It’s official: I’ve been self-employed longer than I’ve worked for any single employer.
When I started my business five years ago it seemed that everyone I knew – or everyone that they knew – needed writing, public relations, media relations, communications, or marketing help. With little effort, I lined up my livelihood early on and consistently. One referral led to another and each resulted in more projects, much of them ongoing.
My only goals at the outset were to carve out a mom-friendly schedule that I could wrap around my young daughter’s day and make enough money to provide for my family (and maybe generate a bit more income than I had working for someone else full-time).
Without much thought and only minimal planning, I ascended quickly, accomplishing all these tasks early on. By the end of year three I felt high atop the first loop of my favorite childhood ride, the Super Dooper Looper. I was turning away new client projects and contemplating hiring staff.
What I hadn’t contemplated was the eventual descent. It came mid-way through the fourth year, my best year financially to date. First, one of my nonprofit clients, due to budget constraints, whittled my monthly retainer down by more than 50 percent. Less than two months later, I lost a separate nonprofit client altogether.
I was at a loss for what to do. Get new clients, sure. I knew that was what I needed to do. But, snapping my fingers and restarting that climb to the top was another thing altogether. These clients had initially hired me to work on small marketing projects that blossomed into multi-faceted strategies over time. At the highest peak, this pair of clients, combined, had accounted for roughly 40-50 percent of my monthly income.
I know, I know. A client should never account for more than 20 percent of a business’ revenue stream.
I knew better, but what was I to do?
Leaning too heavily on two clients was not something I ever set out to do. I saw multiple revenue streams as being the best option. On the other hand, realistically, who’s going to turn work away simply because accepting it means one client accounts for a higher percentage of income?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not starving. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m content with my current client roster and am struggling to get back the gumption to make that stomach-churning lurch to the top of the coaster. Maybe I’m afraid of the inevitable fall, or perhaps I’m worried that I won’t make it to the top again.
Either way, I know I have much to be proud of, first being able to survive – despite the rollercoaster-like meteoric highs and plummeting lows – for five years. According to the Small Business Administration, only 50 percent of businesses make it this far.
My clients are the reason I made it to what is hopefully the first of many business milestones. Most of them have been on this sometimes-bumpy ride with me since the beginning. And nearly all came as client referrals, so I must be doing something right.
As I reflect on my first five years in business, I’m contemplating whether to tighten the safety belt for another go-round on the coaster or sit this one out.
I would love to hear from you about how your business or organization navigates similar ups and downs. Email me at Theresa@KatalinasCommunications.com.