Optimum number of clients / agencies to work for?
Thread poster: Richard Foulkes (X)

Richard Foulkes (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
German to English
+ ...
May 20, 2010

Afternoon all,

Just thought I'd seek some opinions on the above. Although I've been translating a good while, I think it's a fairly fundamental question, hence posting in the 'Getting Started' forum. I haven't come across this topic before but apologies for any duplication.

One of the biggest challenges I've found in this profession is maintaining a steady flow of work and one of the keys to this is obviously having enough clients to provide you with sufficient work, but not too many that you have to turn them down and they go elsewhere.

Having a small client base obviously poses other problems of risk of non-payment / client insolvency etc. and, although I have generally preferred to work with a small handful of clients, it strikes me that a larger pool may be more prudent.

I wondered whether they might be any consensus on an optimum number of clients to balance workload and risk?


 

patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Neither too small nor too large... May 20, 2010

I think it's natural to want to have as many customers as possible and if you are an agency it's highly doable. For a freelancer, though, I think your number of clients will inevitably find its own level. If you have a lot, your workflow will probably be such that you'll have to turn down jobs more frequently, forcing clients to look elsewhere.

I'm a generalist so I'm not industry-dependent and I try to have a mix of direct/agency clients, in different locations worldwide. I probably have six or seven who regularly send me work and over a dozen who send work sporadically, maybe two or three times a year.

New clients tend to come in as old ones drift out but basically this is what works for me.


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:21
German to English
It's all a balancing act May 20, 2010

Financially it's risky to rely upon a few clients, as if one of them goes under, you face the loss of a significant portion of your income. I've been involved in a couple of large projects that have kept me tied up for extended periods of time, and I've lost clients (agencies as well as direct clients) who went away because of my lack of availability. This has been especially true of direct clients who want to rely on a single provider who is always available.

Balancing agency/direct client work is another issue. Although agencies can produce a high volume of work over time, direct clients pay much better. I've found that in many cases, the jobs from direct clients are more interesting than agency jobs. On the other hand, the agencies I work with tend to have a more realistic idea of deadlines.


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. May 20, 2010

I've often hear it said that you shouldn't earn more than about 25% of your income from one company.

 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 03:21
German to Serbian
+ ...
There's a reason for this. May 20, 2010

Kevin Fulton wrote:
On the other hand, the agencies I work with tend to have a more realistic idea of deadlines.


It's because the agency had already set a deadline with the end client, i.e. negotiated it on your behalf. That's an inconvenient part of dealing with end clients, you've got to do all the negotiation, administration and management plus the translation job.

Example of a negotiation with an end client:

- Could you please translate my PhD thesis ( Science)
- By when do you need to have it done?
- I'd like it done in 10 days.
- For how long did you work on your PhD thesis, how long did it take you to write it?
- 3 years.


 

Lang-uages
Local time: 14:21
English to German
+ ...
It all depends on your clients May 20, 2010

It all depends on how often / how regular / the sizes of jobs you get from your clients, so there is no figure you can put on that.

I have one main client, where I get most of my work from. I may not hear from them for weeks or even a couple of months, and then I might be busier than I like to be for a few weeks. I definitely try not to turn anyone down. (But then, I'm not the main earner in our family, so it's probably a different situation.)

I think, once you realise you have too many clients you can still turn down the financially less attractive jobs or the clients you don't like working with as much.

Cheers!
Sabine


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:21
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Be prepared to stretch May 21, 2010

In my experience, the only way you can guarantee that customers keep returning is to say yes to them in all cases, so indeed choosing and caring for a good customer base is critical. Every service provider (not just translators) must have a firm commitment to their core, strategic customers. Rejecting a job from one of these strategic customers is out of question, although you can occasionally reject a job from a less critical customer.

If you serve strategic customers properly, work from them will keep coming, but will often be above your standard daily capacity, so you will have to stretch.

[Edited at 2010-05-21 05:29 GMT]


 

smorales30  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:21
English to Spanish
+ ...
As much as possible! May 21, 2010

Some clients contact you years later and sometimes you end up hearing from them when you least expect it (in a slow time period, for instance). So my advice is keep your options always open. The more clients/leads you have, the more chances your client base will keep on growingicon_smile.gif
Good luck!
Silvia

inglesparaprofesionales.wordpress.com


 

Richard Foulkes (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the replies! May 25, 2010

Thanks for the insightful replies all. I guess it was a 'how long is a piece of string' question!

