The first thing I have learned about losing clients (rather than firing clients) is that it is very natural for the entrepreneur to take it personally. The worst scenario is when you have gone and sold a certain product or service and the client decides that what was promised was not delivered. This is gut-wrenchingly awful to take as fact. You promise something and you failed to deliver.

I have no soothing words for this. If you didn’t do what you said you would then the only thing you can do is do what you said you would do next time.

Even if you do lose the client for this very valid reason, you should stay in touch with them and see if there is anything you can do for them. Do this regularly, do not be afraid of outflowing more communication to a lost client. The worst thing that will happen is that they will ask you to stop contacting them. Otherwise, just keep reminding them that you are there. A different opportunity may arise out of it.

Try not to take it too personally, you can feel like a fraud when these things go wrong. Tell yourself the truth, that you really did intend to push through and deliver for this client. Resolve to deliver what you promise no matter what in future.

The best thing to do is always undersell your offering, then work as hard as you can to over-deliver. Exceed expectation, always.

Another way that you can lose a client is an acquisition or merger. This is the opportunity to clear out the old, regroup and re-plan. If you are dispensable you are normally out.

Again, there is not much you can do except stay in touch occasionally and remind them you’re there.

The lesson here is to bring about a dependency on your services so the idea of changing service provider is unrealistic. Your service or product gets acquired or merged as it is really part of that business.

Another common way a client can be lost is when a company decides to take a specific function in-house or to another provider. This can be for a multitude of reasons, often relative to costs or convenience. You can try to counteract this one by being more flexible with your offering or lower your prices. However, I have learned that it can sometimes be best to let them go with it and see what happens. If they see a dip in results with the change, more often than not they will revert back to you.

You can of course lose a client to a competitor. This is never a sudden thing so you should be able to spot when a client is seriously considering another provider by their change of tone with you, if they become more distant or less interested in what you are doing, chances are they are considering other providers.

This is where “responsive pro-action” comes in. Jump to it, make everything perfect and report on the results enthusiastically. Hold your position as a strong supplier in the eyes of the client.

“Out-impress” disappointment. Disappointments are eventually inevitable in a long-term business relationship. The message here is to avoid compound disappointments – if something goes wrong, make damned sure that everything is perfect. You only disappoint a regular client enough to lose them if bad things happen one after the other without wins or gains in between. This especially goes for clients that have quite a few employees – if they are a gossipy bunch and get a whiff of something not going great the negative and toxic people in a company may try to have you got rid of. When anything bad happens hit back hard with definite and big “good news”. Sometimes this is the only way you will retain a disappointed client.

A final way that you can lose a client is through becoming untrusted. Many entrepreneurs (myself included) value trust much higher than any other value when doing business with others. If I trust you, we go all the way. If not, we part ways – supplier, client, friend – same deal applies. Never ever do anything to compromise the client’s trust in you. If you don’t think you can do the job, say so and let someone else have it. Next time the client has something he’ll ask you again, as you were honest. Never ever fudge around with invoicing – keep everything straight, never sneak in extra charges or unauthorised changes. I have seen people lose massive contracts over incorrectly invoicing by just a few pounds – greedy little things that they had previously said were included. Principles matter to entrepreneurs – and it is a correct assumption that if you are untrustworthy on something small you are definitely untrustworthy on anything big.

Even if you cover these bases there are so many other ways a client can be lost. You cannot guarantee any client forever. Try to marry up your percentages of income with clients. Most 10% samples of your client invoicing should equal roughly 10% of your income. When I had 2 clients (at the time 20% as I had 10 clients at that point) making up two-thirds of my income it was a very scary and stressful time period. Losing either one would have been catastrophic.

Takeaways:

  1. Get lots of clients so you are not reliant on any 1 or 2 of them.
  2. Always undersell so you can easily over-deliver and exceed expectation.
  3. Make yourself indispensable so you get acquired or merged with your client or that it would be hard to transfer your functions in-house.
  4. Be very responsive, impressive and heavy on customer support if you think you client may look or is looking elsewhere.
  5. Make sure any disappointments are heavily backed up with good news. Do not brush over issues, just make sure that the goo is also known.
  6. Never do anything that could affect trust with the client.
  7. Don’t take it personally when you lose a client, learn from the mistake and resolve to better next time.