Is Your Best Client MIA? Don’t Panic! – Patrick Icasas

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Many freelancers have that one client they love above all others. They’re the VIP that pays on time, the customer who doesn’t question his bill, the friend who gives you both steady work and the time of day. They’re the rock upon which your business is built.

When that rock disappears, negative thoughts start to run through your head. Anxiety starts creeping in, and your thoughts spiral down into panic. I know, because I’ve been there myself; and I can tell you this. Yes, your business can survive. And here’s how:

Breathe

The most important thing here is to keep your cool. Losing a huge chunk of your income is terrifying, and fear can make you do stupid things. Attitude is your best weapon. Keep a positive outlook, but know the difference between optimism and delusion. Tell yourself that no matter what happens, everything will work out.

Play it Cool

When you first follow up with your client (you are still trying to get in touch with him, right?), don’t let your nerves show. Remember: you don’t know what happened to them. I had a colleague whose client abruptly went silent, not a word or whisper for weeks on end. As it turns out, this client was hit by a tortilla truck (no joke) and was hospitalized for over three months. One of my own clients got into a legal snafu and had been fighting to keep his business open, thus unable to give me work.

Just because they’re not talking to you doesn’t mean that they don’t want to. Stay professional and polite at all times – at least until you find out what the situation is.

Prepare for the Worst

In both my examples, the clients went MIA because of situations outside of their control. Both were still happy with the freelancer’s performance, and had gone back to business as usual when things got better.

But things aren’t always so benign. Their silence could mean something went seriously wrong; and if they’re not talking to you, then you probably need to figure it out for yourself. Here’s a few ways you can do that.

  • Analyze past performance. When you compare recent work to past work, is there a difference in quality? Have you been “coasting” through projects and not giving your best effort? Or perhaps you were so distracted by newer, sexier projects that you did your “sure win” client’s projects half-heartedly? This lower quality might’ve driven your client away.
  • Review recent feedback. The client may have been your favorite, but was the feeling mutual? Did you find yourself getting more edits or less enthused reactions than before? Perhaps this was the prelude to your client disconnecting.
  • Check for foot-in-mouth disease. Did you say something to offend your client? Maybe a bad joke or quip that got taken the wrong way? Check your Facebook posts or your tweets, too. Did you publicly post something offensive to your client? Did you say something unflattering about the client to someone who might have blabbed to another?

If it turns out to be one of these, you can correct your behavior and keep this from happening again. Apologize and try to make it right, of course, but don’t be surprised if they don’t accept.

Shop Around. Now!

If you’re managing your business properly, you’ll be keeping up a consistent marketing campaign to attract new clients. If not (and shame on you), get on it the moment you notice your client missing. There is considerable delay between a new client signing a contract and money in your pocket (net 30, anyone?), so you need to start as soon as you notice your old client slipping. Wait too long, and you’ll be feeling the pinch at the end of the month.

Prep for Collection Mode

If you’re like me, you have a constant stream of work going even when other invoices are due. When your client starts ignoring your emails and the previous month’s invoice, stop working. Tell them that no additional work will be done until you hear back from them (in a nice way, of course). After a month (the actual length of time will vary depending on your past history – go with whatever you think is reasonable), buckle down and be prepared to start playing hardball.
Politely.

Patrick Icasas is a freelance writer, marketing professional, and former project manager based out of Ontario, Canada. His work has appeared on numerous corporate blogs, websites, and print marketing materials in the technology and manufacturing space.