One of the easiest things to take for granted are your existing customers. It may be hard to imagine, but there's no guarantee they'll stick around. In fact, the writing may already be on the wall that they're planning to fire you. Do you know what signs to look for? And if you see a sign, do you know how to fix it?
1. Your Client Asks for a 2013 Results Recap
The beginning of a new year is a common time for people and companies to take stock of what they did last year. As part of that process, they may ask themselves why they're still working with you. Is the ongoing relationship with you and your business still worth it? Should they be looking elsewhere? As these questions swirl in their heads, savvy clients will turn to you for the answer by requesting a recap of last year's results.
So what do you do?
Paint a picture of the future, show your value. Prepare a recap report plus a projection report for the future. Simply reporting on what you did and what happened last year isn't enough to inspire your client to rehire you or to take the idea of firing you off the table—even if you had amazing results. Instead, you need to project forward into 2014, paint a picture of what the future with you looks like. If you plan on doing things differently, give the client a sense of how that would work. Or if you're planning to keep the same strategy, you need to make clear what the impact of firing you might be to their business. Demonstrating value is the best way to ensure your client will keep you on board.
2. Your Client Goes Silent
If your client has suddenly (or even not so suddenly) stopped communicating with you, it might be a sign they're thinking about going in a different direction. Of course, not every silence is bad silence—but since we're talking about spotting the warning signs, this is always one of them. Sometimes there may be a personal reason, or your main client may be planning to switch jobs or perhaps even leave their company. Regardless, all these situations have the potential to negatively affect you and your business, so you need to have a strategy to deal with them.
So what do you do?
Be proactive and useful. No one wants to work with a "high maintenance" consultant, which means you need to be careful about how far you push a client to communicate with you. For example, you don't want to consistently pester them or get noticeably frustrated when they don't respond to your emails. A better method is to find a way to be unexpectedly useful in a proactive way, such as sending an "I saw this and thought of you" type of email sharing an article or piece of insight. This may help them to communicate with you directly and reengage in a meaningful way.
3. Your Client Begins Asking for the Impossible
Only mean clients typically resort to this, but sometimes their hand may be forced or there are external pressures forcing your client to make a change. These are tough situations to understand, but if you begin to see this sort of change in your client, it usually means one thing: You're being set up to fail so it will be easier to fire you in the future. While that may seem like really bad news, it may surprise you to learn that this still may present an opportunity—if you manage it correctly.
So what do you do?
Be direct and be helpful. When you see this sort of behavior change, the best way to deal with it is often to ask directly about it. A simple way to do this is to request a conversation with your client where you can ask them if anything has changed in their situation or working culture with their peers. Share your concerns and ask them directly if this may mean bad news for you. This direct approach can often help you to uncover the relatively common situation where external forces may be leading your client to reevaluate relationships or perhaps hire someone else. In some cases, the decision may already be made. So how can this be an opportunity? If you can find a way to still be helpful for your client in a transition or make the process a bit less painful, there's a good chance they will remember ... and may come back and hire you again at some point in the future.
Rohit Bhargava is a brand marketing consultant and the bestselling author of five business books. He has worked over the past 15 years as a leader in several consulting groups and agencies, and has been fired more than once. He has also been rehired by many of his former clients.
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