Phil's 25% rule of thumb seems sensible. I suppose it's a matter of how trustworthy / solvent you think a client is.


 

Ade Indarta  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 08:21
English to Indonesian
Not the number of clients but the volume of works May 25, 2010

I think you need to consider the volume of works that you received, instead of the number of clients.

30% is maximum that you should receive from one client. More than that, you might compromise your cash flow when something happens to that client.

Other things that you can consider when building your client portfolio are the client's rate, payment terms, and accountability.

My two cents


 

Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:21
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
is there such a thing as too many? May 25, 2010

On the one hand, I think there is a tendency to reach a certain number of clients where you can hold steady for a period of a few months, but it seems to me that there's always a certain degree of client attrition (or slow-down/dead periods), even for clients that keep you supplied with a good deal of steady work during other times.

I prefer to err on the side of more clients rather than fewer (obviously, given a choice! it's not as easy as waving the magic wand and saying "clients, appear!"). If you ever wind up with too many regulars, you always have the option to drop the lowest paying, or most annoying, or whatever your criteria is.

Plus, not all clients are made equal--if you're lucky, you'll find one or two that specialize in your language pair and do a good volume (ideally of medium-high volume projects) in your specialty areas. Others may do a lot of work in your pair, but it's mostly birth certificates and transcripts. I've got a few clients in my roster like that, and they're nice to have because you develop a nice routine and rapport, and the volume is never overwhelming, but they're also never going to pay the mortgage on their own. The opposite client may have work for you only a few times a year, but they tend to be 4-figure jobs each time.

In a typical year I'll invoice 40 or 50 different clients. I'd say 60-75% of of my income comes from 20% of my clients. Still, no one on that top 10 list accounts for more than 15% of my total.

I don't think turning down requests is the end of the world, or even the end of a relationship, if it means that the person they get to do the job in your stead is simply inferior. It does make sense to think about an order of priority in terms of who you turn down, though.


 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Eliminate clients May 25, 2010

If a freelancer is worried about having too many clients, then he or she is missing a crucial opportunity.

As soon as an independent professional feels that work volume is beginning to exceed available time, then the moment has arrived to eliminate clients.

Which clients do you eliminate? Yes, the worst payers and the slowest payers. Just kick them out - preferably by telling them the truth.

Eliminating clients is the best way to increase your income!


 

Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:21
German to Spanish
+ ...
20-30% May 25, 2010

Richard Foulkes wrote:

Afternoon all,

Just thought I'd seek some opinions on the above. Although I've been translating a good while, I think it's a fairly fundamental question, hence posting in the 'Getting Started' forum. I haven't come across this topic before but apologies for any duplication.

One of the biggest challenges I've found in this profession is maintaining a steady flow of work and one of the keys to this is obviously having enough clients to provide you with sufficient work, but not too many that you have to turn them down and they go elsewhere.

Having a small client base obviously poses other problems of risk of non-payment / client insolvency etc. and, although I have generally preferred to work with a small handful of clients, it strikes me that a larger pool may be more prudent.

I wondered whether they might be any consensus on an optimum number of clients to balance workload and risk?


I do not know how many customers is the ideal. But, if Pareto's Law is true, the 20% of our customers provide us the 80% of our income... Why to waste y/our time with the remaining 80%?




[Editado a las 2010-05-25 17:36 GMT]


 

Krys Williams  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
Member (2003)
Polish to English
+ ...
the more the merrier May 27, 2010

I have about 50 agencies on my books. Some send work on a very regular, weekly or more frequently, basis, others once or twice a year and others at frequencies in between these limits.

I make myself more available to regulars with whom I have a good relationship. As for the rest, I accept work when their rates are better than those being offered for other job offers coming in at the same time or when their material is more interesting. I also adjust my availability in line with the current standing of the currency in which I will receive payment and also in line with the courtesy with which I am treated.

We are FREElancers, bound to nobody. One of my main pleasures is being able to pick and choose what work to accept according to my criteria not those of some cretinous manager.


 


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