Times are tough for small business owners, we armor up and go to battle, daily. So when clients cancel contracts, it brings on the overwhelm and fast.
Not 1, not 2, but THREE calls last week (on the same day too WTAF?!?!), and by the time I hung up the third call over $250,000 had walked out the door.
Now, I can blame a global pandemic (the clients sure did), I can point my finger at inconsistent economic and political environments, and really, I could have slapped my client’s but the reality is………
I was most upset about not firing them!
It’s that age-old adage, where you’re certain you’re going to separate from your partner but you’re just waiting for the right time and then BAM!
They beat you to the punch and you’re all sad / mad about it?
Yeah, it was like that. I laughed and surprisingly I didn’t cry.
Why? Because I knew, somewhere deep down, there was a blessing in disguise.
I just had to wait for it. Or, actually, get everything in order I had been putting off while “waiting for the right time.”
Today, I want to break down to you how I was able to move forward from such a big hit and the three solutions you can use when your clients cancel contracts.
Flex That Trust Muscle
This ain’t my first rodeo. I was Head of Marketing at a record label when Napster hit the scene and suddenly “stealing” became “OK.”
I decided to start my first recording studio right around when the internet bubble burst and every techie job went out the window.
I bought my first house right when the subprime housing bubble burst in the US (I was living overseas).
And I got my MBA while running a record label, managing, and touring bands, and trying to have a life (that plan literally imploded).
I’ve been here before. Curled up on the floor, ugly crying convinced this was it, the end of my career.
My good ole’ professional starter, waitressing, sure looked good. The thing is, this time, I didn’t even cry!
In fact, I didn’t skip a beat, I’m all too familiar with these gut-hits and y’all know my favorite Rocky quote ever, which I live by
“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Before you get sucked into the failure-of-doom cycle……PAUSE!
Make a list of everything success, award, and accomplishment you’ve achieved.
Then think about every time you’ve fallen over, and despite the odds, you got back up.
Detail out the times that something broken fell away, and it actually created so much more space for success.
Last, look around – you’re here – and even if it is that bad, every past failure got ya here, and you will keep going.
Now is your chance to make different decisions, take different actions, and get different results.
Oh, a final, and favorite tip, and the perfect segue into Solution #2, use your values to filter your current citation.
Chances are if this relationship is terminating unexpectedly, these clients were not right.
- Did you enjoy working with them?
- Did they appreciate and value your work?
- How do you feel about the way they do business and represent your work?
Yeah, I thought so.
The reality is, good relationships don’t suddenly terminate. Even if the business is suffering and truly can’t keep working with you, you saw that coming too.
But how can you prepare for the inevitable and undesirable end of your client’s contract? Skip to Solution #2, please.
The Cycle Of Change
I wrote an in-depth blog on the Cycle of Change (LINK), but the crux of the matter is, the only thing constant is change.
You can get ahead of it. Expect it. Plan for it. If you do client, based work, and you probably do since you’re reading this, you know – clients will come and go.
Your client partnership has a life-cycle. Their business has cycles, just like yours.
Even your products and offerings have cycles. This means your marketing and sales have cycles too. You can plan for and leverage these cycles for your success.
To keep it simple, every cycle has a beginning, middle, and end.
Depending on your business, you should aim to be marketing and selling based on your client partnership cycles.
Meaning, when you have 50% or more of your clients in a “mature” end of cycle partnership, where they’re nearing the end of their contract or have received most of what they hired you to create, it’s time to start looking for new clients.
In fact, you may want to always have a certain number of prospects in the pipeline. Or be selling at regular intervals throughout the year.
With this approach, when one client departs, you have a few waiting in the wings.
But I didn’t do that, wah! Believe me, I know this feeling, and I have another theory for why you’re suddenly gasping for clients. You aren’t ready.
Gut hit, I know! But I’ve seen too many business blow-up because they can’t handle the clients they have, let alone bring in more to their roster.
Why not? They don’t have the infrastructure. There’s no onboarding process.
The owner and team are at capacity and couldn’t take on more client work. Admin and invoicing aren’t behind if happening at all.
My definition of luck is preparedness meets opportunity.
Meaning, if you ain’t prepared, you can’t take advantage of the opportunity.
If you find yourself desperately seeking client, rather than clinging to a shitty or unrewarding one…….get your business ready for multitudes of ideal clients.
Firstly, get feedback from ALL your clients, especially the ones who are leaving.
Then document how you get new clients, this is actually the business development component.
Make sure you include metrics (how many people do you have to reach out to get onto a call?
How many pitches/bids / proposals do you need to send to get a bite?
How many website inquiries do you need to find a proper prospect?
And this is KEY, how long does it take for someone to go from call to customer?
There are tons more, but if you can’t answer those questions off the top of your head, try harder!
And that’s just finding prospects!
Next step, what happens once they say yes?
Workflow or document this process too. There’s contracting, invoicing, and then some deep communications around how you work with them, expectations, timelines, deliverables, etc.
Also, when following up, ensure you’re both still in alignment and happy with the relationship. What would determine success for the both of you?
