For many agencies, winning their first big client is a milestone to be celebrated, remembered and relished. It’s an indelible part of your narrative and DNA.
Agencies ride a constant wave, balancing resource with demand and often have to use expensive freelancers to bridge gaps. Winning a long project for a big client can bring stability to what is naturally a very fluid working pattern and inject some financial freedom for agencies to invest in their business. Freelancers can be replaced with permanent team members, marketing spend can be increased and new tech or training can be purchased.
So therefore, are big clients the dream to aim for? In this blog we balance out some of those benefits with a look at some of the risks associated with moving into big client territory so you can win those big clients whilst protecting your agency.
Sometimes all your agency needs is a break, and once you have experience working with a large brand on a meaty project you'll attract other big wins. But if it’s too long before your next big win, your one big client can become too much of a focus for your agency.
If an agency has one disproportionately big client, before you know it your smaller clients have slipped off your radar. So what happens if your big client leaves?
No matter how strong the relationship, it’s sometimes completely out of your hands. Your client may get acquired, or decide to move operations in-house, or market changes may lead them down a route that you can’t deliver on, for example by deciding on a new development platform that's out of your zone of expertise.
You tell yourself you won’t do it. But often over-servicing isn’t consciously happening – the odd extra piece of work gets pushed through, the receptionist knows to interrupt meetings when your key client calls, and their work takes priority in the schedule. This can all happen on such a subconscious level that you may not see it.
Using a system like Synergist can help you identify this. You can analyse work on a project and/or client basis so over-servicing is flagged very quickly. It’s also great to have such factual information to hand, which helps if you need to have a difficult conversation with your client.
You need to use the right tools to clearly see over-servicing, otherwise you could find out too late that your biggest client isn’t as profitable as you think. In the meantime, you may have lost some smaller and more profitable clients or at least damaged the relationships.
Estimating on smaller projects is less-risky. There's less at stake so less can go wrong. And if you do underestimate the work, the chances are you might be able to make up some extra days to try to bring it back into line.
So if a project is triple the size do you just triple the estimate?
This isn’t always the case. Big projects come with different complications. Looking at historical data will help you estimate future projects no matter their size. If projects are of a similar size then your estimates can be very accurate, but even if they’re much bigger you can still see what took longer than anticipated, where hours were burned and what caused delays. With a system like Synergist all this information is to hand.
Before estimating a large project, carefully consider the implications of over-running and openly discuss unknowns with your client. Get measures in place for things changing (ie them changing their mind) and set parameters for their approval, otherwise you could be looking at delays and stretches of non-billable work.
If your big new client is your main source of revenue then suddenly their attitude to payment is extremely important. If they have, or develop, a habit of paying their invoices late then this can have huge implications on your cash flow. If a large percentage of your workforce are working on this one client, can you afford not to get paid for a set amount of time?
Have you checked their payment terms? Now might be the time to discuss it and tweak the formula so that both sides can live with it.
Make sure you know when you can expect to get paid, stagger payment at milestones throughout the project and make sure you have contingencies in place for delays. Remember, these delays might be caused by them and their internal processes rather than your project team, so make sure they're not in complete control of when you get paid for work you've delivered.
We hope this blog has inspired you to chase agency-defining clients in a safe and considered way. Synergist agency management software is designed to help agencies scale and grow stably. Once you have measures in place to monitor client performance, project status and finance there’s nothing stopping you focusing on what you like most – producing great client work and pushing your agency to the next level.
If you would like to know more about Synergist you can view our case studies on other agencies we’ve helped, book a short one-to-one demo or give our implementation partners The Agency Works a call: 01455 553 246
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