Should You Go for a Few Big Clients or Many Small Ones? These Agency Owners Answer The Question

It’s an age-old debate as old as consulting itself.

On the one hand, you have less work with fewer, bigger clients and make the same amount of money. But with smaller-ticket clients, you can onboard more and play the volume game since they are more likely to convert (and be retained) at lower monthly price points.

At least that’s what conventional wisdom tells us.

Yet I still see people everyday being both successful and also scarily unsuccessful using both models.

So I went to real, successful agency owners to interview them about which model they prefer, and why. Their answers, as well as my take, are below.

Note: “High-ticket” can be defined in many different ways. It could be based on what you’re used to charging, where in the world you are, or how new you are to consulting.

It could also be based on a niche; plastic surgeons and big law firms are “high-ticket” because their services in turn are relatively expensive. But on the same note, you could also convince a small local business to pay you $5,000/month for the full gamut of digital marketing services that they would have paid a marketing manager for anyways.

For the sake of this article and the question we are trying to answer, high-ticket simply means any retainer over $1500/month. Low-ticket would be at the $500/month ballpark.

Enter Daryl Rosser

Daryl runs an SEO blog called Lion Zeal featuring a ton of interviews of other agency owners and affiliate SEOs. I like his very direct approach to client getting, keeping things simple, and is a big believer in mindset just like me. Check out the interview he did of me over here.

What do you sell and how much do you charge?

Rankings or leads.

I still have some old clients from when my minimum fee was $1,500/m. These days I focus on $4,000+/month or $50+/lead with a budget to scale past that.

Many low-ticket clients or a few high-end clients, and why?

Besides expanding your team, there’s only so many clients a single person can take on. For that reason, I focus on higher paying clients. And then, even when you build your team, it doesn’t need to be huge.

On top of that, clients paying less than like $750/m, from my experience, completely suck to deal with. I want clients that are so busy, I rarely hear from them, so I can get on with delivering a great ROI.

And finally, it gives me the budget to actually deliver that great ROI.

Would you do the same thing if you started over? What do you recommend for others?

I was too much of a wussy starting out. If I started over, I would hammer out the outreach. Non-stop cold emailing, follow up calls, sending physical mail, even knocking on doors if I had to. It’s extremely easy to get a client if you put in the numbers, I was just too scared of rejection.

If you want to get clients, go call 100 businesses right now. Doesn’t matter how well it goes, just prove to yourself you’re willing to do whatever it takes. Then you can switch to cold emailing or whatever you prefer later.

What’s currently your best source/method for landing new clients?

It depends when you asked. Today, it’s referrals – no doubt. I already have great clients that can refer me to similar sized businesses, and there’s only so many of those I need.

In the past I’d say cold outreach. Sending emails, messaging on LinkedIn, etc. And obviously extensively following up.

Outsource or nah?

In-house + virtual assistants. If I was starting out though, and wanted to hit 5 figures per month as fast as possible, I’d probably outsource 100% of the SEO.

BONUS: What was your first client like? How did you get him/her?

My first SEO client was actually a referral. I built some cheap $500 sites for local businesses because I was broke and under-valuing myself. One of those clients later referred me to someone that wanted SEO.

I think I may have known what SEO stood for, but I had little idea how it was done. I tried to sell them AdWords instead, but they asked why not both.

Since I was desperate for money, and had a guy in front of me with a team of 30+ people working for him, I couldn’t really say no. Especially after telling him he’ll need $1,000+ per month AdWords budget, and seeing him barely react.

Despite him asking if I’m still in school or not, I got the client after emailing the proposal, then worked with him for well over a year.

Should have charged him 5x what I quoted though.


Enter Rohan Sheth

I currently work with the team at Rohan Sheth Consulting on some of my ScopeLeads campaigns. He’s gotten a lot of attention and some high profile clients just by the type of results they can generate pretty quickly. I’ve also watched him grow his social media reach from nothing to tens of thousands of followers very quickly this year.

rohan sheth interview

What do you sell and how much do you charge?

What we sell at Rohan Sheth Consulting Inc. is Traffic and our typical Retainers can range from $2500 USD to $5000 USD + 10% of spend.

Many low-ticket clients or a few high-end clients and why?

I am a big advocate of higher end clients, reasons being once you are well versed at what you do in your specialized niche, and it’s a lot easier to charge people high retainers or management fees. On the flip side to that the one thing I usually tell people that starting off charging high amounts for clients may not be aligned with your values right of the bat and to start where they feel like they are providing the amount value for the knowledge they have within them.

