After many years, I went on a vacation last week. The trip was great, of course, except for one small detail. About two days before we left for Colorado and the cool mountain breezes, my largest client "changed direction" overnight. My primary contact was laid off and my regular blogging commitments stopped effective immediately.
Not exactly the sort of send off I was hoping for, but not too much out of the norm in the world of freelance.
In this case a new CEO chose to change things up in the company I was working with. In the past I've had clients stop projects when Google updated and hurt their rankings, when they hired someone in-house for content or when they simply changed their mind about a project. It's a tough world sometimes when you're working freelance, and if you haven't been hit dramatically yet - just wait. Your time is coming.
But it's not all doom and gloom. This sort of surprise is simply one you take in stride and weather. After seven or eight years bouncing along with Google updates and the economy, I'm reasonably sure I'll pull out ahead again. How? By doing what works best. Here's what I've done so far:
Took My Trip
The first thing I did is finish up the work I had to finish before I left, and then I went on my trip as planned. Since we're not big spenders and most of the trip was already paid for, I didn't see any reason to cancel it in a panic. The time away also gave me a chance to process the changes and develop a plan. Playing with the kids and hiking in the woods was nice, too.
Send Some Emails
As soon as I got back into town and settled down to work again, I shot off a few emails. I touched base with my remaining contacts at the company that "changed direction" to be sure that my final invoices had arrived and would be paid normally.
I also followed up on some other projects I'd finished recently. Sending these emails has a few purposes. First, I'm helping my client by being sure they don't have any questions or revisions for me on past projects.
At the same time I'm helping myself by letting clients know I have some time opening in my schedule if there are projects I might be able to help with. At the very least, I'm sending a legitimate message that will help me stay near the top of the client's mind for any future projects that come up - hopefully sooner rather than later.
Get Back in Touch
If I've turned down any projects recently, normally due to time constraints, I catch up with that client to see if they have found another writer or if they are still interested in discussing the project since my time has opened up unexpectedly. I didn’t have any of these at the moment, but it’s a good next step.
I also follow up with those clients who talk about a project and then don't follow through. Often they just need a nudge to remember what they had been brainstorming about and get you started with a nice fat deposit and work to keep you busy as you build things back up.
Head Back to the Tried and True Methods
Everyone has different favorites for how to get work. Some people reply to every Craigslist ad. Some hang out on particular webmaster forums. My tried and true methods involve a particular forum and usually a special offer of some kind. I might offer a deal on press releases or blog post packages on the forum.
Because I'm well-known on the forum and have plenty of time and experience there, my deals are usually a good gateway to get some new clients in the door and start some fruitful conversations. I haven't started a new special yet, but it's probably in the works for later this week once I've spent some time there. The trick with forums is to be an active, respected member - not just a lowly service provider.
Rely on Steady Marketing
Finally, I'll just keep my chin up and rely on my own version of steady marketing. Through old posts on forums and blogs, clients tend to find me at times. I had an inquiry the day I got back into town as a matter of fact and that may lead to something productive as well.
Front Load Regular Work
While I've lost a big client (for now, but not forever, hopefully - I did let them know about other types of writing I offer), I still have quite a few other regular obligations. So for now I'm front loading them. I'm not taking time off to pout or feel sorry for myself. I'm simply filling the empty spaces in my week with the things I need to do anyway.
By front loading, I'm getting those regular obligations out of the way early in the month. With any luck at all, my efforts in marketing over the course of the next week or two will return some new projects that will fill those last weeks of the month and I'll be off and running again.
While I still feel nauseous every time I lose a big client, I've done this enough times to be rather steady moving forward. Often these dips in the road are a great chance to clarify your direction, clean up your business and office and move forward with more determination than ever.