Does your business serve customers or cater to clients? While there’s a lot of overlap between the two, knowing where your business favours one over the other can help you predict their needs and grow your business more effectively.

Find out more about the customer/client distinction and what it means when advertising your business. Discover:

  • What’s the difference between a customer and a client?
  • Types of businesses that have customers
  • Types of businesses that have clients
  • Does the difference matter?
  • How to successfully market your business to each
  • How to save time for your customers (or clients) with Countingup

What’s the difference between a customer and a client?

As you’re thinking of ways to advertise your business and grow your profits, do you think about having customers or clients?

You probably already think that there are many similarities between the two: both buy goods or services from businesses. While this is technically correct, there is often a slight difference in the quality of this business relationship and what businesses deliver to customers versus clients.

Customer’ implies a more distant relationship: customers are one of many, buying a standard or single product offered by a business. Customers don’t usually work with businesses to deliver what they want and typically have a shorter interaction with businesses on this basis.

Client’ implies a closer relationship: clients work with businesses over a longer period, usually to deliver something more complex, bespoke, and unique to their needs. For this reason, client relationships can be time-consuming but lucrative.

Types of businesses that have customers

If you’re in one of the following industries or sectors, you’re more likely to have customers:

  • Hospitality: cafés, bars, restaurants, etc.
  • Retail: physical and online shops 
  • Crafters and artists making prints, trinkets, jewellery, gifts, etc.
  • Gardners or pet groomers
  • Trade workers: electricians, plumbers, joiners, etc.
  • Childminders

In general, these types of businesses aim to have as many customers as possible, delivering standardised goods and services. 

Types of businesses that have clients

If you’re in one of the following industries or sectors, you’re more likely to have clients:

  • Web or graphic designers
  • Software engineers
  • Consultants
  • Artists who take commissions
  • Financial advisors
  • Writers

While these types of businesses still aim to have as many customers as possible, they are constrained by their clients’ more complex needs. As a result, these types of businesses usually work with fewer total people but charge more per project.

Does the difference matter?

It may be tempting to get caught up in labels, however, in reality, the line between ‘customer’ and ‘client’ is very faint and not always the most meaningful for businesses.

For example, if you’re a trade worker or run a café/restaurant, you may find that certain customers have additional requirements (like a bespoke home renovation idea or nutritional needs). And so, you may find your business strays into serving something more resembling a ‘client’ at times.

Similarly, if you’re a web designer or consultant, you may have a routine offering for clients where the product or outcome is almost always the same. In this sense, their needs aren’t unique and may be considered closer to customers.

Overall, whether you decide to call the people who purchase your goods or services ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ is up to you. People understand both terms in either context, so you shouldn’t worry about getting the two mixed up.

How to successfully market your business to each

Wherever your business lies on the customer-client spectrum, knowing how to successfully market your business is essential. Luckily, there’s a lot of overlap to achieve this, regardless of whether you have customers or clients. 

As you’re first planning a marketing strategy, you’ll need to know more about your target market. This is the portion of people who are more likely to buy your business and its offers. This research will help you outline profiles of customers’ (or clients’) needs and how you can communicate your value when meeting them.

Once you’ve got this information, it’s time to consider the best way to market to them – specifically how your marketing campaign strategy utilises your target market information to stand out above your competition. Pay particular attention to how you can integrate how your business is valuable and effective in meeting their needs/wants and where your messages are best placed for them to see/hear.

Afterwards, your business can benefit all the more from closing the feedback loop and researching more about your target market directly from your previous customers. Find out more about feedback methods you can use in our guide Customer feedback techniques for business start-ups

If you’re starting out as a freelancer, we’ve got more industry-specific guides also available:

How to save time for your customers (or clients) with Countingup

Anticipating your target market’s needs and wants takes time to plan and research. That’s why thousands of UK business owners use the Countingup app to save time on their financial admin and focus on growing their business. 

Countingup is the business current account and accounting software in one app. It automates time-consuming bookkeeping admin for self-employed people across the UK.

Countingup comes with automated invoicing tools so you can send timely and professional-looking invoices easily, and can track when they’re paid. Countingup also offers a smart expense categorisation system and a receipt capture feature so you can keep on top of your business’ finances even when on the go. 

Gain time back for customer research or client projects. Find out more here and sign up for free today.