Would you do the same thing if you started over? What do you recommend for others?

Would I do the same thing if I started over again… probably not! Reason being is when I first started I did things completely backwards and didn’t have any systems in place to get my[self] in a scalable position. What I recommend others to do is:

A. Find a mentor or coach that can teach you exactly what you need to do set up the systems and processes to get your business running like a well oiled machine.

B. Spend more money in Ads right off the bat rather then wasting time knocking on doors trying to sell businesses marketing, as it’s a lot easier to work with a client that choses to respond to your message vs you selling them something that they may need but not in that exact moment.

What’s currently your best source/method for landing new clients?

Our best source for landing new clients currently is Facebook Ads and being looked at as an Instagram influencer. Facebook ads is something I suggest everyone to begin with when they are looking to gain clients right off the bat once they have some money to spend in marketing. However that being said a lot of what we are onboarding today are close friends that have businesses (as they have the most trust with you) and or referrals from clients that we have gotten amazing results for.

Outsource or nah?

HELL YA! Outsource…. The biggest mistake I made when starting out was not working with my strengths and outsourcing my weaknesses. Make sure you take count of what you enjoy doing on a daily basis and outsource the heck out of the rest

BONUS: Coolest thing you’ve done to land a client?

Coolest thing I ever did to close a client was get on a plane to London U.K to meet with them at their event when they didn’t expect we would do it to build trust and show them how serious we were to working with them… Go the extra mile (or 9000 in my case lol) it DOES WORK.

BONUS: What was the most dramatic ROI you’ve gotten a client?

The most dramatic ROI I have ever gotten a client was taking them from being -40k in debt in their company to 120 days later making 1.1 Million Dollars in Gross Sales.

Enter Stuart Trier

I still remember the first time Stuart messaged me on Facebook asking some questions about my business, and we met up in Toronto shortly after. Coming from previously successful ventures, I’ve watched Stuart go from almost clueless to full-blown agency within 2 years. Now he pumps out free guides for budding consultants over at SEOcheatguides.com.

What do you sell and how much do you charge?

I sell local digital marketing services to small to medium size businesses. We focus on specific niches and understand their business well, this allows us to bring them smart marketing investments that will provide ROI and make sense for their business. We typically bill between 8-15k per year per client.

Many low-ticket clients or a few high-end clients, and why?

I started my digital marketing business as a side hustle back in 2010 right after selling my health care business to a public company. As part of the deal I had to work for them for a vesting period. I didn’t want to be dependent on one or two large marketing clients paying me high fees as I would not be able to accommodate their need for my personal attention. I wanted to create a business that could be managed by process with very little requirement from me other than the creation of the system. 

Because of my personal situation I opted for many low ticket clients to provide a steady and predictable cash flow business.

Would you do the same thing if you started over? What do you recommend for others?

If I were starting over today with the same situation I would go in the same direction but I would hyper focus on a single niche quicker.

What’s currently your best source/method for landing new clients?

I love using cold outreach. It is the easiest and most predictable way to generate a high volume of quality leads daily. Once you set it up properly it is really powerful.

Outsource or nah?

I use a lot of outsourcing in my business, but I make sure before I hand off work that we have a detailed process map in place explaining step-by-step how to accomplish the task. This cuts down on training time, quality control is a non-issue, and we can scale up or down as needed as tasks are easy to hand off. 

Bonus: What was the most dramatic ROI you’ve gotten a client?

We built a sales funnel for a health and wellness company that had chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists.

We built out a women’s health program that generated between $750-$1000 per patient for their core offering, and people that opted out of the core were pitched a boot-camp option at $99 a month.

Our cost per client was $6.48

This was a massively successful campaign for the client and it scaled to a multi-city program that we ran for them for 12 months. 

We generated nearly 103k from this client over the year based purely on % of revenue generated.

Enter Chris Winters

I met Chris recently online via an introduction. I didn’t really know much about him at all, but was blown away by his business model and the type of stuff he was achieving. I knew I had to include him here because his agency’s approach is so different and doesn’t really even apply to this question- it thinks OUTSIDE the box. His Facebook here.

What do you sell and how much do you charge?

I sell live, targeted phone call leads to local businesses and depending on the niche we charge anywhere from $20 on up to $110 per call. Whether they close the deal or not- doesn’t matter. It’s like Pay Per Click, only it’s Pay Per Call.

