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How to regroup and rebound after losing a major client

Lauren Bonk's Layout avatar

How many times a week does a freelancer hear or read the phrase “feast or famine?” Other than “do what you love,” it’s probably the most commonly-uttered cliche out there in our line of work, whether you’re a designer, a developer, a writer, or a freelance basket weaver.

We all know the cliche about cliches, though, right? They’re rooted in truth.

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The truth for me has been that, for the past few years, I’ve been skating the line between both “feast” and “famine” and living a life of “regularly-scheduled, appropriately satisfying meals.” I’ve had 2-3 indefinite monthly contracts that pay me at the same time every month, giving me peace of mind and a feeling of financial stability. I was thinking, “Feast or famine? Come on, you’re just not doing it right.”

I thought that right up until one of my biggest, longest-standing clients changed direction in their content marketing plan and terminated our contract.

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Now, while the parting of ways was gracious and pleasant and perfectly followed the termination clause in our contract, it was still a rude awakening for me, in a lot of ways.

First, of course, the money. The cold fact that one of the checks I depended on every month would no longer be showing up.

Second, the realization that I’d gotten way too comfortable as a freelancer. I’d been content in my workload, unconcerned about marketing, and sitting on a half-assed website for almost three years because I hadn’t had a huge need to send anyone there.

With the loss of this client, I realized that, no, I am not an exception. I am a freelancer, and a freelancer needs an active plan at all times. So, what are the next steps when all you can think of is, “What do I do now?”

Regroup and rebound

Remember, you’re good at what you do. You’ve got connections, you’ve got a portfolio, and now you’ve got a new mission: Avoid the famine.

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Now, I know it might be tempting at this point to run out into the streets screaming “HIRE ME, PLEASE,” but it’s important to start from the ground up…minus the screaming. Before you take any steps further in looking for new clients, I highly recommend that you:

Evaluate your money situation

One of the scariest parts of losing a major freelance client is the financial uncertainty. Will you be able to pay the rent next month, or make the monthly payment on your laptop? The best way to deal with that uncertainty is to remove the “un” from it. Log into your bank accounts and assess the situation. Do you have any savings stockpiled? Are all of your bills paid for the month? You might find that you’re not in as desperate a situation as you thought.

If you haven’t done so already, write down each monthly expense you have, being sure to account for things that aren’t necessarily bills, like groceries and gas (I particularly love the free, printable “Bill Pay Checklist” from Day Designer). From this point, you can decide whether or not you need to start cutting out monthly luxuries or subscriptions in order to break even.

Evaluate your profile

Money’s important, sure, but you can’t make any money if you can’t pull in any new clients, right? Once you’ve got your financial ducks in a row (even if it’s a hungry, terrified row), it’s time to take a peek at your professional profile. When you hand someone a business card or reply to an online ad, you want to send those prospects to a streamlined, pleasing hub that effectively communicates you. Now, this can mean your website, your social media accounts…anything that puts you and your business out in a public forum.

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Visit your website as though you’re a prospective client. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does your homepage effectively communicate what it is that you do?
  • Does it accurately capture your personality?
  • Is it easy to find your services and navigate your portfolio?
  • Do you even have an online portfolio?

Changing all of these answers to “yes” will turn you into a much more desirable hire.

The same goes for your social media profiles.

  • Is all of your information up-to-date as far as services go, and is it easy to get to your website?
  • Are you sharing content that is consistent with your brand and relevant to your industry?
  • Are you active in industry-related forums and do you use social media to interact with key players in your industry?

You might not be able to tackle all of your website problems quickly, especially if you simply need a new one. In that case, get your website to a “passable” state and make solid, time-bound plans to build (or hire someone to build) a new one.

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Put yourself out there

Now that your money is on lockdown and your professional presence is updated, it’s time to hustle. I recommend a combination of online and in-person marketing, especially if your initial financial evaluation spelled out t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Work the market

The internet is a fantastic resource for new gigs. Job boards, freelance marketplaces, forums, and even Facebook groups are a great way to apply for jobs, post your portfolio, and collaborate with other freelancers on projects. Plus, you can always dust off your digital marketing tricks to find new clients.

Get visible

Sometimes the key to new clients is to simply put your work in front of them. Submitting your work to a niche publication or, if you’ve got a knack for writing, submitting an industry-related piece to a popular online outlet will show off your knowledge, personality, and expertise.

Get out of the house

While the world at large is a big place with lots of job possibilities, you might be surprised at the local need for your services. Look for local entrepreneurial or business-related meetups, check with your Chamber of Commerce for networking events, and start mingling. Many small business owners end up shelling out big bucks for large-scale companies, simply because they don’t realize they have a personable, local solution.

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Look to what you love

Losing a client might seem like a bad thing, but…alright, who am I kidding? It’s not great. We’re freelancers, though, and we roll with the punches. We also learn to grow from setbacks, and this is one of those times that can provide some serious growth.

Take this recently-acquired downtime and turn it into something creative. Learn a new skill to make yourself more hirable, read a book about business budgeting, start a side-project that nurtures your creativity. Who knows? You might be able to productize that side-project and turn it into passive income later on, or add it to your portfolio and use it to draw in new clients.

This is also a great time for a little soul-searching. Are you still doing what you love? Are there certain elements of your trade that have been neglected? One of the most beautiful parts of freelancing is the creative freedom, but years of work have a tendency to skew your vision toward financial gain over creative excellence. It might be time to go back to your roots and see how they fit into your current business model.

If you can find a silver lining to pull out of this less-than-stellar situation, you’ll be able to use it to build a more successful future for yourself.

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