Today, I lost one of my biggest clients.
This is the first time I’m losing such a huge chunk of income at one go. I don’t know how to deal with it. I have an influx of so many emotions—fear, anxiety, and doubts.
Has this ever happened to you? How do you deal with it?
Dear Acutely Anxious,
Yes, this has happened to me—a number of times. Any freelancer who tells you it hasn’t happened to them is either lying or hasn’t been freelancing all that long.
It happens. It sucks.
Time to get to work.
Nothing I write here will (necessarily) help you get that client back, but it should set you up to avoid churn in the future and insulate you from the feelings of anxiety and self-doubt that go with it.
First things, first: take a step back to examine why you lost your biggest client.
- Was it the quality of the content?
- Did they shift focus to a different channel?
- Are they reducing their budget across the board?
- Did you hit deadlines and communicate proactively?
Separate your answers by the factors that you can control and the factors that you can’t.
Factors you can control
What changes do you need to make to your offering and workflow to keep clients happy and ensure everyone is on the same page?
I’ve never talked to a freelancer who, at some point or multiple points in their journey, has fallen into the all-too-familiar traps we’ve all faced: biting off more than we can chew, falling behind on client deliverables, turning around subpar work, coasting along with “easy” clients, letting questions and feedback fall through the cracks with a lack of true project management… I’ll stop there, but you get the picture.
Fixing these issues is highly situational, but there is one thing I nearly always recommend: look for a relatively low-lift way to add value to your client projects outside the actual Scope of Work to become irreplaceable.
Maybe it’s some additional SEO research.
Maybe it’s reading about your client’s industry for 20 minutes each week so you can come to the check-in calls with ideas.
Maybe it’s creating a template.
Maybe it’s taking on staging in their CMS.
Whatever they turn out to be, these small value-adds can take you from “just a writer” to “integral marketing partner.” It also means, over time, you can expand your offering to the strategic rather than just the tactical: identifying SMEs, owning the editorial calendar, running case study interviews, providing keyword gap analysis, and so on.
Short-term, it’s about retention—but the welcome side effect is that you’ll be able to increase your prices and land even better clients down the line.
For factors you can’t control: are you sure about that?
If your client’s impetus for canceling the project was cost-cutting measures or a strategic shift to a different channel, it might seem like you were SOL from the get-go.
Maybe you couldn’t have made much of a difference with this particular client, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it into account as you continue to build your freelance business.
If the reasoning was budget-related, look at the size, stage, and industry of your ex-client.
Do your other clients look uncomfortably similar? It may be time to explore biz dev options with more established companies, companies in varied industries, or companies that are actively adding marketing headcount. (Hint: LinkedIn Sales Navigator and its host of filters can be helpful on this front.)
If it was more about a strategic marketing shift, spend time digging into whether it’s worth shifting your own services, too—asking both current and potential clients about their marketing mix should be surprisingly insightful.
Keep your pipeline full.
Spend at least a few hours each week on biz dev, whatever that looks like to you: participating in community discussions, jumping on networking calls, reaching out to potential partners, building your social presence, applying to gigs on job boards, asking current clients for referrals, and so on.
If you’re feeling unmoored by losing one client, it probably means you need to expand your client base.
Lay the groundwork now so that, a few months from now, losing a client is an inconvenience instead of a disaster.
I’m gonna paraphrase Jack Johnson here:
Losing hope is easy
When your only client is gone
And every time you look around
Well it all, it all just seems to change
Outside of biz dev, there are a few simple (but not easy) financial steps you can take to avoid feeling like everything changes every time your client base shifts: building an emergency fund, giving yourself regular pay checks from a business account, insisting on contracts with thirty-day cancellation clauses, and so on.
We don’t have time for me to get into the weeds on this, but my partner wrote all about it here.
Finally, don’t panic. There will be more work.
It just might look a little different than it did.