Having a major client — one that accounts for most of your income — poses a serious risk to small-business owners. What happens when your big customer says “adios”?
39 Celsius Web Marketing Consulting faced exactly that situation last year, when it lost a national account that was responsible for half of its revenue. “It was a real wake-up call for us,” says co-founder Toby Danylchuk, “[even though] we had always known we were really exposed with that one client.”
The good news: Although losing a big customer can be tough, your response may lead to greater stability in the long run. Here’s how to bounce back after losing a key client.
1. Get feedback. “Reach out to the customer and ask why you lost them,” suggests Kathy McShane, managing director of Ladies Who Launch Connecticut, a media company that provides resources for women entrepreneurs.
Asking for feedback has two key benefits: First, “the customer knows that you valued them,” McShane says. Second, the input you receive can provide some insight not just into what you did wrong but also into
growth opportunities for your company.
For instance, you may find that the customer wanted a service your business doesn’t provide. After talking, you may decide to adapt your offering to fit the client’s current needs — or that you’re better off focusing on customers whose needs your company can fill.
2. Look at the pipeline. If you’ve gathered information about potential customers during the past year, take some time to review it. Perhaps you made new contacts by attending conferences, establishing an email list, or going to workshops.
Starting with the leads you already have, set aside some time to pick up the phone, send out email, or work up a proposal to reach these prospects.
3. Build a new base. After losing its major client, 39 Celsius took steps to establish a more balanced customer base. “We created blog posts to acquire organic search traffic, an in-depth white paper that could be given away to build an email list, and a downloadable e-book we charged for,” Danylchuk says.
Once the company had developed these materials, 39 Celsius actively promoted them online. The efforts led to new clients who owned small- and medium-sized businesses.
To reduce risk, the company has continued to build a base of multiple smaller customers. And, although it may add another big client to its portfolio in the future, it plans to continue working with smaller clients.
“We’ve set the foundation for even better growth,” Danylchuk says.
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