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How Do You Manage Clients Who Are In The Same Industry?

March 22, 2021

By: Kyle Van Deusen

Filed Under: ,

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One day you’re going to get a request from one of your clients’ competitors to work with them. As big as the online world can sometimes feel, it’s not actually that big, and more often than not, you’ll have competing businesses knocking at your digital door. 

Why does this happen?

Easy. If you’ve done exceptional work for one of your clients and their competitor sees how well you’ve either boosted their online presence or increased their visibility in their niche, then they’re going to want a piece of that action. 

So they come to you and enquire about if they can work with you too. 

They’ve seen the great work you did for their competitor and they want you to do the same for them. 

This is a bit awkward, isn’t it? It’s kind of like being flirted with, and your partner is standing right there next to you.

But this isn’t a romantic relationship: it’s business. So how do you handle working with clients who are in the same industry?

Should you work with multiple clients in the same industry? 

Have any of your clients been difficult when you’ve decided to work with another company within their industry?

For example, let’s say one of your biggest clients is in the home interior design industry. 

They’re your only client in that industry. 

They hear one of their competitors has reached out to hire you. They tell you that there will be a conflict of interest if you take on another client in the home design industry - and they’re double-guessing their future with you. 

This scenario would probably have you scratching your head. Why would there be conflict? 

You have other clients who work in the same sector, so why would they have an issue with one of their competitors hiring you?

What do you do in this situation? How do you handle clients that are competitors?

Simple, you offer your client exclusivity - for a price. 

What is exclusivity?

If your client is adamant that they want to be the only company in their niche that you work with, you can offer them an exclusivity package. 

This is a package where you agree to only work with their company in that particular industry, but they have to pay for that exclusivity.

Think of it this way: if you agree not to do business with their eager competitor and continue to work just with them without an exclusivity fee, then you’re essentially losing out on revenue from a client you just lost. But, if you charge an extra fee, then you’re at least getting some extra money out of the deal - and covering that lost revenue you would have made from having another client. 

If your client doesn’t want to pay for exclusivity, then they’ll have to come to terms with you working with other clients in their industry who are waiting for your fantastic work. 

I personally feel that if your clients want you to turn down jobs from their competitors, they should definitely pay you for that exclusivity. 

Wait - what if you end up competing against yourself?

OK, so say you’ve decided to go ahead and service two clients in the same industry/area - what are the issues you can run into? 

Competing against yourself is one of the main concerns for managing clients in the same industry, especially if you work mainly in SEO services or PPC ads. 

If you’re working hard to optimize a client’s website to improve their SEO and then have to do that for another company in the same industry, there might be some problems. You could end up clashing for rankings or have issues when it comes to ranking high on certain keywords. 

For PPC, this can be a real issue. This is particularly true if you’ve got two companies fighting in the same industry for the same target audience - especially if they’re working in the same geographical location. 

If one company has a slightly different customer persona they’re targeting, then you should be fine, but if they’re the same, then it’s probably a good idea to discuss exclusivity with your client. 

The golden rule: Always inform your clients about any conflict of interest

Your clients might not always realize that a competitor is attempting to work with you. It’s easy to forget how much of a big deal it can be to hire a web designer. You’re the agency a business has put a whole lot of trust into - and a whole lot of confidential information too. 

If you notice that one of your clients’ competitors is trying to work with you, it’s always a good idea to call your first client and talk to them about it. Let them know what’s happening and ask them if it would be a conflict of interest if you were to accept their competitor as a new client.

With your already-established client, you can discuss what services you’d be providing this new potential client with. 

If your new client doesn’t want SEO work done for example and is only interested in newsletters and hosting then your current client might have no issue with you working with them. 

However, some clients might be fine with you working with competitors at the start, but they might not like what they see over time (especially if the competitor ends up doing better than they do). 

Depending on your relationship, they might blame you if their competitors start doing better than them. 

If this happens, you should always communicate clearly with your client to make sure you can help them. Offer them an exclusivity package, and if they accept brilliant, if not, you can continue to work with their competitor with a new understanding between you. 

What not to do when you have clients in the same industry

Clients can get angry and frustrated at you if their competitors are doing better now that they’re working with you. 

They might ask you to stop working with them, or worse, they might ask you not to work as hard on their competitors’ stuff. 

It goes without saying that this is a terrible idea. 

Tanking somebody’s website is out of the question. You should never purposely ruin another client’s business just because your older client wants you to. 

That’s just not playing fair. 

If this ever happens, drop your client and work with their competitor. You never know where that relationship will go, if they’ll do that to someone’s business, what else will they do? You don’t want to ruin the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build up. 

So - that’s my two cents on working with two clients in the same industry! How about you? Have you ever had any awkward encounters with clients looking for exclusivity? It can be a weird situation to be in but hopefully know you know how to handle the situation a bit more. I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Kyle's Headshot
Kyle Van Deusen
@kylevandeusen

Kyle is the co-host of The Admin Bar, the owner of a agency of one called OGAL Web Design and the co-founder of Docket WP. You’ll likely find him trolling The Admin Bar community.

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