How to recover when you lose a big freelance client

As a freelancer, it's bound to happen to you, a large client suddenly wants to stop doing business with you. Here's how to get past it and possibly win back their business.
How to recover when you lose a big freelance client

Hero image by Ali Yahya

Lose a big freelance client? Here's what to do now  

If you're a freelancer, eventually you'll lose a client.

It doesn't even have to be your fault. Maybe your client:

  • decided to bring their services in-house
  • is closing up shop
  • put the project on hold because of budget cuts

Even if it’s not your fault, suddenly losing a big client can be scary. In this blog post, I'll share real-world tips to help you recover from the loss of a client.

Let’s rock ‘n roll...

Losing a big client can be an unexpected blow

You weren't expecting it and suddenly income you were anticipating just went out the window.

Trust me, I've been there before.

Occasionally freelancers lose big clients and possibly their biggest source of income in one fell swoop. 

If it happens to you, what can you do to recoup that lost work?

The short answer? Come up with a plan and put it in action. 

How fast can you fill up your pipeline in emergency mode? 

For some freelancers finding work has become more difficult.

More than 60% of global freelancers report a decrease in demand for their services in the past three months.

Several factors could be at play including COVID-related issues, the recession, and competition from newly hatched freelancers.

But the important question is: How fast can you find work to replace the income from the client you lost?

Many freelancers say they can find work within 24 hours. If you're not confident you can land work in the next day, don't worry. I'm going to share some advice on bouncing back from this sort of thing. 

Of course, the best thing to do is not put all your eggs in one basket.

Data shows freelancers say having multiple sources of income gives them better financial security, with 65% agreeing that “having a diversified portfolio of income from multiple clients is more secure than having one employer.”

And most freelancers juggle multiple projects. Here's the number of projects freelancers manage at once:

  • One: 13%
  • Two to four: 70%
  • Five to nine: 13%
  • 10 or more: 4%

As you see, the majority of freelancers have multiple projects going at any single moment with 70% of freelancers working on between two and four projects at the same time.

If you're wondering where your fellow freelancers find work, here are the eight top ways freelancer find work:

Now that you’ve seen how to prevent losing a big client, let’s look at what to do when it happens.

10 tried and true tactics for bouncing back when you lose a client

Losing a client is a scary, stress-inducing incident that all freelancers will go through. But if you have in-demand freelance skills, you’ll be OK. So, here are ten proven tactics that can help you bounce back. 

Maintain a positive attitude and keep the relationship going

First step, don't beat yourself up. It's not productive.

Do your best to handle the situation with grace and understand your client’s business may be falling on hard times. It’s alright to be disappointed but handle the situation with professionalism and don’t burn any bridges.

Plus, you never know when that client may engage you again at a later date. For example, patience and a positive attitude paid off for copywriter Danny Margulies.

Danny Margulies @OmahaCopywriter

One of my clients, who put our project on pause when COVID first hit, just told me he’s ready to resume our work. Things are looking up!

Take a minute to reflect  

Don't beat yourself up. It's not productive. Instead, channel your fear and frustration into action.

  • Get your finances in order -- How many clients will you need to bring on to recoup that lost work? Or how many extra hours do you need from existing clients? How will you get by for the next week, two weeks, or months without that income from that big client? 
  • Reflect both personally and professionally -- Is there anything you could have done differently to keep that client? How will you work to re-engage them in the future?
  • Prepare to succeed -- Take some of your newfound free time and polish your portfolio. Take advantage of quality freelance websites to find people looking for help. Try this list of the 78 Best Freelance Jobs Websites to Get Remote Freelance Work in 2020 for starters.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is stay confident.

Tom Mangan @tommangan

I start out taking 10 minutes to remember the times I rebounded from far worse outcomes. Everything in freelancing flows from the confidence that things will work out if you don't give up. (Next: Tell remaining clients I have more bandwidth available).

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Be humble. 

If your business is truly suffering, consider filing for unemployment. 

You may want to see if there’s any way your client can reduce hours instead of stopping altogether. Or, consider offering a discounted rate on a trial basis for your services if that’s an option. 

You can also seek relief under the CARES Act which offers freelancers unemployment insurance, for which they generally don’t qualify. The House bill offers freelancers an additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance, bringing weekly payouts to the $800- to $900-a-week range when state benefits are added, for up to four months.

