First, Don't Take it Personally
It happens to the best of us. Contracts end, customers disappear, clients move on without so much as a “thank you.” And usually (hopefully!) it has nothing to do with the quality of your work.
It's a fact of life for freelancers: Clients come and go. That said, I know what you're thinking: “Sure, little clients come and go, but I just lost the big one, my friend. Now it feels like the ship is sinking. I need to plug this hole ASAP.”
When you're self-employed, the setback can actually be an opportunity for something bigger — really!
Budget cuts, poor communication, a change in leadership—the reason doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, losing any client is a potential crisis. It's a blow to your ego and your bank account. But in business, every setback is also an opportunity for growth. Here's how to make the best of this bad situation.
Keep Your Cool and Leave on a Positive Note
Step one: Take a deep breath. Losing a big client can cause a shock to your system. Before you begin to assess the damage and say something you might regret, make sure that you have your emotions under control.
Step two: Take stock of the situation and see if you can reverse it. Is there anything you can do to win the client back? Maybe you can discount your fee. Maybe a mea culpa of some sort may help. Can you call in a favor? Can you throw yourself on the mercy of the court? You never know what might work, especially if you have worked together for a while.
If repairing the situation is not possible, then go to
Step three: Evaluate your contract. Make sure that all the work you have promised to do has been completed. See if there is any clause that would prevent them from an early termination. Speak with a lawyer and see if they are in breach – if so, you may be owed for the rest of the contract price.
If not, return any equipment or supplies that belong to the client, and submit a final invoice.
Step four: Be grateful. Thank your client for giving you this opportunity. Even if the client is rude or confrontational, resist the urge to argue or backbite. You have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by acting unprofessionally. As a solopreneur, your work is the only thing that matters. Do good work, stand behind it, and your reputation will remain strong. You never know, you may impress them so much that they may come back some day.
If the split is amicable, then don't be afraid to ask for a referral, and a reason. Do everything in your power to leave the door open for future work. You might even consider offering the client a “returning customer discount.”
Make Yourself Available
Once you realize that it really is over, you then need to go about replacing that lost income as soon as possible. Like RIGHT NOW.
Smart solopreneurs never stop marketing their services. You need to be maintaining your network even when your dance card is full. And now it's time to put that network to work! Contact past clients and business partners. Make it known that you are available for projects. If they ask about your recent work, be honest, but remember: no one wants to hear a sob story. No need to tell a potential customer anything that might make them think twice about your work, your personality, or your relationships with former clients.
Do the Hustle
Losing a big client is usually a big deal and it needs to be treated as such. Work doubly hard in your marketing. Cold call if necessary. Try a new marketing gambit. Network at LinkedIn. Whatever the case, get out there and give yourself a deadline for replacing the lost cash cow. Deadlines focus efforts.
Review the Situation
Finally, although you shouldn't dwell too much on the past, it's important to be honest. Ask yourself: Is there anything you could have done differently? What lessons have you learned and how will you apply them? What's the next step?
Freelancers rarely have time to reflect on the direction that their business is heading (they're usually too busy working in their business to work on their business), so treat this as an opportunity to get a clear, big-picture view. There's no better time than the present to make adjustments.
Have you lost a big client? What did you do? Let us know in the comments below.