For the first decade of my consulting business, I depended on "one-off" clients: I'd do the work for them, and then they'd have no need for my type of work again. I'm not alone. Many businesses are built around one-time customers, but that's a dangerous business strategy.
I developed business plans. And once a person had a business plan, they didn't need me any more. Right?
Wrong. As I've learned in my own company, a successful enterprise needs to revise a business plan at least once a year. But I wasn't getting this potential recurring business. My income was completely dependent on finding new customers.
Selling every customer only one item -- whether a business plan, a landscape design, a kitchen remodel -- is a precarious way to earn a living.
Of course, I was doing very well. Somehow the clients just kept coming. I'd like to believe it was solely due to the fact I was a brilliant consultant (will you take my word on that?) but I was also lucky.
The truth is that whenever you have a business totally dependent on new clients, you're vulnerable. If economic conditions change, or a new competitor enters the market, you may suddenly see your customers disappear.
However, if you've managed to build up a stable of loyal, repeat clients -- even if they reduce their purchases in a weak economy -- you're better able to maintain at least a basic level of income and keep your business alive.
Many of us know we need to become less dependent on "one-off" customers, but we don't know how. What if the very nature of our business means customers only need us one time? Regardless of divorce statistics, can a wedding planner really build up repeat business?
Well, that's a tough one. But even there, the answer is "yes."
So, what types of things can a one-off business offer their customers to create a renewable income stream?
So what's holding those of us who continue to serve only one-off customers back?
Remember, you never want to lose a satisfied customer. Look for ways to keep -- and serve -- them on a repeat basis. Your bank account will thank you.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2003
Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies and the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books and tools for business planning. Register for her free business-planning newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com.