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How Many Clients is Too Many?

The subject of ‘how many clients is too many clients?’ has always interested me. There’s certainly pros and cons on both sides. Is there a magic number? Who knows… Is it possible to have too many? Most likely, yes. But does that mean that only having a few is a good idea? Probably not.

In this post I weigh up both sides (having lots vs. only having a few), while referring to our annual HR Consulting Industry Study.

Study was conducted with 160 clients between solopreneurs and Consulting Businesses in August 2021 with US and Canada clients.

What’s interesting is that when we started this study, I had a rough idea of how many clients an HR Consultant might take on at once, or that might be handled by an HR Consulting Business (> 2 employees), but what I had in my mind was actually lower than what recent studies have shown – especially when it came to Consulting Businesses.

While solopreneurs are taking on about 9 clients per average, HR Consulting Businesses admitted to taking on 15-20.

Admittedly, it might be the case that an HR Consulting Business individual dabbles in a little bit of work for multiple clients (e.g. recruiting Healthcare workers), which would make sense, but even so… it’s a high number, and a lot to handle.

Here’s the answer when the solo consultant crowd were asked:

Meanwhile, here’s the HR Consulting verdict:

Again, the 6-10 mark was the most popular option for both solo consultants and businesses – especially so for the former. Be that as it may, for businesses, nearly 13% of them (c. 1 in 8) had over a hundred clients. Wow. Of course if they’re big agencies with dozens of employees then that’s fine, but if they’re small agencies then… well…

Speaking of employees, for both types of respondent, part-time and contract employee numbers were asked, while the latter were asked how many employees they have:

So going back to the previous graph, if most HR Consulting Businesses have 6-10 clients and also 2-5 employees, then that’s roughly anything between 1-5 clients per HR Consulting Business employee. Roughly. Let’s hope none of those 2-5 employee-sized agencies are tackling 100+ clients between them…

The pros & cons of having lots of clients

I think that having a lot of clients is a good thing… but I can appreciate the argument either way, and that clients – and other marketers – might be sceptical of that statement.

Let’s start with the cons…

(Note: I won’t bother listing the pros and cons of having too few clients as well, as they’re pretty much the polar opposite of the pros and cons of having lots.)

The cons of having lots of clients

Handling too much could mean spreading yourself too thin – This is the obvious one. If you only have 2-3 clients then you can give them your full attention pretty equally and fairly. However, if you have 10 clients then there’s the risk that you’ll struggle to keep on top of them all, get them mixed up, forget what you’re doing for them, etc. – and risk making mistakes or not giving each of them 100%. However, the more organized you are and better at managing the workload you are, the less this is likely to be an issue.

It could be a turn-off for clients – If clients know that they’re 1 of 10 then that might put them off working with you, especially if there are times when they feel that you’re not giving them your full attention. Again, good organization and effective workload management are key, and I feel that it’s always important to be proactive rather than reactive. If you have 10 clients but you’re doing good work for them and they all feel looked after all the time then what’s the problem?

The pros of having lots of clients

More financial security – This is the primary pro for me. At the end of the day, if you only have 2-3 clients and either the work stops for one of them or they don’t pay you, it can be seriously harmful to your cash-flow. The more clients you have, the less of a ‘dent’ it makes when one leaves or doesn’t pay. I’ve heard horror stories of agencies who have had that ‘one big client’ who one day leaves and the HR Consulting Business folds shortly afterwards. Don’t let it happen to you.

More variety of work – At the risk of sounding unprofessional, if I only had one or two clients at one time then I think I’d go mad from boredom! I love having a variety of different work on the go, whether that’s working with a variety of different industries or a variety of different types of work (or both). As an added bonus, I’ve been in situations when working on one client has given me a ‘light-bulb moment’ that has helped out another client. So I’d argue that it helps to keep the brain juices in good flow – nice and active.

It shows that you’re busy (and popular) – Admittedly you can be busy with just a small number of clients, if they’re big contracts that give you a lot of hours, but having lots of clients shows that you’re popular. This can be really powerful on the sales front, especially if you’re growing your business and hiring employees in order to take on even more.

Too many or too few? Over to you…

What do you prefer? Is having lots of clients a good thing, or is it better to stick to only having a few on the go at any time? I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment below

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