The stimulus package also offers the self-employed and small business owners a $10,000 advance on an Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) that does not have to be paid back, even if the borrower does not qualify for an SBA loan. The program provides loans up to $200,000.

And the Freelancers Union has the Freelancers Relief Fund, which offers a $1,000 emergency grant to freelancers for necessities like rent and groceries that need to be covered before aid is delivered. 

Email all your past and remaining clients. 

Take a look at your business management platform and make a list of clients you've invoiced in the last twelve months. Email them and see how their business is going and see if you can help.

You can also look to the future and prioritize projects with other clients that are scheduled further out now that you have space on your calendar.

Immediately start contacting current clients to see what new projects they need support with. Jumping into my CRM to focus on prospects that’re further down the pipeline

Find someone who needs a freelancer on Slack and shoot them a DM

There are a lot of great Slack communities. Find somewhere your ideal clients are active and join. Then, when you see an interesting project pop up, DM them. This is a quick way to book 3-5 sales calls this week. 

Many Slack groups have dedicated threads for job opportunities where you can talk directly with people who need your services.

Check out this post and this one for lists of Slack groups you may find helpful.

Search high-quality job boards and platforms 

Spend some time on reputable freelance websites and platforms like the ProBlogger Job Board, Clearvoice, Contently, and Upwork.

You may have to sort through a lot of projects that aren’t a good fit for you but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great opportunities available. For example, on Upwork -- one of the largest marketplaces for freelancers -- freelancers earn more than $1 billion every year.

Ask your happy clients for referrals

Make asking for referrals part of your business process. Ask your customers to refer you to colleagues who would benefit from your help if they’re happy with your service. 

According to the Wharton School of Business, it costs less to acquire a referred customer and they have a higher potential for retention and loyalty. A referred customer has a 16% higher lifetime value than a customer acquired through other means.

To see how this works, check out freelancer Cherese Cobb’s simple strategy to get more referrals and book thousands of dollars in freelance work.

Make a commitment to marketing and prospecting

Ideally, you should consistently work on generating leads for your freelance business. Block some time on your calendar every week to drum up new business. You can take a referral partner to lunch, ask a current client for a referral, write a guest post for a popular blog your ideal clients read, or cold email potential clients. 

The point is to proactively focus on getting more clients. Ramit Sethi shares six ways to get freelance work fast on his blog.

Go for the smaller clients to get more work

Bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Depending on your situation, it may make more sense to turn to smaller companies as your bread-and-butter clients.

Freelance writer and editor Stacey Freed explains in her blog post, Forget the Big Fish: Go for the Guppies to Get More Work, how she focuses on pursuing “smaller” clients -- what she calls “guppies” -- instead of the big fish. 

In many cases, larger companies may take longer to pay you than a smaller client would. If you’re scrambling to replace lost income, that’s just one more reason working with smaller clients may benefit you. However, be sure to outline your pay expectations upfront. 

Email potential prospects 

A survey of more than 500 freelancers found that when they run out of work: 

  • 40% of freelancers said they use social media when in a dry spell
  • 24% said they sit and wait
  • 12% said they email prospects

The freelancers who emailed prospects made 2.5x more money than those who did nothing. If you don’t believe this works, check out this blog post by freelance copywriter Laura Lopuch who sent 328 cold emails to launch her business and grow it 1400% in four months (she even shares her templates!).

The Takeaway

Anytime you lose a client it sucks. 

But, this is only a temporary setback. There are good clients out there who need someone with your particular skills and experience. All you have to do is find them (or help them find you) and have a conversation. Learn about their business challenges and show how you've helped other clients like them in the past.

Whether you’re freelancing to earn extra income, make ends meet, or as your source of full-time income if you find yourself blindsided by the loss of a major client use these ten tactics to recover.

Want to hear more insider tips on running your freelance business? Discover Hectic, a centralized, user-friendly platform that helps you control and manage every aspect of your business.

Share it!
Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills is the Founder & Content Strategist at Professional Pen. He helps SasS and tech companies create marketing content that measurably attracts more customers using proven strategies, tactics, and frameworks.
More By This Contributor
Getting everything from your brain in one place
Moxie makes all your systems work together seamlessly with better software, education, and community.
hectic app logo