What can you do when your main contact exits the company that gives you the most freelance work? It’s a tricky situation that can arise for any creative freelancer, but it doesn’t mean lost business is inevitable.
A few weeks ago I got a surprise email from one of my favorite clients. The account manager and I had worked together for years and we were in the middle of a big project, so I wasn’t exactly expecting this message:
“I’m copying my colleague Nick Newguy on this email because he’s taking over the Humongous International account you’ve been working on as a freelance copywriter. Today is my last day at AwesomeClient Inc. It’s been a pleasure to work with you. Thanks!”
Many freelancers face changes like this, and the fears of lost business that come with them. People land better jobs, get fired, retire or move on from employers for countless other reasons. These transitions can be stressful. What if you and your new contact don’t hit if off? Even if you do get along, you’ll have to learn that person’s preferences, pet peeves and overall work style. And there’s always a chance that he or she has a longstanding relationship with another freelancer.
There’s no sure-fire way to keep a great client when your contact leaves the company. But there’s a lot you can do to minimize the risk of lost business before, during and after the transition.
Diversify your in-house network
One of the best ways to protect a great client before your contact leaves is to establish multiple connections within that organization. That way you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. My blood pressure didn’t spike when I got my contact’s surprise email because I had established relationships with several other people within her company.
Sometimes your internal network will grow without much prodding, especially if the organization has multiple people who need your services. Impress one project manager and you may start hearing from their colleagues. (“I liked the work you did for Sheila. Would you be interested in tackling an assignment for our division?”) This is an easy way to attract new business with little effort, so try to say yes to these opportunities when they come your way. Don’t ignore small jobs from these insiders either. New contacts will often “try you out” before considering you for larger projects.
And don’t overlook the people who support your contact, whether it’s a junior staff member or even an intern. Learn their names and treat them with the utmost respect. They’ll be the first people to tell the new contact about you, which can shape first impressions. They might even be the successor.
Touch base right away
Reach out to the new contact as soon as possible. If you’re unacquainted, be prepared to give a brief overview of the freelance work you’ve previously done for the company, but also explain how you can be of value to them now. If possible, meet in person so you can get some face time early on. Requesting a quick coffee meeting is a smart approach.
Offer to help
While your new contact is getting adjusted, it’s possible that you may actually know more about how certain things work than they do — that puts you in a position to make his or her life a lot easier. You can share invaluable background information on previous creative campaigns or even unwritten practices. I’ve retained client relationships this way several times.
For example, when a magazine I helped to develop hired a new editor, I created a one-page style guide to the publication just for her. The guide helped her make a smoother transition and positioned me as a helpful partner. The hour or so I spent writing it quickly paid off. She sent me freelance work on a regular basis for the next seven years.
Don’t take it personally if you lose work
It's possible that the new contact will change course or has allegiances to other trusted freelancers. If you lose the work, don’t blame yourself or express frustration. Politely explain that you understand, and that you’ll be happy to take on any projects if your help is needed in the future. The second part is key because you never know when lost business will become “found” business.
The go-to freelancer might move on, workloads could unexpectedly swell or your specialized skills might be perfect for a particular project. Saying goodbye with class and grace today can leave many doors open tomorrow.
I learned this lesson from the reaction of a printing sales representative when I awarded a bid to another shop. He expressed no disappointment, kindly thanked me for the opportunity and offered to help in any way he could in the future. That courteous, easygoing attitude helped him win other jobs from me later on, as well as several referrals.
Show appreciation and stay in touch
Finally, if you had a great relationship with your old contact, thank him or her and make sure you have a way to stay connected. Highlight how happy you’d be to work with them again. Sometimes you can follow a good contact to their next position, while retaining the original client.
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