day on our business. Our awareness of it, and having the tools at the ready to make sure we don’t fall victim to it, will ensure that we have a much better overall working environment for us, and for our clients. It’ll help us work towards becoming our client’s Secret Weapon and raise the standard of work in what we do.
Next time you feel the more trap teaching out from the abyss, trying to snag your pant leg and drag you down, refocus on your goal of becoming a Secret Weapon – grab that schedule, and remind yourself you’re bound to the Newtonian idea of space time, and kick the feeling of more in the face.
- There are millions of articles and how-to post online telling us how to get more clients as if it’s the be-all and end-all of our business success. But this leads to the More Client Trap.
- A Secret Weapon doesn’t pay attention to the notion that getting more clients will somehow be the solution to all their business worries.
- You can be just as successful serving fewer clients. Success and more clients do not go hand in hand.
- More clients is vague and undefined, and leaves us with feelings of inadequacy and being unfulfilled.
- Focus on quality clients rather than quantity. One client paying three times as much is twice as valuable as three clients.
- Realign yourself with your schedule, so you know exactly how many hours each week you have to serve your clients. You’ll see that there is a limit to the number of clients you can reasonably serve.
- Escaping the more trap is a constant struggle for service providers, but awareness of how it presents itself in you is a key first step.