How to handle the loss of a major client

Regular work with a reliable client is the holy grail of freelancing. So if you lose that, it’s pretty devastating. I’ve been self-employed for less than 18 months and I’ve already managed to find, and then lose regular work.

I’ve wanted to write about this pretty much as soon as it happened but didn’t because I didn’t have anything actually useful to say. In these emails, I want to give the full picture of what self-employment is like – including the downs. But I also want to be constructive. So any time there’s a low, I want to talk about it in a way that someone else could draw a lesson from it.

Anyway, I think enough time has passed now and I feel like I’ve bounced back sufficiently to give some tips for handling the loss of a major client. Or at the very least, here’s what I did when it happened to me.

Run the numbers

It will be no surprise by now that my first point is a money one. You need to know how big that financial hole is you need to now plug. Assuming your books are in a reasonable shape, this should be straightforward. Just go back over your accounts and see how much you were billing each month from that company. Do this straight away, don’t bury your head in the sand about it.

Take time to think

Just like being made redundant, losing a big client was a shock. If anything, it was maybe worse? When I was made redundant I knew that I wanted to go freelance, but when this happened it dented my confidence in my ability to stay freelance.

You have to do whatever it takes to build that confidence back up. As I said at the beginning of this email, it took a while for me to write about this, which was partly to do with the fact I needed the space to process what had happened. There’s no shame in needing a moment’s pause when something unexpected happens in your career.  

Be real about what actually happened  

You need to ask yourself the tough questions of what went wrong. Basically – why did this happen? In my case, the company ended up hiring a full-time member of staff so the work I was doing disappeared. But that’s not to say there weren’t lessons for me as well.

I’m a big believer in the idea that if something doesn’t work out, it wasn’t right for both parties. Even if one doesn’t know it yet. But I don’t use that as an excuse to shrug something off, because I think it’s just as important to figure out why it wasn’t right for you, too.

Use it as an opportunity

There are two ways of looking at what’s happened when you lose a big client. One is the raw figure of the financial hit you’re taking each month. The other is all the time you’ve just got back to either launch that project you’ve been meaning to for ages or land a new, better-paid gig. Make that lemonade!