Gorilla Client

When you’re a freelancer and get a really big client, probably the first thing you do is cheer. Money! Lots of work! You can slack off marketing for a while, wheeee!!!!!

If that client is now providing more than about 40% of your business, stop cheering right now and start panicking. No, seriously.

There’s an expression for this sort of client – the Gorilla Client. Sure, that big client seems great, and yes, big projects with lots of work/pay really are. However, like having a big, powerful gorilla in your office, it can be a problem that becomes bigger and stronger than you are. Any problem with that client is now a potential threat to your entire business. You’ll find yourself structuring your business around the needs of that single client. You’ll find yourself tempted to leave off working for other clients and concentrate on that one
[1]. Sure, you want to provide good service. Good service should be at the heart of your business. It is simply that you do not want to rise and fall at the whim of a single client.

So, why do we accept Gorilla Clients? It’s mostly laziness and greed, from what I can see. If you don’t love marketing (and it’s strange how many freelancers don’t), any excuse to be able to work and not market sounds like a lot of fun. If you’re getting plenty of work, it’s hard to be motivated to do something you don’t like.

A good way to avoid this is to budget your time carefully. Since you’re in charge of your work day, make sure you dedicate a certain percentage of that day to marketing no matter how busy you get. Yeah, I know. If work from one client swamps you, it’s hard to make yourself go looking for more work. Suck it up and do it.

Remember that as a freelancer, you can choose how much work you’re willing to accept as well. How many hours a month are you willing to work? I go monthly rather than weekly because there will be plenty of weeks that you’ll be hammer and tongs at a deadline for one particular client. That’s okay as long as you’ve got more work on deck, and are keeping up on your marketing. What you don’t want to do is let any one client suck up your professional time over a significant period.

I consider myself a client for purposes of time management. As a writer, there’s a certain amount of non-commercial “sharpening the saw” that’s necessary to stay fit, stay alert and stay skilled in my profession. I don’t dedicate anywhere a full client’s allotment of hours a month on it, but I do make sure that I leave time to write, to work on projects with no direct result and to make sure that I’m exploring avenues that might be useful in the long run.

This article is meant for the one-man shop. If you’re finding that you need at least 40 hours a week specifically to spend on billable client hours, chances are good that what you need is at least a part-time admin assistant or salesperson. If you’re in love with being a one-man shop, raise your rates. That’ll take care of the problem well enough, and you’ll bring your time management back into balance.

[1] The Pareto Principle might be okay for really large firms, but isn’t an ideal strategy when you’re a small business servicing small businesses.

Author: Noël Figart

Noël Figart is a computer applications instructor, technical writer and editor.

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