Many low-ticket clients or a few high-end clients, and why?

Well I’d rather not have any clients at all, and so I’ve built my business around having to deal with them the least amount possible…So we have clients that pay us per call.. and we manage over 400 of those clients, as automated as you can possibly manage it. Think about how Google manages AdWords clients – it’s pretty hard to get a hold of anybody, right?…

We do not let clients come in who need a lot of hand holding, because that’s not the kind of business we’re in. We’re in the business of delivering leads, so there’s no emergency phone calls about SEO or not getting converted properly…none of that. What we do is purely deliver what clients and live locally, which is just live phone calls… We do not have a phone support system with our clients, it’s purely email- we use ZenDesk..

Would you do the same thing if you started over? What do you recommend for others?

The very first thing I would recommend others to do is to realize that your job as a business owner is to create systems, create jobs, and then create value to your customers. Your job description and what you do when you start out should not be: “I’m going to be in the trenches working the business.”… What that is… is a solopreneur. And a soloproneuer is nothing more than someone who works sixty, eighty, ninety hours a week, and usually gets paid less than when they were working for someone else… You wear many different hats, and you are not of the mindset that you’re going to create what I call your “dream team”… You need exactly that for your business, and that process of hiring and vetting people… that should never end.

You have to create the best training system you can possibly imagine for each one of your positions. It needs to be check and balance step by step and it needs to have tests. And then you need to constantly test your employees every week…I guarantee you if you give them 2 hours of work and 8 hours to do it, they’ll fill up that 8 hours. You’ve got to create KPIs… and you’ve got to test them on a regular basis…

What’s currently your best source/method for landing new clients?

We have several…I’ll share one that takes very little training…First we have our leads ready and prepared…let’s say we want to work with a local plumber.

We will find the top 3 local plumbers that really know how to run their business well…so when a lead comes in from one of our lead-gen sites, it’s a customer, a prospect, and they say, “hey, I got a leaky faucet, my basement, I have a drain, there’s a drain problem in it, and it’s flooding I need somebody to get here right away.”

Now, [we] call the plumber, the number one plumber we wanna do business with…We get in there and we say, “Hey this is so and so, we specialize in plumber leads…we have a live customer right now that needs their work done right away. Do you have time right now to call this customer?” Now you have their attention, we have their email address usually by this point they’re asking how do we get more leads? This method works 100% of the time.

Outsource or nah?

I hire my own staff… but we do outsource smaller projects to UpWork and stuff like this, but for our core team of employees, no we don’t outsource, we train.

Bonus: Audio Recording

Chris sent me his answers above via an audio recording. The full clip is 15 minutes long and includes a LOT more value than what I cherry-picked above. Feel free to listen to it below, or skip to 11:07 for his answers to the Bonus Questions.


My Concluding Thoughts

Over the years I’ve jumped around from selling advice, SEO, PPC, Traffic, and Leads. I want to point out some similarities between the above profiles and how I naturally made this shift as well:

  • Notice how none of them said “We sell SEO/PPC”. They focused on ROI or spoke in terms of what the client ultimately wants: traffic/rankings/leads. This is an indication of higher-level thinking and a mindset that focuses on results for the client, which differentiates them from other typical agencies or freelancers that only sell the features and not the benefit. Which leads to…
  • How they all incorporated referrals into their strategy. Delivering results consistently will lead to these business owners referring their buddies and colleagues to you. This was/is typical of massive offline marketing agencies too that pitch monster companies- it all comes down to word of mouth at this level.
  • Outsourcing/delegating is used heavily or quickly for getting things off their plate with extreme quality assurance. This is all in order to directly go back and focus on gaining new business. Systems are crucial for this.

The main question here was about the size of the retainers and whether it’s worth it to go for more low-ticket clients or fewer high-ticket clients. You can see a trend of how over time, when systems go in place, quality goes up, confidence goes up, and so does the client size. This is a lot more common and natural with inbound leads from referrals, but you don’t have to wait.

I’m a huge advocate of outbound prospecting in order to fill the top of your pipeline, and when I started I definitely was quoting higher than I “should have”. And it worked.

So I think the real answer is: it’s not about the economics of dealing with more or less clients. It’s about finding the right type of clients that fit your well-oiled systems, and deliver exceptional results so you can charge based on value.  And while you’re at it, why not focus on doing that for bigger clients?

  • 5 years ago

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