How to be proactive when a long-standing client/editor has left the building

by Rachel Smith
06 October 2017

The other day, I was talking with a friend about something we’d both read on a social media platform.

It was a post by a content producer whose client had left the company, but not passed her name onto the new person in the role – and how this common practice makes it just so much harder for freelancers to stay afloat and keep the work rolling.

Personally, the post had resonated with me because I’ve been there too many times. “I get her frustration,” I said. “It sucks when you’ve put in all this work to get to know a magazine or a client’s brand and then you’re left high and dry when your contact leaves.”

“True,” said my friend, “but I found it a bit of a whine. Because isn’t it just up to you completely, as a freelancer, to make your own opportunities and be bloody proactive, no matter what happens to long-standing clients or editors? They’re always moving on – you have to be the one saying, ‘Yoohoo, here I am’ to the person who probably doesn’t yet know how awesome you are.”

On reflection, he was right. In a perfect world, sure – departing editors and clients would always talk you up to the person taking their role, who would promptly fall madly in love with your work and send great commissions your way forevermore. But it’s not a perfect world and no one knows what goes on behind the boardroom door. Maybe your former client or editor was pushed and wasn’t feeling super charitable (‘Hey, I got the boot, but no biggie – let me help you out with a shiny list of all the reliable freelancers I’ve built relationships with over the past 10 years!’). Or maybe they left on good terms, but the person taking over their role had their own black book of freelancers and no intention of using someone he/she didn’t know.

Or perhaps the departing client or editor passed your name on, but the new person doesn’t connect with you – for a multitude of reasons you can only speculate about.

Which is where being proactive (and maybe even a little bit pushy) is important. This is your livelihood, after all. You KNOW this brand / magazine / website / gig inside out and upside down. You’re an ASSET to the new person in that role, dammit. And it’s up to no one but you to make them aware of it.

I asked my friend what he would do in this situation.

“I’d find out the email or phone number of the new person in the role, make contact the week after they start, welcome them and let them know I worked extensively with their predecessor,” he said. “I’d then offer to pop in for a quick coffee meeting and bring at least five new story ideas with me. And then I’d make a date and go in and meet that person and pitch the heck out of them so they had no alternative but to hire me.”

How many of us do this? How many of us would leave it, put it in the too-hard basket, or maybe just shrug and hope the departing editor/client landed in a great new role with a heap of budget and kept you on speed-dial? And while that would be great, and you should also stay in touch with departing editors/clients – you also need to tap the new contact at the same time. A contact that may just feel a bit at sea in a new role and might welcome an overture from someone who knows the lie of the land.

And you never know – with a little luck, a situation that you were freaking out about could possible result in a great new connection and heaps more work coming your way.

How proactive are you in introducing yourself and pitching to new clients/editors? Is this something you do as a matter of course?

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
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3 responses on "How to be proactive when a long-standing client/editor has left the building"

  1. Adeline Teoh says:

    I really think it depends on circumstances. I’ve definitely seen editors go on to other publications and they don’t pass on freelancers’ contact details because they want these people to work with them at their new place (somewhat selfish, I know).

    And the new editor could well be averse to previous freelancers because they’ve been brought in to shake things up and change the tone of the publication, for example. (Or they could have a new team of staff writers on hand and don’t need freelancers any more.)

    I would always just ask the question: are you looking for freelancers? Then step forward and highlight your intimate knowledge of the publication if the answer is ‘yes’.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Agree, Adeline – often the editor wants to take you with them and doesn’t want to share for that reason! We’ve written about that before, too. (Nice if it happens.)

  2. John Burfitt says:

    Another great post, Rachel. I love the points raised by your very wise friend here about the need to be proactive. As I am now into my second decade of freelancing, I have been in this situation many times. I’ve always felt it is my responsibility to get to know the new editor, reach out to offer my services, and as I have worked on the title longer than them, actually attempt to assist them settle into the new role by offering a long list of pitch ideas that gives them an idea of where my strengths are and concepts that might help them get their heads around the job they have ahead. This has worked for me 95% of the time as I have seen editors / commissioning producers come and go, and replaced by new teams – who I have ultimately made new relationships with. Anyone who thinks their contact book is static will soon be in for a rude shock.

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