When Disaster Strikes: What to Do When You Lose an Anchor Client

Jennifer Gregory is secretary of ASJA and Membership chair. Her freelance clients include IBM, Adobe, Samsung, AT&T, Verizon, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and American Express. Her work has also been published in Enterpreneur.com, Atlantic.com, Success Magazine and MSN Money. She blogs about freelancing content marketing writing at The Content Marketing Writer. Her recent book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer: How to Find Your Perfect Clients, Make Tons of Money and Build a Business You Love was a #1 new release on Amazon in multiple categories.

Anyone who has freelanced for more than two minutes has lost an anchor client. And even thought I’ve been freelancing for many years, each time it happens, it still jolts me. Thankfully, I have been diligent about distributing my eggs across multiple baskets, and each client makes up less than 10 percent of my income. But when a client leaves, it’s a loss that needs to be replaced.

Many writers lose their anchor clients in January (the start of the calendar year) and also this time of year, in June/July (the beginning/end of fiscal year for many companies). So if this has happened to you, you’re not alone. And here are some tips that I have found to be helpful.

  1. Let yourself feel whatever you want…for a set period of time. I usually give myself 24 hours, maybe 48 at most. We put our hearts and souls into our businesses and our clients often become our friends, so often we have an emotional reaction to the situation. And that’s fine. For me, I find it’s better to just let myself feel whatever I am feeling than fight it. You can feel upset with yourself if you did something wrong. You can feel mad at the universe. You can even be mad at the client. You can be whatever you want. But what you can’t do is panic. It just isn’t helpful. Once you start to panic, then it’s time to move onto the action phase. Sometimes I will move to the action phase and realize I need to come back to step one for a little longer and that’s okay. But don’t get stuck there.
  2. Figure out the numbers. Take a deep breath and sit down with your accounting system. Add up how much income the lost client represents per month. Then figure out how losing that amount affects your budget. Does it mean that you won’t be able to pay your mortgage? Or that you are saving less for retirement? Look at your budget and see if there is anything you can cut in the short term, if you need to. Write down the amount of money that you absolutely have to replace right away. Then write down the amount of money you would like to replace in a reasonable amount of time.
  3. Find a short-term solution. Two effective ways of doing this are:
    • Reach out to current and former clients. People you have already worked with are most likely to hire you quickly. They know you, they like you and you already have all the necessary paperwork. This posttells you how to do it. I have found it most effective to say something like, “I just finished a big project with [insert impressive name if you have one] and have some availability.” It’s true. You did just finish a big project. And even if you don’t have a big brand name to toss out, it still makes you sound like an in-demand writer and not desperate. Even if you got fired by a client, it’s still true – you finished a project.
    • Let your writer friends know what happened and ask for their help. Most writers wait too long to do this because they are embarrassed. But you shouldn’t be. Everyone has been in that situation. So contact your writer friends and let them know you’re looking. Remind your friends of your nichesand experience then ask if they would pass along any leads they run across.  Chances are you’ve helped others in the past; here is where ASJA and other writer’s groups and communities can really have your back. Because each of us knows that it’s only a matter of time before we are the one writing that very same email.
  1. Think about what type of client you are looking for. If the client you lost represented more than 20 percent of your income, then you should be looking for multiple new clients. The next step is to look at your current client list and see what type of client would be a good complement to your list. I personally try to have diversity in agencies vs direct businesses as well as industries to minimize my damage if an industry bottoms out. (Think of the mortgage crisis of 2008.) Now is also a good time to look through your clips to see if you have a developed a new niche to take advantage of, or if you have any double-niche clips you can use. Then write down around five types of clients, such as agency, hospitality technology, insurance, and cloud computing. This is also an opportunity to think about your perfect client so that you can more easily spot clients that are likely to turn into anchor clients.
  2. Make a list of potential clients. Use my Audience First methodto make a list of potential direct clients. If your target is a new agency, then use this post for ideas.
  3. Update your website and LinkedIn profile. Spend some time adding new clips to your website and updating your “About Me” page. This is also a good time to update your Skyword and Contently profiles as well. Then move to LinkedIn. Is your title accurate? Do you have all of your niches listed? Is the list of brands and publications up to date? Do you have any happy clients that you could ask for a recommendation? It’s essential to get your passive marketing up-to-date BEFORE you start marketing, otherwise your material might appear outdated.
  4. Make a plan. Come up with a list of marketing activities that you want to do every day as well as on a weekly basis. Also check out  Holly Bowne’s post on her massive action daily marketing plan and then her follow up post a year later on what happened. (Spoiler alert: she doubled her income!) The trick is outlining your plan in very specific detail: “I am going to send out five Letters of Introduction each day and 25 LOIs a week. Each week I am going to follow up on 10 LOIs that I sent last year and contact at least two former co-workers.”
  5. Get to work. Don’t put it off. Get started on your plan. Figure out the best time of the day to work on marketing and put it on your calendar. Here are a few posts to help you with your marketing efforts:

Yes, it sucks when you lose an anchor client. Yes, it’s scary. Every time it happens, I have several hours of panic. Yes, it’s normal to feel like you are a fraud and are never going to find a new client (if that’s you, read this). But the most important thing to remember is that there are companies and agencies out there looking for writers with your exact personality, strengths, skills and experience. They need you. And it’s your job to find those exact clients.

You can do this. I promise. 

Want more tips and advice from Jennifer on growing and expanding your content marketing career? Check out her new book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer: How to Find Your Perfect Clients, Make Tons of Money and Build a Business You Love.