Losing a client is one of the worst parts of being a freelancer. Keeping clients happy is what you do, so it can come as a shock to learn a client is leaving you, especially when there is no apparent warning.
But there are often subtle signs of discontent, and rumblings of change, long before termination. So here are the main red flags to watch for, and how you can deal with them.
1. Client team changes
Your primary client contact, with whom you have a great rapport and working relationship, leaves for pastures new. Suddenly you’ve got a new person to deal with – one who is keen to impress their new employers, and seeking to mark their new territory. They’ve got big plans, and these might not include you. Especially if they have their freelance contacts from previous jobs, which they will naturally be super keen to bring on board. All it takes is for them to talk up the need for a ‘fresh start’ to those in charge, and you’ve found yourself in a very shaky situation.
What to do
These types of situations are amongst the most common, and the most frustrating. You’re about to be ousted through no fault of your own. It’s political, the client has hired someone new, and is going to have a lot of faith in their opinion, regardless of how this affects you. It’s your job now to try and sway that opinion.
So be proactive. Produce a summary of all your recent achievements and progress to date. Highlight all your successes. Share it not just with your new contact but all those higher up the ladder, especially the ones who hold the purse strings. You need to challenge any perception that there’s someone better than you to do this job.
2. Client Boredom
Your client no longer seems impressed by your work. They’re nit-picking, obsessing over every tiny detail and questioning why you’ve approached the work a certain way. Querying your invoices, and what they are getting out of their investment in you. Sounds familiar?
What to do
Stale relationships can happen if you’ve been with a client for a long time. The problem here is that boredom breeds opportunity – the opportunity for someone else to tempt your client away. You can stave off client boredom by keeping things fresh. So if you start to get ‘those’ type of emails, excite your client with new ideas. Show them just what you’ve achieved, and your suggestions for going forward. Look at them with fresh eyes – treat them like a new client and don’t just do the usual that’s expected of you. If you want more tips on keeping clients happy, check out my previous post on client management.
3. Clients and competitors
Your client has heard beautiful things from an industry contact about another agency. This agency is now, in your client’s eyes, the best thing since sliced bread. They’re researching them online, having informal discussions – and now suddenly you’re going head to head with them in a re-pitch.
What to do
Being asked to re-pitch for an existing client can feel like all the hard built trust and even the relationship has gone out of the window – but it can be a positive thing. It makes you re-evaluate everything you’re doing for them. They become ‘new’ clients again.
Don’t restrict your ideas based on your working knowledge of their actual budgets and operations either – your competitor won’t do that, as they won’t know. The sky is now the limit. Be confident in your results to date and what you’ve achieved. Demonstrate the insight into their business that only you have. Remember - your competitor doesn’t know them as well as you do.
4. Client personality clash
Someone new has joined the management team, and for whatever reason, they don’t like you. They pick apart all your work, and question every penny spent. Your contact may stick up for you, but ultimately it’s management that makes the decisions on where the money is spent, and often, hands are tied.
What to do
Personality clashes are challenging to overcome, simply because you can’t change who you are. But you can change how you work. Could you involve the person concerned more? Could you cc them into your emails, so they get to see just what you’re achieving for them? Don’t assume your direct contact tells management about everything you do, often they don’t – and so the ‘bosses’ never get to see just how great you are, and all the times you go the extra mile.
And if, after all this, the client still leaves, at least you can hold your head high knowing you did everything you could. One last piece of advice – don’t ever burn your bridges. Be super helpful at handover. Always be professional. Because just as it’s common for clients to leave, it’s not uncommon for them to come back later down the line.