When it comes to your small business customers, are you afraid of commitment? Are you constantly seeking a new client to excite you? Is hanging out with your old customers turning you off?
Many entrepreneurs build companies based around having a continual flow of new, one-time clients. Many types of businesses provide services a customer needs only once—logo design, interior design, pool installation, college prep, wedding planning (well, they may need that more than once . . .).
That’s a tough way to keep the money coming in consistently. When your business continually needs new clients, it means you’ve always got to be marketing to create demand. To succeed—and sleep well at night—focus on finding a way of serving recurring customers no matter what type of business you are in.
I should know. For the first decade of my own business, I marketed to “one-off” clients. I was in the business of developing business plans for startups. Once we did the initial planning, they’d go off and get funding, and I’d say goodbye. They had no need for my type of work again. Right?
Wrong. Not only would they have benefited from me helping them with annual business planning, but most of these clients were likely to have needed ongoing strategic planning. I was letting all this potential recurring business walk right out the door, because I had thought too narrowly about how to define my services.
Selling every customer only one item—whether a business plan, a landscape design, a kitchen remodel—is a precarious way to earn a living. If you’re in that type of business, it’s time to expand how you think about your company so you can build a stable of loyal, recurring clients and keep the money coming in.
What’s holding back those business owners who continue to sell only to one-off customers?
- Fear of being bored. Face it. Working with new clients can be more interesting than working with customers repeatedly. Creating a new logo is more engaging than putting together yet-another trade show handout. But, trust me, you’ll appreciate the money from the humdrum stuff when new business dries up.
- Business structure. Providing service to clients on a repeat basis often means juggling a number of different projects, hiring subordinates to deal with routine matters, or using subcontractors. That may not be the kind of business you want to run, but do you want to risk having no income at all?
- Ego. I know what you’re thinking: “My clients are hiring me. So I can’t bring in anyone else to help with the boring stuff. And I’ve got all the work I can handle now.” Well, your clients do want to work with you, but they’ll understand that you have staff to do the more menial, ongoing tasks.
So get over yourself and find a way to create a renewable income stream. Here’s how:
1. Define your business differently. Identify the natural expansion of your core business and be open to providing a broader range of services that directly relate to your core. Yes, I wanted to emphasize that I was a business plan specialist, but I could have made it clear that I also provided ongoing strategic planning services. A wedding planner can offer a range of event planning.
2. Offer tune-ups and check-ups. Your doctor and dentist and auto mechanic all have you come in regularly. Why not ask the same of your customers? A landscape designer can provide semi-annual or quarterly garden updates.
3. Provide support services. Many businesses dependent on one-off customers provide design or construction services. But most customers also need ongoing maintenance and support. For instance, a website designer’s clients need site hosting and ongoing updates. Can you provide a one-stop shop—hiring a low-level staffer to do updates and subcontracting the hosting?
4. Create “Products.” Finally, are there products you can sell or create that customers need to replace on a regular basis? Consumables are a great source of continuing income. I eventually turned my expertise into business plan books and software and, eventually, that became my core business instead of just consulting services.
You never want to lose a satisfied customer. Look to serve them on a repeat basis. Your bank account will thank you.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2018
This article originally ran in USA Today on July 18, 2018