Always address what will happen if you inevitably do split? If so, ensure that you are prepared for that scenario too!
So far, we have discussed how to begin client cycles to ensure you’re ready for more incoming clients.
But what happens during the maturation and completion of these cycles?
As we work with clients, we learn. We become more efficient and improve existing processes.
It’s important to ask for as much feedback as possible. Understand what’s working and what’s NOT working.
Make adjustments where needed. Check-in with your staff, share wins, co-create solutions, and stay in consistent communication.
As we mature and potentially complete client cycles, how can you create even more opportunities?
There’s a ton of ways you can keep the clients flowing, even if their contract is about to end.
First, let them know with ample time, what happens next?
Maybe you just roll the contract into the next period, with the possibility of a reward or incentive in doing so.
You should be timing your marketing and sales, so you’ve got new clients ready to go if a mature partnership rolls off.
If you’ve been getting feedback, and know if you want to keep working with said client, choose your messaging and next moves accordingly.
Before we jump into Solution #3 for when clients cancel contracts. let me acknowledge the terrifying elephant dressed in a spooky clown suit in the room; Saying no to clients, getting fired by clients, and not re-engaging a shitty client relationship IS STILL SCARY.
Saying no to money feels like the antithesis of business.
Here’s the thing, saying no to last-minute-changes-never-enough-effort-never-satisfied-doesn’t-value-your-work client is the KEY to success.
Use your value filter, which can absolutely evolve as you grow your business, to make sure these poopy partners still make the grade. Check out these blogs on values here: Values
Finding Bigger Better Clients
Sure sure, find new clients she says! Always be prospecting they say!? But how!?
I know business development can feel terrifying at best and defeatist at worst. How many of you have tried and tried and tried to use common methods to find new clients, like networking or social media or even asking for referrals – and it didn’t get the results you wanted?!?! If I had a dollar for everytime one of my clients said, tried that, didn’t work, well .. I wouldn’t have to worry about business development! (had to).
If you’ve sold your service or product, you have proof of concept.
The next challenge is finding other people who want what you’ve got, and yes it’s that simple.
Where it gets complicated is the How if you’ve worked with me ever, you know I say TEST IT, and then change ONE THING.
Why? It helps us perfect the how. Here’s some very real world examples.
Cutting-edge creative agency can’t find any new clients post-pandemic. They come up with a BRILLIANT marketing campaign for business effected by shiting the political landscape.
They email ALL Business owners effected, over 80 businesses, and get 2 responses. The project failed … or did it?
The 2 responses were from:
(1) A business who was super bummed they had acted on this need, but said they’d refer this offer out.
(2) The City council officer whose platform was a small business and said he wanted to meet with the agency to see how they could partner.
Proof of concept. Change one thing.
The agency decided to call each contact and let them know about this offer, that is was in their inbox, and the deadline to respond was friday (ok, they changed two things by calling AND adding a deadline, but my clients only listen so much :P).
They got over 25 responses, and are in the process of onboarding 5 new clients, last I checked.
Progressive events and experiential design firm lose 80% of business due to shut-down and now social distancing. Ouch!
They put together this amazing pitch deck and position themselves as the premier virtual experience experts in the corporate space.
They send this deck out to all existing contacts, from LinkedIn to their newsletter. Nothing. The deck must suck and get re-done.
Or does it?
The Director decides to call 10 of his closest contacts from around the world. These are like-minded business, other creatives and engineers in this space, even past employers.
He starts researching what the current challenges everyone is facing are when it comes to creating impactful engagement.
Turns out, a past employer was hired to host a conference for a national association.
Another contact has the technology and engineering infrastructure but lacks the user experience and interfacing know-how.
By the end of what felt like a few friendly touchpoints, my client had a few new business opportunities.
He sent the pitch deck back out, armed with the true problems and solutions for his contacts.
He created 13 new conversations about upcoming and now virtual conferences, festivals, and even a fashion show.
Often it’s the messaging, packaging, pricing, audience, even promotion that misses the target.
This, my friend, is the true pivot.
Not this garbleygoop total-business-destroying, try something completely opposite to anything we’ve done well or believe in.
The pivot is changing one part of your campaign to see if that gets an increase in desirable results.
So remember to get feedback!
Ask your customers, past customer, compatriots, competitors, everyone that starts with a “C,” ask them for their feedback.
- Ask before you relaunch, redesign, and certainly reprice.
- Ask what their current challenges are!
- Ask what would change if they could wave a magic wand and have the perfect solution.
- Ask them what is getting in their way, or what they have already tried to solve this problem, and why it’s not working.
This Information Is Gold!
When you consistently market, sell, and deliver your True Value, clients don’t just vanish into thin air.
You’re exchanging a promise for an investment, and everyone gets exactly what they wanted, that relationship will stand the test of time, pandemics, and economic implosions.
If the above makes you feel queasy, I challenge you to look at your systems and structures.
You need to build out the kind of support in your business that holds you up even on the worst of days. With trust, value filters, processes, and business development seamlessly cycling through your business, you can’t lose.
So when clients cancel contracts, you simply let go of what is no longer working to make room for even greater success.