As I look back, we have done a lot of work that I am proud of, but there are some clients and business relationships that stand out. It was a combination of things that made them special, but all of them share a common fate of becoming former clients. The hardest part is that none of them ended because I stopped doing good work, but because external circumstances changed. Nothing stays the same, and that is a good thing and a bad thing.
Working myself out of business
One of my earliest clients was the owner of a manufacturing company. I don’t remember how we were introduced. He was a former executive betting his retirement money on buying a floundering manufacturer and making the business grow. It starter with a flyer for a trade show, but I knew he needed more and suggested a way to generate leads. He was pleased with my approach, and the work grew from there. I eventually was in charge of all their marketing and branding. I got invited to company events and knew all the employees. I enjoyed the opportunity of helping an organization turn around. The owner knew what he was doing, and the company grew. At a year-end party he shared how they had grown 30% that year. I was thrilled to be a part of their success, but things began to change. To manage the growth, the owner hired more employees including a marketing director who brought in his own team. He took me out to lunch to thank me, but the work was done.
Toxic work culture
Four years after I sold my first business, my former partner went bankrupt. He told one of the clients to call me. This client and I hit it off immediately. My client loved to do thoughtful work, but didn’t like to play office politics. I think what this person valued most about our working relationships was my willingness to work within the limitations of the drama that swirled around. I would bring strong ideas, and if concepts got squished, I didn’t complain or make her feel bad, but did the best with what we could. And we did great work, successful work, and the best part — we had a lot of fun. But at some point the office drama became too much, and my client retired. The new regime “knew everything” and wanted to do everything differently. So it really doesn’t matter if your results are stellar, you can still be eliminated.
Great relationships and great work — they make working joyful. I have been blessed with many great clients over the last fifteen years. I still get a bit wistful, but I have learned to focus on gratitude. They were great opportunities, and even though saying goodbye was hard, they have lead to other great clients. Nothing stays the same, and that ultimately is a good thing as it keeps me growing and learning.
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