I grew up in a big global consulting firm where “clients for life” was almost a mantra.
We were richly rewarded for continually, SIGNIFICANTLY growing our books of business—and most of us quickly figured out that growing existing client relationships was the way forward.
I took that mindset into the first independent practice I established—and it was definitely reflected in the sales price when I sold it.
But is building clients for life in your best interest as a soloist?
There are two clear-cut situations where they make perfect sense—high intimacy, long-term engagements and recurring project work with significant barriers to entry.
The classic example of the former is the fractional CFO or a B2B CPA. If the relationship is well-nurtured, clients are typically reluctant to make a change, especially when they have complex financial situations.
If you do more project-oriented work, the clients for life model makes the most sense when you’re not easily replaced.
Compensation consulting for example requires a high level of trust and a significant amount of investment in understanding the business, the culture and the human resource strategy to be effective. If you maintain an engaging working relationship, you’re unlikely to be surprised by a sudden replacement.
But what if you’re a “bet the business” sort of consultant, like the brain surgeon who has worked for decades to perfect their craft?
Most businesses bet the business only once.
Which means your best bet here will be investing in long-term relationships with the PEOPLE you’ve helped, who may well move on to other companies where they’ll need you again.
When are clients for life not the right fit? When you just aren’t constitutionally suited for the long-term.
Maybe you’re a miracle worker: you’re hard-wired as say a strategist whose interest dies out when it turns to operations. That’s not a bad thing—many miracle workers are amongst the highest paid and most respected in their niche.
The key is to be clear on where—and with whom—you’re at your best.
Because every client that falls into your sweet-spot DESERVES to be treated like a client for life for the time they’re with you.