Of course you want some large clients for your freelancing business. Large clients are often more stable, tend to pay more, and their projects may even add some name recognition value to your portfolio.
In general, having big clients is a good thing. Freelancers often ask how they can attract more large clients. That’s why we devoted a post to approaching big clients.
Smaller clients, on the other hand, tend to be overlooked. Rarely have we heard freelancers ask the question: “how can I find some more very small clients to work with.” Some freelancers even refuse to do business with small clients–choosing to focus exclusively on larger companies instead.
However, there are some benefits to including smaller businesses in your client mix. In this post, we’ll share and discuss those benefits.
The Worries of Dealing with Small Clients
One huge reason that many freelancers hesitate to deal with small or fledgling companies is the fear of not getting paid. For a freelancer, accepting work from a very small company may seem like a huge risk. Many small companies are so new that they don’t have a reputation built up (good or bad) and they may also be operating on a shoestring budget.
What’s a freelancer to do if they accept a project from a tiny client and the client goes under before the freelancer gets paid?
It’s a legitimate question, and no doubt one that is on the minds of many freelancers when a small business approaches them to do work.
However, this worry can often be overcome by charging a significant portion of your fees up front, before you start work.
Benefits of Working with Smaller Clients
Here are some advantages to working with small businesses:
- Smaller companies grow. Steve Jobs reportedly started Apple computers in a garage. Microsoft also started small. Today, both companies are mega-sized corporations. How would you like to have worked with either of those companies in the early years? That small client you refused to work with this year might become a corporate giant next year.
- People change jobs. Just because the individual who contacts you works for a small company now doesn’t mean that he or she always will. In a few months or years, he or she may find a new, larger employer. If you treat them well at the small company, they’re more likely to take your business card with them to the large company.
- You can interact directly with the decision-maker. A definite advantage of working with a small company is that you can often speak directly with the decision maker. There is no level of middle management between you. The decision to use your services as well as the decision to finalize your project can be made quickly.
- They are often overlooked. Sadly, smaller clients are often snubbed by freelancers who think that taking on a small project isn’t worth their time. If you do accept projects from small companies they are more likely to realize that you are taking a risk with them and appreciate your effort.
- Everybody knows somebody. Even though your client may be small, that doesn’t mean that everyone he or she knows is in a small company. Your client’s neighbor or family member may be the decision maker at a large company. Do a good job for them and they may provide you with a lucrative referral down the road.
- Can become part of your unique selling proposition. The fact that you accept small clients can become part of your unique selling proposition. I once saw this phrase on a competitor’s site and it impressed me as being different: “no project too small.” What a relief that phrase must be to a small company who is having trouble finding someone to accept his or her project.
- Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they don’t have money. While many small companies that are startups do operate on a shoestring, that’s not always the case. The small company may have received funds through a grant or through venture capital and their project may be nearly as well funded as a project from a larger corporation.
Of course, including small businesses in your client base doesn’t necessarily mean that you should only pursue small clients. Ideally, most freelancers will want a mix, although a few may choose to make working with small businesses their specialty.
Tips for Working with Small Clients
Working with small clients can present some special challenges. Here are some tips that may help:
- Don’t compromise your rates. Just because you’re working with smaller companies doesn’t mean you have to work for peanuts. Rather than lowering your rate for your small clients, try one of the techniques below.
- Look for a solution that fits their budget. While a small company may wish for a custom-designed website and a new logo, they may be able to get by at first with just the logo and use a standard WordPress theme. As their needs grow, you can upgrade them to a more customized approach.
- Offer phased work. It is sometimes helpful to a small company to divide a large project up into smaller projects or phases that they can pay for individually. While a small client may have trouble coming up with $3,000 at once for a new website, $500 a month over six months with one phase completed each month might be more affordable.
- Provide consulting instead. Sometimes the client is even too small for one of the approaches above. In these cases, you may be able to offer to consult with them and help them develop a step-by-step plan for meeting their needs at a later date.
While many of my clients are medium-sized or even large companies, I’ve had a few small clients as well. I particularly remember working with one individual on a very small writing task. When it was done, I never thought I’d hear from my contact at that small company again.
However, about eight months later I got an email from him. My contact was now with a much larger company and guess what? They needed a writer. The project this time was worth a lot more money–several thousand dollars, in fact.
Without my contact from the small company, I would never have learned about the second opportunity. With his support, I was the only writer that they even considered.
Do You Work with Small Clients?
Do you accept work with very small clients? What advice would you offer to other freelancers regarding small clients?
Share your ideas and stories in the comments (without mentioning any client names).
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