In most industries clients come and go. Even highly engaged clients that really seem to be excited and interested in the service you’re providing might take some time away. It happens for a wide variety of reasons; lack of time, lack of staff, lack of funds, but whatever the reason, sometimes those clients come back. Holding a grudge isn’t going to do anyone any favors, keep a level head and a few of these things in mind when a long-lost client comes back to transition back into a happy, healthy working relationship.
Forgive and move on – People get busy. Especially people that are running their own business. If they leave, most of the time it isn’t personal. If they decide to come back, the easiest way to get back to work quickly is to put the past in the past and take the next step forward. If the client is really interested in getting back to business, it shouldn’t be a problem to pick up where you left off. There is an ebb and flow to all working relationships and sometimes they need time to put out other fires. Stay consistent, clearly communicate what you need and move forward.
Don’t throw their stuff out – Like after a bad breakup, your first instinct is to get rid of all of their junk, well sometimes they come back and you’re going to need all of the graphics, contact information and previous work you have done for them. Keep all of the materials you’ve collected in one place where you can access it if you need it. Even if they don’t come back, it’s a good idea to have this work on hand as reference, or for the past client in case they need it.
Be aware of old habits – Before they left you probably had come to a comfortable working relationship and rhythm. The kinks were, for the most part, sorted out and your timelines were consistent. Jumping back in with both feet does not mean that those old issues won’t resurface, be aware that you might have to re-establish those standards.
Keep the lines of communication clear – To prevent this from happening again, be very clear about what you will do for them, but also what you need from them. The easiest way to keep the train running smoothly is to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and how we can keep from derailing again. Take the past as a lesson and make sure you know the best way to get in contact with them and their preferred communication style. The longer you know a client, the better you know how they operate. If you feel them pulling away again, clear communication will go a long way.
Help them move on – Sometimes you have to acknowledge that you and a client just aren’t working out. This can happen in a variety of ways, just like any other relationship. Maybe your client has grown and you don’t provide the new services that they are looking for. Maybe it’s you that has changed and working with this client isn’t what’s best for your company. Either way, the best thing you can do is help them move on. As a professional in your industry, you most likely know plenty of other businesses that could be a better fit if things don’t work out. Suggesting a company that can better meet their needs is the best way to help everyone.
Don’t be afraid to bring clients back if they have taken some time away, but also, be aware of signs that this relationship isn’t working out. Professionally, it’s never a good idea to burn bridges. Even if you don’t see the potential of working with a client ever again, good rapport will help down the road with other potential clients. We all get busy from time to time, be aware of what your clients are going through and make the effort to move forward, when or if they come back.