I grew up in big global consulting firm where “clients for life” was almost a mantra.
We were rewarded—fêted really—for continually, SIGNIFICANTLY growing our books of business (and slapped resoundingly for failure).
And of course growing an existing client relationship was far easier than staking out a new one.
So most of us focused on our current books while courting new clients in whatever spare time we could muster.
And some of us—myself included—assumed we should carry that mantra into the independent and boutique practices we later established.
But is building clients for life always in your best interest?
As I see it, there are two clear-cut situations where clients for life 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 personal financial advisor. Financial planners do a lot of work up-front, but then continue to update plans and often manage assets in exchange for a regular quarterly fee.
If the relationship is well-nurtured, clients are typically reluctant to make a change especially those with complex financial situations. It’s not unusual for the net present value of such a client to be in the mid to high six figures.
Clients for life indeed.
When 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.
So clients for life make perfect sense here too.
But what if you’re a “bet the business” sort of consultant? Most businesses bet the business only once, maybe twice in their lifetimes.
So while you might wisely invest in long-term relationships with the PEOPLE you’ve helped (who may well move on to other rehab jobs), your relationship with the company is pretty much done when you’ve finished your work.
Maybe you’re an up-front miracle worker. You’re hard-wired as say a strategist (your interest dies out when it turns to operations) or a fire fighter (you love saving lives from the ladder, but when the fire is out, you’re on your way).
You just aren’t constitutionally suited for the long-term.
Is that a bad thing?
In fact, many miracle workers are amongst the highest paid and most respected in the advisory profession.
You just want 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 during the time they’re with you.
But when your best work is done, it’s time to cut the financial cord and free them to move on.
That doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t—stay in touch when there is no longer a financial incentive for you to do so.
Some of your most personally rewarding experiences with clients may come AFTER the meter is shut off.
The key here is to make a conscious decision that aligns with your highest, best work: do you want clients for life?
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