Marketing / Business relationships

What to do when you’re about to lose a big client

A sad truth about business is that big clients will choose to move on and client relationships will come to an end. How they end, however, is up to you.

14 March 2017 by

In my last article I shared some warning signs that might indicate you’re about to lose a client.

The prospect can be scary, trigger uncertainty and, depending on the size of the client, fear about the future. But, it’s also a part of doing business. We have to learn to deal with issues like this, especially as soloists.

So, what do we do if we think we’re about to lose a client?

"Remember, clients don’t really want to move on – changing providers or suppliers for anything is painful. "

I’ve found these five action steps help reassure me that I’ve done everything I can to bring about a positive outcome for all:

1. Don’t panic

It’s easy to let our mind get away from us when we suspect that we’re about to lose a client. But panicking might see you overcompensate, become needy or even hostile towards the client. And if those things happen, you might end up losing them when you really didn’t need to.

Instead, ensuring you deal with facts, be proactive and keep your cool.

2. Initiate a discussion as soon as possible

Now that we’ve calmed down and collected all of the facts, we need to initiate a conversation with the client. This has to be a meaningful conversation where the discussion is about the work you do and the future of the relationship.

It is very normal and entirely appropriate to have this conversation, yet many people really struggle with it.

Over the years, I’ve learned both the value and the importance of having conversations about the future of the work I’m doing with a client. This conversation usually does one of two things:

  1. It verifies the client is thinking of moving on.
  2. It reassured you that everything is fine.

Once you know which you are dealing with, you can respond appropriately.

3. Don’t get defensive

If, from #2 above, you’ve identified a problem, you now have an opportunity to do something about it. From there, hopefully the relationship can be resurrected. (Remember, clients don’t really want to move on – changing providers or suppliers for anything is painful. If you identify problem and show them you can fix it, it’s highly likely they’ll stay.)

One thing that will get in the way of them staying is if you get defensive about the problem that’s been identified. Instead, take the feedback on the chin, and show a high level of commitment to do something about it.

And, if the client is thinking about moving on for reasons that have nothing to do with your quality of work, be mature, understand that relationships change and make sure you end things on a good note.

4. Ramp up your business development

Truthfully, we should always be in business development mode. But it’s a hard thing to prioritise when we’re super-busy. When we’re on the cusp of losing a big client, however, we really need to ramp up business development activities and start looking for extra work just in case we do lose that client.

5. Learn from the experience

If you do find out that the client is planning to leave, for whatever reason, take the time to ponder the lessons you can learn from the experience.

  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What responsibility do you take for the current situation?
  • And if there was a problem identified, do you have other clients at risk because of the same issue?

The final word

If you think you have an issue with a client now, it’s important to do something about it immediately rather than sticking your head in the sand.

Get clarification on where you sit, fix any problems that can be fixed, and send the client on their way with a ‘no-hard-feelings’ handshake if they decide to move on.

Hold back from burning bridges and always leave an opportunity open for the client to come once they realise they were on to a good thing with you!

Have you ever had a client leave, and then come back to you because you handled their leaving so well?

Andrew Griffiths

has developed an international reputation as one of the leading global entrepreneurial authorities. His books and articles are considered street smart wisdom, designed to both inspire and challenge conventional thinking.


  • Thanks for not only this article but the series which is super. I think the important question is in point 2. Why do we struggle with initiating these conversations? (I don’t expect you to be a psychologist, though!). I have some processes in place to assist my little biz and its peculiarities with renewal of business, but sometimes I don’t see the close of a biz relationship coming or ignore that twinge feeling that something is not right in paradise.
    i may have had some return biz because I’ve handled things well. Importantly for me, is the confidence to initiate the conversation and have processes in place that are suited for my clients and me. I’ll be using some of the ideas in the article series . Thanks FlyingSolo.

    • Thanks Kath – it’s a great question – most of us do have issues having tough conversations. There is a great book called “Crucial Conversations” that explores this concept. Master this and I think a lot can change in life and in business. All the best for all that you do Kath – Andrew

  • Many years ago I purchased a Stationery business and the previous owner focused on securing large clients as they spent more money. These clients were also more demanding, not only in service, but also on price. Whilst the sales to these clients were great, the profit margin was not worth the effort.

    I predicted that 30% of the previous owner’s clients would change suppliers in the first year. The reality was that we lost 30% in three months. This was not a problem as we had embarked on a campaign to find new clients within a week of taking over the business.

    In two years we went from 200 customers to over 1,000, with only one customer buying 10% of our total turnover. As we had focused on the small businesses as clients we secured a large number of local clients which our competitors didn’t bother with, and offered them great service.

    When I sold the business after two years we had increased the value of the business by 75%, as well as earning a better personal income than the previous owner.

    A small business owner should ALWAYS be seeking new clients as the market is dynamic, and some clients will always be seeking what they think is a better deal with your competitors.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Mr Professor. I agree – when should we biz develop – ALWAYS. Cheers – Andrew

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