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May 15, 2008
Working With Smaller Clients

If you’ve set yourself up as a freelancer or PR firm with a monthly retainer or an hourly fee, you’ll always be pitching new business. No matter what, you’ll have to learn how to do this in order to keep your business running. Along the way, you’ll find potential clients who can’t or don’t want to pay your price. (I know what you’re thinking, and yes, they can [and will] hire someone else who will be more than happy to work within their price range.) While we all need to pay our bills, here are some things to consider before working with clients who are smaller or who pay a bit less than your normal fee.

  1. Working with a smaller client, such as a local business or small non-profit, can be very gratifying. For example, I worked with a local non-profit client for a year.  We agreed that they would retain my services for one-fifth of my monthly retainer. I figured I was doing a “good thing” for an organization that really needed help, and in turn, I’d have a warm, fuzzy feeling about what I was doing for them.
  2. These lower-paying clients can help build your portfolio if you’re starting out or want to switch industry expertise. Make sure that taking on this type of client will help you attain whatever goals you’d like to reach.
  3. Be sure that the client understands the value of PR and what you can bring to their table.  Oftentimes, start-ups or smaller businesses don’t realize the power of PR or think it’s similar to advertising.  You might need to educate your client about this, but do it before you sign an agreement.
  4. Proceed with caution. It’s common knowledge that working with clients who don’t pay as much as some of your other accounts can often drain your spirit and your wallet. Again, we all need to pay bills.  And as far as your spirit goes, sometimes a smaller client can be needier than a larger one and expect/demand more of your time. Build in about 5-10 additional hours per week than you think the client will actually need.  I thought, “Ok, a few releases here and there, a monthly newsletter, and having one primary contact for everything.” It turned out that each newsletter story (most times there were 8-10) had to be at least 500 words and were often interviews; so I had to track down people (board members, volunteers, employees, etc.) to be interviewed. This required additional time.
  5. As always, when creating the contract, be sure to spell out your duties for this client – what you handle and what you don’t (ex: media relations, newsletters, brochures, pitching, press releases, speechwriting, or something else). Otherwise, you might find yourself working on things that are not within the scope of your duties (sponsorships, fundraising, advertising, etc.).
  6. Make sure that you have also arranged who needs to review any releases or public information before it’s sent out. While working with this non-profit, I started with one contact, and within three weeks of the signed agreement, I had three people who needed to review everything. Now, the approvals process became lengthier, so timelines had to be adjusted.  And coordination of information became key.

I tell you this because after a year of working with this client, I didn’t have the warm, fuzzy feeling I thought I would. While I was successful in obtaining publicity each month for them, what I had to endure to reap my success was not worth it… I was spending more time working on this client than I should have been and therefore, neglecting some of the business I should’ve been handling for my other clients (although not one of them suffered.  I’m the type who works until the job is done or I don’t sleep – and I’ve never missed a deadline). Not to mention, this client took away valuable time that I should also have been spending prospecting new business.

This is not to say that I haven’t been thrilled that I’ve taken on smaller clients – and been very successful with them. I just want to make you aware of some of the pleasures and pitfalls that may occur with this type of client.

Needless to say, this client hurt my bottom line and my sanity.  When the contract was up for renewal, I decided not to renew and found them another PR person who had the time to devote to them – and was willing to pay the price (mentally and financially). While I’m not saying that a smaller or lower-paying type of client can’t be very gratifying or fun to work with, my advice here is to think carefully about taking on a client who can’t contribute to your bottom line and goals.

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Jocelyn Brandeis is an accomplished and award-winning communications professional with more than 15 years experience in the entertainment, consumer, new media, B2B, Hispanic, and nonprofit industries. She is responsible for securing interviews and media placement and creating full PR campaigns. Since co-founding JBLH Communications, the client roster has included: National Lampoon Comedy House, Doggy Tug, Mandinez.com, Play Clay Factory, The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, and The Child Center of NY.

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