Sooner or later, every freelance writer will get the dreaded phone call or email: Your client’s business is shutting down.
Or they’re restructuring and bringing the work you did for them in house.
Or maybe they just say you’re no longer a “good fit” for them.
No matter the details, the result is the same. You just lost a client.
What do you do now?
1. Don’t panic
While it’s tempting to jump straight to freak-out mode when you find out you’re losing a client, don’t.
Losing a client, especially one you really enjoy working with or who is particularly lucrative, is certainly disappointing. It’s OK to take some time to mourn the loss.
Take an afternoon off and go for a long bike ride or meet up with some friends for happy hour. You’re allowed to be disappointed for a while.
But don’t let the situation drag you down for too long, because you have some important work to do.
2. Review your finances
Take some time to figure out what losing this client means for your business and your finances.
Calculate how much money you typically receive from that client each month or year.
Not every client is equal. If you lose a $200-a-year client, you might just need to sell an extra article this month to stay on track.
But if you’re losing a $20,000-a-year client, you may have to do some major financial reshuffling.
If you need to cut some financial corners in the next few months, evaluate your budget and make a plan to cut non-essentials as needed.
3. Consider your emergency fund
Check your finances to see if you’ll be able to cover your bills in the near future. If not, consider whether you’ll need to tap into your emergency fund.
Most financial planners recommend having an emergency fund with six-months’ worth of savings set aside.
While six months of savings seems quite ambitious and not attainable for many people, many freelancers have some sort of “rainy day fund” to cover unexpected client loss or other situations that may come up.
If you don’t have one, consider setting some money aside each month once you’re back on your feet, to cover just such an event in the future.
4. Get paid
If the client you’re parting ways with still owes you money, be sure to act immediately to get paid. If they’re financially solvent and pay on time, it may be as simple as submitting your final invoice.
But if they’re going out of business, make getting paid your top priority. If a business is filing for bankruptcy, it may not be able to pay all its creditors (including you), so contact the company as soon as possible.
If you’re having a hard time getting paid, a strongly worded letter from an attorney has been known to do the trick to expedite payment. You may have to take the client to small claims court.
However, especially if they’re folding, your client may simply not have the money to pay you. This threat is a good reason never to let a client’s balance build up too high.
5. Evaluate what went wrong
After you’re set up to financially weather your client loss, take some time to figure out what happened. In many cases, losing a client has nothing to do with you or your work. Sometimes clients change their direction on a project, merge with another company, bring work inhouse, or go out of business.
These things happen, and they’re all part of every freelancer’s life. Don’t take them personally.
But, as hard as it is to face, sometimes the reason you lost a client may have to do with you.
Did you miss a deadline? Did you and your client have different expectations? Were they disappointed with your work?
Or, maybe they can’t afford you anymore, and want to replace you with a less-expensive freelancer. If this happens, don’t cut your rates. Instead, find clients willing and able to pay you what you’re worth.
If the reason you parted ways is out of your control, you may just shrug your shoulders and move on.
But if you missed a deadline because you were disorganized, figure out how to get organized and learn how to manage your time so you don’t have the same problem in the future.
Recognize that even if you made a mistake, it’s not the end of your freelance-writing career. Any freelancer who has been in the business for a while has a tale or two of an epic screwup. The key is to learn from these mistakes and avoid making them in the future.
6. Find a replacement client
Once you’ve tended to your immediate financial needs and analyzing the situation, it’s time to look ahead. Make some time to fill your client gap.
Contact editors you’ve worked with in the past and let them know you’re looking for work and have availability.
If you’re looking for work in a hurry, cold-pitching usually isn’t the best way to go. It’s usually more efficient to reach out to the tried-and-true clients you’ve already worked with in the past and see if they have more work for you.
But if you do end up with time to seek out brand-new clients, send out a few letters of introduction and pitches to potential clients to work on forming new connections.
7. Plan for the future
As hard as it is to recover from losing one client, once you’re back to business, it’s important to start preparing yourself for the next one you’ll lose.
It’s not fun to think about, but it will happen again.
After you’ve weathered your first client loss, make a plan for the future to be even more prepared for a similar situation. You might bulk up your emergency fund or further diversify your income streams.
If one client makes up 80 percent of your income, losing them is a huge blow. Many freelancers prefer to have at least three or four key clients so the loss of any one of them won’t be as devastating.
Every freelancer has a different strategy to prepare for the future, but now is a good time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work when you lost a client — and how you can prepare best for the future.
Freelance writers, have you ever lost a major client? How did you adjust?