Rehoming clients is a lot like rehoming cats

Lots of cats
Lots of cats

Upper Cockenzie, —I have spent the last few weeks winding down my freelance web design business (been going for 7 years) and its a lot harder than I thought it would be. The simple things like not taking on any new clients, letting existing clients know and administrative stuff is pretty straightforward. However the part that is proving the most fiddly is sorting out my existing clients and finding them a new home.

I made the decision early on NOT to suddenly close up shop and leave my clients hanging. I have seen this happen many times and its not pretty. While it may seem like the quickest exit, it would leave a lot of unhappy folk. Clients who were originally friends, clients who become friends and clients who will remain friends. Its just not my style.

I gave my clients a couple of months notice by email that at the end of May 2012 I wanted to be in a position where I was no longer responsible for their websites, hosting and email, BUT, still able to field questions and help if I could. Around only 50% of my clients actually responded, which was a LOT less than I thought. It took a further two rounds of emails of increasing urgency to eventually elicit a response from everyone but we got there.

(I have around 40 clients of varying degrees of complexity; mailboxes, hosting, maintenance, websites, applications, etc.)

It was only once I started the process, did things get complex. Speaking to each client in turn, finding out what they wanted to do, did they have another supplier they wanted to use? Did they want to run things themselves? Did they know what they were doing? And for some, surprisingly, what services did they have with me and how much did it cost them!?!

I thought it would be quite easy to rehome my clients, potentially even selling the business as a whole or at least large groups of clients but it didn’t happen like that. As I spoke to each client I came to realise that it was very similar to rehoming a cat…

(Please for one minute don’t think I am comparing cats to clients, this would be wholly unfair on our feline friends).

What I mean by this is that over the years, you kind of grow attached to your clients, you get used to their nuances, habits, good points and even problems. For the most, you learn to live with them, adapt, put up with them and sometimes even clean out their litter tray.

When it comes time to find them a new home, it has taken time and effort to find the right person and place for them to go. Some clients need a lot more hand holding, for some its all about price and some just want to be left alone. For the more tricky clients, finding them a supplier that would tolerate them has also proven taxing. Most clients just want things to continue in the same manner they are accustomed to.

I did my best and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, everyone will be gone and be settling into their new homes. Means I can finally hoover and get rid of all the cat hair on the couch.


Ed Henderson