How many clients should you work with at a time?
As your design studio starts building traction and your client list increases, you might be asking yourself: “How many clients should I take on at a time?”
I love when I get this question for two reasons:
It means you are planning ahead to protect your boundaries. Otherwise, you wouldn’t ask this question, or the answer would be “as many as I can!”.
You are considering how you can serve our clients best. Sometimes that means slowing down to give quality attention to fewer clients. I love this.
If you’ve been pondering how many clients you should work with at a time, this post is for you!
But, before we get started it’s important to know that there are many variables to consider. For instance:
Do you have a team, or are you the solo designer?
What service are you providing? Is it a few social media graphics, or a custom built WordPress site?
How many hours are you working a week?
I’ll walk through what’s worked best for Spruce Rd. We are a team of two (myself and my design collaborator Ash). I work 2 days a week (10–15 hours). We offer brand identity design and design days for repeat work. There’s some background for ya!
Let’s dig in.
How many clients should you work with at a time?
At Spruce Rd., we work with one client at a time… sort-of.
We work with one brand identity client at a time, and balance that with our weekly design day-rate service for past clients. (our design day-rates are where clients can book one full/half day with our team to design for their brand).
We used to work with several clients at a time, and at one point I was managing 7 brand identity projects at once. That was my tipping point when I realized it was too much! Over the past 4ish years we’ve reduced it to typically one brand client at a time.
Here’s why I prefer working with one client for our signature service (brand identity) at a time.
1 – A good mix of new + old
I love the contrast of working with new and old (for a lack of a better term!) clients.
New clients can require more energy. That’s part of why I love new clients, and also what brings in some anxiety to the process.
There’s excitement building a new brand, and joy that comes with working with a new business. At the same time, there’s likely some reservations on both sides. Both the client and designer are hopeful that the partnership goes well, but there’s some uncertainty as they haven’t worked together before. Some designers can manage this better than others, but for me I’ve learned over the years that I like to reduce the uncertainty in my business :). I still love working with new clients (talking to two potential ones this week!), but likely won’t work with 7 new ones at a time anytime soon.
This is why I love balancing the new clients with the old clients. Repeat clients have a familiarity about them, which typically creates an easier process. Not only is the design already established, but the trust has been built as well. This creates a smoother experience on both ends, and creates some predictability in your studio through schedules, work relationships, income, etc.
I love the contrast of new and old clients.
2 – Creatively challenged
As a creative designer, I’ve learned I am not built to limit myself creatively.
As much as the systemized side of me desires to automate, productize and robot-ize my business, I just can’t. I love new design challenges, and having a mix of big brand projects with smaller repeat work allows our studio to achieve a great harmony. Whether I’m the lead designer or creative director for the project.
Focusing on one brand identity project at a time allows our team to really get creatively energized, rather than fatigued. We get excited to dig into new typefaces, illustrations and color palettes.
Through adding our weekly day-rates, we get challenged creatively through different projects. Whether that’s packaging, layouts, email newsletters or promotions.
If we took on multiple brand identity projects at a time, we wouldn’t have the capacity for our weekly design day service, and would miss out on flexing new creative muscles.
3 – Prevents burnout
Through working with one client at a time, it’s protected us from exceeding our bandwidth. When I have too many big projects at a time, I tend to feel more stressed. This is because large design projects typically require a lot of energy.
This is because of the “new client jitters” I mentioned earlier and the uncertainty that comes with a new collaboration, but also largely because of time. While I love to dig into a fresh brand identity design (both designing and creative directing), it can require a lot of energy. Selecting fonts, styles, and a brand from scratch is not a quick process for our team.
Our signature service takes time. It’s a process I don’t like to rush for our clients, and something that I’m mindful to protect. Our signature service is brand identity design, which we hope will last our clients for many years to come. If we’re juggling too many branding projects at a time, I’m fearful we aren’t serving ourselves or our clients best. Not to say this can’t work, as I’ve done it myself and seen many designers succeed juggling several projects at a time, but I realize it can lead to burnout. Something I want to avoid so I can be present with my family, and continue enjoying the work we do at Spruce Rd.
It’s been a process over the past several years in my design studio, going from 7+ big projects at a time, to one. Through incorporating a lot more repeat design work, it’s helped prevent us from exceeding bandwidth and burnout. I’m thankful that we don’t have to focus on marketing client services since we simply dip back into our pool of existing clients. It’s been a great harmony for our team!
I’d love to know in the comments — do you have a specific number of clients you limit yourself to working with at a time? Let’s open up the conversation below!
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