One balmy day in March, I got a panicked call from a colleague. Turns out she had lost four good, retainer-paying clients since the start of year. Three of them left in the same month.
Needless to say, she was freaking out.
None of these clients left because her service was bad. The reasons varied: One brought her services in-house. One client was closing up shop. Another was pooling company talents after a merge and wanted to review again in six months.
Still, even if it’s not your fault, losing clients can make you panic. It’s never fun to begin with, plus there’s the added stress of things like, you know, paying the rent and whatnot.
That’s why I’m going to share a secret with you.
At least four times in my career, I have lost my best client. And when I say my best client, I mean a client who was spending more than the next three best clients combined.
I don’t panic about it now. Here’s why: Every year that I’ve been out on my own (save for one), I’ve always made more than previous years. And even the exception was within 5% of my peak.
In short, I’ve always managed to keep the opportunities rolling in. Whenever a “good” client left, there were always two to three more ready to step up and take their place. So I thanked those good clients for the time we spent together, made a note to check in with them in six months, and moved on.
I’m betting you would love to be that nonchalant. (OK, full honesty here, I do panic … but for all of three minutes. See below.) It’s hard work to be in a place where you can afford (literally) to be that carefree. Here’s what you have to do:
- Always be working on your “funnel.” Always set aside some time each week to drum up new business. Even if this just means taking a referral partner to lunch or asking a current client for a recommendation. Getting new work takes time, so you need to start well before you lose any business.
- Leverage the clients you have. This is technically part of working on your funnel, but it deserves its own bullet point. Can you sell more to existing clients? Can you get a warm introduction from them? Or maybe a testimonial? Always find ways to use your network to grow your business.
- Don’t burn bridges. There have been plenty of times when someone I’ve worked with leaves for a new company. If we’ve left things on a good note, they will use me again. Be professional, and it will pay off.
- Have a money buffer. I keep roughly two months of salary in my bank account with a big “DO NOT TOUCH” sign on it. (Not literally. What would that even mean?) There are always flush months and hungry months, and it’s good to know that you have the money saved to get you through the lean times.
- Have a backup plan. No, don’t literally plan on bailing (not yet). This is strictly psychological: I’ve noticed that people tend to calm down and think through their tough times more rationally if they know, deep down, that they have a Plan B. So formulate your backup plan. Then tell yourself, “OK, if this doesn’t work out in three months, I know I can fall back on this!” You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to grow your business when you don’t have that “do-or-die” mentality holding you back.
- Be positive, but take the emotion out. Really, all of the above points boil down to these two: Keep a positive attitude and don’t make rash decisions based on your emotions. Indeed, losing business means some extra time to reflect and make your business even better.
And if you lose that prime client, go ahead and panic, just a little. Complain to a friend. Crack open a bottle of wine and, in private, rant about the client. Cry about your future prospects. Wonder out loud if you’ve chosen the right career path.
After you’re done, you will have purged your system. You’ll feel better, and then you can get back to the work of rebuilding your book of business.
You can totally do it. I’ve done it four times and counting.
Brandon Towl is an experienced copywriter and content specialist living in St. Louis, MO. His main job is writing regular content for a number of industries and advising on all matters related to marketing; his passion, however, is providing workshops for writers and freelancers so they can grow their business. More information about these workshops and his company can be found at www.wordshaveimpact.com.