What to do before and after your biggest client leaves?

Part I — The Stories (skip to part 2 for the takeaways)

2 clients have recently ended their relationship with Seer. I feel like we learn a lot from these and I feel some agencies somewhere must talk about this reality, its not all “Crushing It” this is part of the agency life too. It’s a big part, but I feel like its hard to find people talking about it. So here goes.

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Part II — What do you do?

1 — When is your biggest client TOO BIG?

Early on within my first 2–3 years of running Seer (around 2005) I decided that I never wanted to have a client be more than 12% of our revenue, I don’t know why 12. It just felt right.

2 — Layoffs & how long are you willing to hold down losses / lack of profit?

Lose a client, do layoffs, must maintain margins. Its how agencies work. I disagree, I think we can do better. As an executive you have to decide, if you have a large client who leaves, are you going to do layoffs immediately, 4 weeks, 4 months? If you keep your largest client to a small part of your revenue, it makes it easier, but if a client is 20–50% of your rev (which I see at a lot of agencies) it creates a squeeze you can NOT hold down with savings 99%opf the time. Knowing in advance how you want to deal with this situation is key. When you lose your largest client are you willing to have a break even year w/ no profit, or to cut benefits, or have no raises across the company to save 5–8–80 jobs?

3 — What to do with the unbillable people?

Personally for me, I take the hit in margin b/c it’s not about the money. It’s about doing great work with great people. You have options here, layoffs are one. We covered that above. You can also consider the following:

4 — Make a plan TODAY on what you’ll do

Where is your break in case of emergency plan on what will we do if we lose our largest client? Not having a plan, means you are making it up under panic & duress, which is the wrong time to do it.

5 — Team Transparency, how much is too much?

When you get a major heads up from your client, that is a good thing. What are you going to do with that information? You can tell your team early and you might spook them, they might resent the client, etc — all of which impacts the relationship.

6 — Who is forward looking for the client / industry?

When your largest fastest growing client is undergoing change at an insane pace.

7 — Contractors Mitigate Risk

I could have hugged Crystal the day she dropped this idea on me, I was in San Diego working from our office there, she was in Philly.

8 — Never be afraid to say “We don’t do that”

In early 2018 we started discussions with this client about their itch for local boots on the ground in all these countries. We felt that they needed it, and we reminded them that we wouldn’t likely be the right partner for them if that was the need. 9 months later here we are, they are moving on.

9 — Celebrate, YES Celebrate & Learn.

Don’t celebrate for long, but never lose sight that your company was able to:

10 — Offboard w/ integrity, live to fight another day

Your financial model will tell you to shift hours, trim back, cut, redeploy the team. Maybe you are angry, you are right to feel that, all of that. DO NOT LET THAT KEEP YOU FROM DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR YOUR CLIENT!

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Wil Reynolds

Serial Underdog @seerinteractive doing SEO, Marketing, & Stuff, I am whatever you say I am.