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Taking the Plunge: When Good Comes From Bad

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Taking the plunge

I have learned one thing since taking the plunge about a year and a half ago  – be prepared. While I feel a bit like a Boy Scout saying it, thriving in self-employment is a bit like surviving a night in the wilderness. Things really can change in an instant and you have to be ready for anything. We faced that issue about two months ago when we lost a major client. This was not just any client; in addition to being responsible for a substantial part of our monthly income, they were the first client Mrs. Frugal Rules got when she started nearly four years ago.

The writing had been on the wall for several months as they simply did not have the work to send our way. We were on retainer with them, so it only made sense for them to cut us loose and it’s simple math at the end of the day. However, that still did not dull the sting when she called to tell me that were about to lose them as a client. A rush of emotions flooded my mind; thoughts from ‘What are we going to do?’ to ‘Are we going to need to tap our emergency fund?’ raced through my mind. Sitting here today though, I can thankfully say we’re on the other side of it and are encouraged with how well our business is growing.

What I Wanted to Do

When I found out we were about to lose a major client there were a number of things I wanted (internally) to do:

Panic

The first emotion was to panic. How would we put food on the table next month? What would we do for the kids? There were a number of other questions that came rushing to my mind, which is natural on one level I guess. But the important thing is to not give in to the panic.

Take it Personally

After getting over the panic, I wanted to take it personally. “How could they do this to us” was a thought that ran through my mind and the fact is that they didn’t do anything to us, they just simply acted in the best interest for their business – which I’d do myself.

Try and Fix it

Maybe it’s because I’m male (and let’s face it…that’s why it is. 😉 ), but I wanted to try and fix the situation. I wanted to talk with them to see if we could negotiate a different agreement, but it was too late for that.

Why None of This Will Work When You Lose a Major Client

If you look at all those things I wanted to do after losing our major client, they’re all emotion based, in addition to reactionary. At the end of the day, business is business and you need to be able to make that separation, especially after you lose a major client. Ultimately, when you do lose a major client you need to assess the situation, figure out if anything went wrong and go on your way with a positive ending.

After a Minute, We Hustled

While we were emotional about the situation, we couldn’t sit in those feelings. We had to act. After quick reflection, it was obvious that we needed to hustle. We had to drum up new business through networking and thinking creatively about what we have to offer. After leaving our client on a positive note (which is incredibly important as you lose a client, especially in a business where everyone seems to be connected to everyone else) we did three main things:

  • We networked and networked some more
  • We contacted current clients to touch base to see how else we could serve their needs
  • Look for freelance gigs we could take on

The simple matter of fact was that we needed to get in front of as many people as possible. We needed to give them our pitch and how we could best help meet their needs and provide value. Since our client was such a big part of our monthly income, we had absolutely no choice. On one level, it was a feeling of the rubber meeting the road and we could either work all we could to make this business go or I had to start to get serious about looking for a job elsewhere.

What I learned through this though, was that being in this place of fear and apprehension was great in terms of bringing to me grips with what we really wanted from this business. Were we going to work to grow it so we could realize our vision and goals or were we going to go slowly into the night with a whimper.

Looking back at it now, I am incredibly thankful that we lost our client as it forced us to go through this situation and return to our roots. You know what the kicker to all of this is? Over the span of the following two months we have signed several new major clients that more than made up for the shortfall left by the loss of our previous client and have prospects of more to come. It’s crazy how that happens at times and we would’ve never had seen that otherwise. In fact, we couldn’t have taken on these new clients if we still had the one we lost as it’s been that big of an influx of new business.

Focus on What You Can Control

Now that I can look back at the situation of losing our client, I see again the importance of focusing on what you can control and leaving the rest alone. Whether you’re saving for retirement or paying off debt you need to focus on what you can control and it’s no different when running a business. I also see that we had allowed ourselves to get comfortable. We weren’t networking as regularly as we should’ve and we weren’t bringing on as much new work as a result. Simply put, we weren’t hustling and thus led to greater panic than what I’d normally give in to.

It’s funny how so much of life really does come down to that simple fact, controlling what you can control and not getting tripped up by the rest. I allowed myself to lose sight of that and the crazy thing is that it actually worked out better for us by losing our client as opposed to keeping them on. So, the moral of the story is always be hustlin’ regardless of what line of work you’re in and always, always be looking for opportunities, because they can be found in the strangest of places at the most opportune times.

 

Have you ever gone through losing a major client? How did it work out for you in the end? Have you ever had anything bad happen to turn out for the good?

 

Photo courtesy of: Diane Turner

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

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61 Comments

  • ” … focusing on what you can control and leaving the rest alone. ….”

    That’s a really good way to sum it up John. There are just so many things that can happen in our lives that it’s not worth getting all worked up every time one of them goes wrong. All we can do is make sure that we are doing everything we can to put ourselves in the best position possible and defy the odds of any one thing ruining all our efforts.

