Serial Marketer #258: The 9 Stages of Coping with Client Loss

How to manage when it all falls apart

Issue 258: The 9 Stages of Coping with Client Loss
Brought to you by: BlueDot’s AI-powered Google Meet assistant

It’s a rare Monday column. I fell behind on getting this right for Friday, and I’ll just publish this one before the end of the year.

Working for yourself or running your own business?

Losing a client can be hard. If it’s an important client, you may need to grieve the loss.

What I can tell you is that you’re not alone if you feel that way. There are a lot of stages to it, and a lot of the stories I’m hearing out there are a mix of brutal and strange.

Here are the stages, best as I’ve can define them, with a few thoughts about them from someone who’s been there.

1) Denial. “Did this really just happen?” “Did this really happen to me?” If the contract’s done, yes, it really did.

2) Anger. “How dare they? They don’t have any clue what they’re doing! How could they part ways with me?”

3) Bargaining: “My rate's normally $200 an hour, but I’ll do the job for $175. No good? How about $150? What, too expensive? $99 an hour, take it or leave it. Okay, fine, how about $75 an hour, but you throw in a ChatGPT license and a few meals from Chipotle? “

4) Depression: Accepting depression is key. You're allowed. It could be your smallest client or your biggest revenue stream. The financial loss may or may not be bigger than the financial one. Maybe there are relationship factors complicating things. It doesn't matter. You're allowed to grieve. 

5) Connection: Who can help you get over the grief? What shoulder can you lean on? Ideally, you'll have a mix - even if it's just two people - of personal and professional shoulders. You’ll also probably need a mix of listeners and talkers – the former to let you vent, and the latter to provide sound counsel.

6) Acceptance: This happened. It happened to you, and it happens to everyone. Stick with your business, and it’s bound to happen again. All engagements run their course. Sometimes, it takes a more jarring turn and it’s a lot more to deal with, whether due to the suddenness, the way it happened, or both. Breathe a little. Clear your head. You’re going to need all the clarity you can get.

I’ll add a quote in here, one of my favorite lines in any movie, from the bartender in “Keeping the Faith” (played by Brian George): “May those who love us, love us. And those who don't love us - may God turn their hearts. And if He cannot turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles, so that we may know them by their limping.”

7) Action: What do you do about it? How soon do you need to replace the client? Were you already underbilled? You’ve got some options now:

  • Email/call a small handful of people who’ve been helpful to you in the past

  • Mass mail a ton of your contacts

  • Do a mail merge / copy and paste with a larger but select group

  • Post publicly on LinkedIn

  • A bunch of 1:1 DMs on LinkedIn

  • Talk to friends/family where you might be able to get fill-in work with side projects

  • Any other productive idea that can get you further along

Some steps might be more fruitful than others. What I’ve learned is that if you’re sincere and not obnoxious, you’ll get a lot of slack, and maybe a few offers that can help stop the bleeding, or at least slow it.

8) Gratitude: Acknowledge those who got you a step further along. Thank them directly, but also take a few moments each day to be grateful. We all have our guardian angels, people who look out for us. They don’t always surface the moment we want them, but often they appear the moment we need them.

9) Optimization: What do you do after taking action and reflection? What will you do differently next time? What do rounds 2 and 3 and 4 of your process look like?

I’ll admit this is based in part on personal experience, along with what I’ve heard from peers going through a lot now.

So, yes, I’m open to taking on another project or two, along with funneling any others that aren’t a fit for me to the incredible fractional CXO network.

You can see a two-pager overview about me here, which you may also appreciate if you want inspiration for a relatively concise way for others to refer work to you.

I can’t just share what I’m up to without making an offer in return.

One thought comes from a LinkedIn post by Nihal Mehta at Eniac Ventures that I shared with a few comments.

Nihal wrote, “1. List your top 10 dream customers. Search LinkedIn for who your strongest node of connection is to each. 2. Email each node a few lines of context why you are interested to connect, with a blurb/short deck. Mention your company in the third person… so this becomes incredibly easy to forward around.”

I added, “If you’re a job seeker, founder, etc and I am your closest or one of your best nodes that can reach the person you need, email me a note in the way Nihal describes, and I will send it on accordingly. Make it easy for the forwarder and clear for the target recipient, and be brief so you show respect for others’ time. Do all that - it’s not much, but it’s a lot - and you’ll make big things happen.”

There’s more I can offer too, such as access to the AI Marketers Guild and Serial Marketers (a couple of pretty swell communities IMHO), a referral agreement for FOAF, and my undying appreciation.

Also, I’ll now be at CES in January, so let me know if you’re going. I may have some invites to share, and beyond that, it’d be great to see you.

On that note, whatever you have to celebrate or lament going into the holidays, I hope they’re restorative and peaceful for you. I’m optimistic about the year ahead, and the best thing we can do to make 2024 a better year is to be there for each other.

Happy holidays, Happy New Year, and see you in 2024.


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