The thing about whale clients

Philip Morgan

A few weeks ago I was at a really good conference and heard a speaker say something interesting.BTW, the conference afforded me the opportunity to check out uGurus a little more closely. They are a 100% class act and do community better than any freelancer/agency business training organization of it's size that I've seen.Anyway, one of the speakers runs a "7-figure agency", and was talking about "the first time you get an A client, you don't want to screw it up because it'll take you 5 years to get another chance with an A client".His definition of "A client" seemed to be based on the client's size; the larger their budget, the closer they are to an A client.I don't disagree with this guy's point, but it opens up an interesting question. "A clients" can often turn into whale clients; clients that represent an outsized portion of your business's revenue for a period of time.In my past, whale clients--no matter how demanding they have been as clients--have made me lazy. If you're still working on building up a mature, disciplined way to attract new business, I wonder if the same might happen to you?Here's how it goes. You see the faint plume of a whale prospect on the horizon. You grab your binoculars to check it out. Sure enough, it's a whale! As it gets closer, it breaches the surface of the water, hangs in the air a moment, and lands with a huge splash. You get excited.You start pouring immense energy into the sales conversation, and bend over backward to put together a winning proposal.You land the whale prospect, and you now have a whale client. Almost immediately, that gnawing sense of hunger in your belly goes away. It's revenue feast time for what seems like forever now that you have this huge client with a huge budget. You're saved from your own mediocre business development skills!You move from wondering if you’ll still be in business 3 months from now to feeling like you’ve got yourself or your whole team busy for 12 months or more or guaranteed work.Maybe this dream project really unfolds that way. You get the emotional payoff of diving deep into the project while your invoices get paid on time and you stop having to use your weakest muscle (if you’re anything like most of the software developers I’ve worked with, that’s your business development muscle). The project ends on time or perhaps runs another 6 months over for… reasons.But inevitably the project with the whale client ends and you are now an organization with an appetite for whales but—due to your atrophied bizdev muscle—the fishing abilities of a pelican. If you haven’t spent much time at the ocean then you can just trust me that pelicans don’t catch and eat whales, no matter how hungry they are.For me in the past, this is 100% what happened with whale clients. They made me lazy because I very irrationally thought that the whale client was the beginning of a new era. Like I was just going to be having one whale client after another come my way with no really effort or plan on my part.That is most definitely NOT what actually happened. :) I spent a lot of time as a pelican with an appetite for whales.People who are trying to lose weight or quit drugs are advised many things, and two common pieces of advice remind me of what I ultimately did:1) Don't keep it in your house.2) Change your habits.When I rebooted my business in 2013, I determined I would figure. this. shit. out. when it came to marketing and sales. That was the habit change. I now get legitimately nervous if I can't spend 20% of any given week on productive marketing activities. That's because the link between marketing and revenue is seared into my mind.The "don't keep it in your house" advice turned into me building a business that generates revenue from multiple sources that are spread across--over the course of a year--close to 1,400 customers or clients. (I checked, my shopping cart software DPD says I had 1,376 customers last year, and I'm rounding up to 1,400 to include some clients and other stuff that happened outside DPD). In other words, I designed my business to basically exclude whale clients.I wasn't 100% successful in this, BTW. A whale client snuck in the back door in late 2016, and it took me 6 painful months to recover.I'm not saying you should exclude whale clients the way I try to.But do ask yourself: if you landed a whale client (or currently have one), could you replicate it again? Or could you replace enough of that revenue in 30 or 60 days to keep the wheels from falling off your business?And if not, what can you do about it? I humbly suggest beginning with Know a self-employed software developer who might benefit from specialization? Send 'em this free gift! Details here --> /referrals/