    The president of our company has a special rule he makes us live by where no one client can be any more than 25% of our entire business. If one does become that way, he strongly urges us to go out and either find or build up the other clients so that the pool is diversified.

    • John says:

      That’s a great rule to have MMD and one that we were not living by ourselves prior to this happening. The nice thing is that we’ve added quite a few clients since which is a huge thing to have. We know that most won’t keep us crazy busy all the time, so they tend to balance each other out as well as being diversified.

  • Hi John,
    Definitely not panicking is the first thing you need to do. I’m in sales and I’ve lost big contracts, that has made me hustle even harder. You do need to network more as that is something I have been bad at, when times are good is when you need these contacts.

    • John says:

      Totally agreed, on both counts Charles. Networking is so vital, especially as things are going well. It is quite easy to get comfortable and the simple fact is that you don’t want to sit in that.

  • While I have never lost a major client, probably because I work full-time as an employee versus a small business, I can see how devastating that can be. In Mad Men SPOILER ALERT when they lose their major client you can see what a blow it can be for a company. In the show it also showed how they hustled to get back to where they were – and beyond. I’m sorry to hear about your major client, but it sounds like it ended up being a positive thing for your business.

    • John says:

      It really did end up being a positive thing DC. We’ve added a huge chunk of business and that wouldn’t have happened otherwise for a variety of reasons.

  • Matt Becker says:

    It’s kind of amazing what you can accomplish when you have the need to do so. I’m glad you guys were able to recover so quickly. It would seem like an additional lesson would be to make sure that you’re never too reliant on one thing in your life. A more diverse set of clients would make losing any one of them less significant. But it’s also nice for you guys to go through the experience of having to ramp up business quickly. That will only help.

    • John says:

      That’s exactly it Matt having that client diversity. I knew we needed it, but I had allowed myself to get too comfortable. That comfort held us back from growing and it was us hustling, amongst other things, that brought on such a deluge of business for us.

  • You did the right thing my friend. You got over the sting and hit the ground running. Dwelling on the loss of the client was only going to take you nowhere. That is the difference between someone that succeeds and someone that fails. Hustle!

    • John says:

      Completely agree Grayson. I think that is a huge difference and it can be easy to convince yourself that you don’t need to. The problem with that is that it’s bound to take you no where in so many cases.

  • Alexa says:

    I agree with you, you’ve got to be prepared. I have myself into the mindset that nothing is guaranteed and I continue to look for work each week. I hope to one day get to the point where freelance work feels more secure but I think that takes a good while.

    • John says:

      Being prepared is definitely a necessity Alexa. Having that mindset is one that can helpful too as you never know when a client or freelance work is going to dry up.

  • What a great mindset: “Focus on what you can control” That is very important because more often than not people tend to panic instead and have other emotional reactions which is understandable. But it’s great to see that by hustling, you’re in an even better position than before.

  • This reminds me a lot of Jeff Rose’s presentation at Fincon. What did he do when his site got hit hard by Google Panda? he busted his ass. NOTHING gets you back on your feet faster than hard work!

    • John says:

      That’s what my wife had said as she went to his session. That hard work may not be fun, but often times it can get you to where you want/need to be.

  • You really don’t have any control over what other people do. I’ve certainly had some setbacks over the years. My first instinct is to go sit alone and cry for about 10 minutes, then after that’s done, you start to work on what you can do. After you get over the emotional aspect of it, often there is a way to do things better or start something new. Lots of the positive things in my life have come from things that seemed bad in the beginning.

    • John says:

      Isn’t it crazy how those things happen Kim? We looked at this in the beginning and just felt like we had been kicked in the stomach and would be difficult to recover. Thankfully we’re much better off in the long run because of it.

  • Everything you said it spot on. I think it’s OK to “mourn” the loss of a client. It’s a big blow, but it’s important to realize everything that you mentioned and get back on track as quickly as possible. And you’re right in that sometimes the worst things ends up being the best thing. I haven’t lost my MAJOR client, but have lost work with other clients, and sometimes those people were the biggest pains to work with. But this is why an emergency fund is so important to us freelancers. Just that little extra peace of mind to rebuild your client base again. Glad everything turned out OK!

  • This is such an important article about letting life play out. Too frequently, I stress out over wrong decisions or poor planning – just to find out that it all worked out in the end.

    Thanks for the reminder, John.

    • John says:

      Thanks Sam and I agree. You do need to let things play out and be ready to hustle, while never losing that hustler’s mindset – otherwise you’re bound to get comfortable again.

  • Getting emotional is a natural reaction at first. I think it’s healthy to take a minute to digest the situation and go through those emotions. Then you can focus on moving forward as you did.

