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I lost my first client

Being self-employed isn’t for everyone; if I’ve learned one thing over the last year, it’s that the flexibility you gain by working for yourself is offset by the volatility of clients.

Case in point: I lost my first client today.

This rupture has nothing to do with my skills or what I brought to the table; in fact, everyone involved had glowing things to say about me and my work. For several months, I’d been doing SEO consulting for an agency. The work consisted of auditing their client’s website, evaluating its content, then providing feedback. Along with that, I provided keyword research and SEO outlines for article updates and new article ideas.

It was interesting work, and I liked the people I worked with. At the outset, the agency said it needed me for 20 hours a week “indefinitely.” But when the client decided it wanted to “scale back strategy,” those 20 hours dropped to whatever was needed.

I’ve got other clients, so I’m not destitute, but the timing of the scaleback was far from ideal; I’d mapped out Q4 2023 as including 20 hours of agency work. Having the bottom drop out meant that some weeks I’d have 5 hours of work, and others I’d have 15. The real problem was drumming up new business from mid-November through the end of the year. Think of how few internal projects move forward in the last 6 weeks of the year—then multiply by zero money being attached to that downtime. I had enough revenue coming in to be fine, but it made me have to think about increasing outreach come January.

The fits-and-spurts agency work went on through the end of the 2023 until the first week of January 2024, at which time the agency said it didn’t have enough work coming in and needed to take its SEO operations in-house. There was zero animus about the breakup. We parted on good terms. And if the agency people are to be believed, the moment they need more SEO help, I’m first in line.

That’s a big if, and it’s hard to bank on so many contingencies. It’s like breaking up with someone to me—if you plan to get back together, you’d better have a good reason and think about what needs to be different this time.

The lesson for me: Make sure if there’s a floor if there’s a ceiling on a contract. “Indefinitely” lasted under 4 months. That’s not how I’d define the word, but it’s the reality I’m facing today.

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