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Client Portfolio Risk – Eggs in Baskets?

The client portfolio is your most important asset, but there’s an old saying: ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. The reason being, if you drop the basket all your eggs could be broken whereas if you divide them among several baskets, there’s a better chance of keeping some if there is a calamity. How does this relate to a client portfolio?

Risks in the ‘wrong’ client portfolio

It’s not so different when freelancing, or in fact for most small businesses especially those dealing B2B. Relying on one or very few key relationships in a small client portfolio can leave you with – well – egg on your face. Here are some ‘big job’ situations that come with a red flag:

  1. You sign up to a contract for an unspecified volume and frequency of work. To begin with they send you plenty, on an almost daily basis.
  2. A company advertises for a freelancer with your skill, saying if the first job goes well there will be more. You are currently working on project #20.
  3. You join a group company and start to get work in from a number of people from different companies in the group.
Client portfolio risk
Copyright: strannikfox / 123RF Stock Photo

Well, that all sounds good at first glance. But what if, in scenario 1, the work dries up to virtually nothing, with no explanation or warning? For scenario 2, it comes to a complete stop because you were, unknown to you, covering a vacancy that is now filled? For #3, you fall out with one individual and the whole group drops you? Any or all could happen. This quite apart from companies going bust or changing their policies on using freelancers or other external service providers.

Client portfolio tactics

The risk in this type of client portfolio might be reduced by better communication. Did you ask whether this work was likely to be ongoing or, if for a limited period, when is the expected end date? Does the contract give the client any obligations towards you in terms of work load and timings? Did you deal with any dispute correctly and professionally?

That aside, the basic risk-reduction tactic is to spread your clients and compile as large and wide a client portfolio as possible. Take on some B2C, one-off clients; in my business I deal with overseas/ESL students a lot. Once you do a good job for one, fellow students from the same community tend to follow. And it might not be a one-off – I have been with one Saudi student right through her university days in the UK and am still proofreading for her in her new job back home.

What else you can do

Get into appropriate online directories, make sure you are traceable through your professional institute, society or association, and don’t be too fussy or consider tiny jobs to be a waste of time. Contrary to the ‘big’ contracts that tail off, one small job could be a test without your knowledge, and turn into a long-lasting and fruitful relationship.

So diversify your client type, get the right mix and review it periodically. As well as keeping your bank happier and sleeping better, if you are a sole trader the Revenue (at least in the UK) will believe you are really in business and not a pseudo employee, with the issues that brings. Throwing yourself open to a wider range of clients will also bring you a few you really, really do NOT want to work with but that’s life.

Of course, you can always tell them to beat it.


Wordhouse blog post by Gill Pavey

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