  • It does hurt when you lose a major client. My reaction is quite similar – even the wanting to fix it part – and I’m a woman! 🙂 But as you said the best thing you can is not let fear take over. Feeling that momentary fear and punch to the gut is fine – maybe even good if it spurs to you really hustle and figure out a plan of action – but stagnating in the fear is never good. Not taking it personally is so important and sometimes the hardest one to let go. Glad to hear that your business is thriving. Sometimes what seems terrible in the moment is the catalyst for something bigger and better.

    • John says:

      I know Shannon, it is hard to not take it personally…but at the end of the day business is business. I agree, it’s funny how the terrible things work out to be one of the best things you have happen to you.

  • Deacon says:

    I haven’t lost a major client yet, but I can see it on the horizon. I am doing everything I can to help them achieve their goals, however, they only signed a 6 month contract. IF they decide not to renew then I will be hustling soon to make up for the loss of that income.

    • John says:

      That’s how we were Deacon. It was month to month basically, but the final 3-4 months it was obvious that something was bound to happen. I’d encourage to start thinking now about what you could do to make up for it and hope it doesn’t come to it. 🙂

  • Wow, that is a kick in the gut but a great lesson on getting back to what made you successful in the first place. I have had several similar experiences with my biz over the past ten years. It has certainly taught me to never rest on my laurels and always continue to grow and adapt.

  • Michelle says:

    Great post! I am currently on a “test run” with a few of my clients, and October 31st will mark the end of some of these test runs. I am really hoping that they ALL renew and are happy with my services. Longer contracts will make me much happier.

  • LifeorDebt says:

    We’ve certainly come up against things we thought were bad things happening that certainly weren’t ideal, that ended up being the best thing that has ever happened for us. But, it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Hard work and optimism also help!

  • anna says:

    That’s so crazy (in an awesome way) that what was initially a loss ended up returning in abundance!. Thanks for sharing some really great insight, John. I know myself enough that freelancing is too risky for me, so I admire those who are able to do so and succeed! You and the Mrs. rock!

  • This is great, John! I have some major freelancing jobs that I’m bound to lose at a certain point. That’s why it’s important to have diverse income streams! You did everything right!

  • Comfortable is never good, unless you’re wearing PJs! 😛

    Good for you and Mrs. Frugal Rules for taking a bad situation, working your butts off and turning it into something good. In fact you guys went above and beyond and turned it into something better! 🙂

  • I’m glad you got to work on replacing your lost client and things worked out for the better. Complacency can often make people happy with what they have, and not seek to better their situation. We sometimes need an Oh S**t moment to find out we can do more than we thought.

  • This is a good rule of thumb regardless of whether you’re self-employed or employed with some one else. Networking and diversifying income streams is important in all situations. It’s a good habit to be doing all the time, thanks for the reminder!

  • Jacob says:

    Very timely post for me. I’m struggling with getting side projects off the ground, and I’m feeling tapped for time and money at the moment. I like the idea of just “focus on what you can control”, and keep hustling.

    And having a good backup plan is paramount.

    • John says:

      I can relate all too well to that feeling Jacob. The temptation is to do a number of things, but focusing on what you can control is a key part to success in my opinion. And, yes, a backup plan is good to have. Thankfully we didn’t need to fall back on ours. 🙂

  • krantcents says:

    As a former consultant, I tried to avoid any one client representing more than 20% of my income. If I lost one, it was not devastating.

  • Sometimes things happen untimely. It is because God has a better plan for your business. Like you said, you turn around and then re-focus and get more clients. I like to learn lessons from others like this great post.

    Good luck for getting more clients and prospects!

  • Like many others who have commented, I love what you say about the need to focus on what you can control. My husband is self-employed too, and there are no guarantees. You handled your “crisis” well. You felt the panic, but acted according to what you knew was wise. How great that things turned out for the best! I’ll keep your example in mind the next time we hit a rough patch or a dry patch. Thanks.

    • John says:

      You’re exactly right in that there are no guarantees. Yes, I am quite happy that things have turned out for the better and little did I know that when it all hit the fan a few months back. 🙂

  • I really do believe in the saying “This too shall pass” either it is good or bad nothing is permanent. It’s up to you on how you would handle your situation. You’re right “Focus on what you can control” just take things positively and planned everything on how you can solve that kind of problems.

  • Those are good revelations. Basically the 5 steps of grief applied to business. Business is like life.
    Those who can adapt will survive. Nice job.

  • Wonderful post John.

    I feel the same way and go the steps you mentioned when I “lose” a long time guitar student. It’s all part of the business, but it suck sometimes. That is until you get over it and get back on track!

    Thanks for sharing and take care. All the best.

    Lyle

  • LOVE this, John!!! We go through the same feelings of emotion sometimes when we look at our debt pile, and you’re right; it’s SO not productive. I just love how you guys handled it. You stopped freaking out, pulled up your bootstraps, so to speak, and got back on that horse! Awesome. 🙂

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