I wish I’d come up with the phrase “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them,” but Mad Men fans will recognize it as a quote from fictional ad man Don Draper. Now, I’m not going to recommend guzzling straight whisky or chain-smoking to get you through the workday. But among the many pieces of fantastic writing on the show, this is one that has stuck with me. (If you don’t follow the series, you need to realize he says it as a realist, not a pessimist.)
Which brings me to a question I received this week: Do you have any advice for freelancers who have lost a client because of an error? I lost a client recently this way, and it was a horrible experience. It has taken me almost a month to move on.
I have written before on the challenges of losing a loyal client, as well as losing a client due to circumstances beyond your control. But those were a bit different than what’s being asked here. We make mistakes every day that we can overlook or repair, but when it’s a doozy big enough to cost you a freelance job, well, there’s not much worse than that.
With that in mind, here are the steps I’d recommend when you’ve made such an error:
- Forgive yourself. What’s done is done, and no amount of self-loathing or running alternative scenarios in your head is going to fix it.
- Learn from the mistake. Was the error a matter of procedure, knowledge, skill, or something else? Put safeguards in that prevent you from similar costly mistakes in the future.
- Look at your budget. Particularly if the lost client was a big one, you may need to adjust what’s going on financially in your freelance business, including belt tightening. Don’t freak out, but be methodical. Mourn, but don’t feel sorry for yourself. Do what you can to avoid the temptation of dipping into your emergency fund.
- Do something positive. Get to this step as soon as possible, because it’s really the only psychological element that can get you moving on. Start cold calling for new clients, write some queries or letters of introduction, or work on updating your blog or website—with the mindset of how excited you’ll be when you score your next big project.
- If appropriate, reconnect with the client. This will depend on the magnitude of the error: If your mistake cost a client $10,000+, you may never get a chance to right the wrong. But give it some time and distance, and reach out sincerely, and you might just find you’ve been forgiven. If the client is still hurt or resentful, that’s their problem, not yours.
Which brings me to a closing thought from our virtual friend Don Draper, a phrase that has occurred in various forms throughout the seasons: “Everything’s going to be OK.” He’s right. It may be a while before it feels like it, but he really is.