Lost a long-term client? How to handle it

by Rachel Smith
20 October 2021

Updated from 2018

No matter how rock-star you are as a freelance journo, editor, copywriter, designer or social media strategist, the day will come when you learn you’ve lost a long-term client.

The news might come by phone. It might be an email. It might just be a gut feeling you get about a client who’s no longer responding to your attempts to get in touch. Regardless of how you get the memo, though, let’s all agree that being dumped – even through no fault of your own – really sucks.

The last time I lost a long-term client was when I was movie reviewing for two mags at the same publishing house, and in the space of several months, lost both gigs. Things were dicey in publishing at that time, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but after ten years with those two gigs, it was a blow – financially and otherwise. It’s not just about saying goodbye to the income, but to a sense of security and a gig you no doubt knew like the back of your hand.

The end of a client relationship can also be very unceremonious for a freelancer. In my case, the editors I’d worked with for years had each written me a warm but brief email. It simply thanked me for all I’d done for the magazine, and explained that due to cost-cutting, a few pages they used to outsource would now be done by staffers. If I’d been an in-house staffer, there probably would’ve been a farewell or at the very least a chance to say goodbye to  the subs and fellow writers I’d worked with for years. But as a freelancer, it’s often a sudden, out-in-the-cold kind of feeling.

So how to get through this scary, destabilising time?

Toughen up

Mean as that sounds, losing a gig here or a client there is the nature of freelancing and while you can wallow for a bit, you don’t have time to do much more than that.

It’s back on the horse and back to pitching and plugging that income gap as soon as you can.

Wangle a referral

If it’s literally a case of ‘you did nothing wrong, we’re just going in a different direction’ maybe there would be an opportunity for this client to refer you onto someone else who might need your services? It’s always worth asking the question and could be an easy way to recoup that lost income.

Similarly, alway see if the client is open to you still working for them here or there. It might be that it’s temporary. It might mean that they’ll come back to you. Try not to burn the bridge even if you’re mad and hurt.

Find the silver lining

There often is one, even though you might not think so at first. In my case, I was able to socialise a lot more in the evenings (all my socialising before then pretty much revolved around film previews and I couldn’t promise they’d be good!). Or I could stay on the couch if I wanted, whereas I used to be out 4-5 nights a week.

The other silver lining was that losing my movie gigs coincided with me thinking about starting a family and movie reviewing isn’t all that family-friendly, given a lot of previews are at night.

Open new doors

For years, my time had been pretty much monopolised by this one gig. Suddenly, I could sink my teeth into longer features, pitch to magazines I’d long wanted to write for, go on heaps of travel famils, which I’d only dabbled in before. I started doing a lot more health writing and travel writing and adored it.

I also approached more digital clients and started to build that side of my business. So ultimately, it was a good thing and I’m glad it happened, because that’s where my business started to take a different shape and offer me a lot more opportunities.

Have you ever lost a long-term client? How did you turn it into a positive?

Rachel Smith

2 responses on "Lost a long-term client? How to handle it"

  1. Petra O'Neill says:

    Personally, losing a client is really difficult. I focus inwards and think that I’ve slipped up, done something wrong, my writing and ideas are no longer up to scratch. It might just be a shift in focus or a downsizing that has brought it about. I’m experiencing it now, someone I have worked for for years. It would be so much easier if they sent me a box of chocolates and a thank you card to say thank you for all your efforts…but we are moving this way now….so sorry we can’t take you with us as much as we would like. You would feel appreciated for the past and could move on on a positive note to the future.

  2. Rachel Smith says:

    It’s so hard to be in your position. I have been, many times. For many companies and clients, ghosting you is easier, I guess.

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