Losing a Big Client after Ten Years of Service

Lidia Korinko

Unfortunately, this story doesn't have a happy ending. Sometimes things don't work out, and that's just part of life.

Back in 2003, I started a Graphic Design and Printing business. I started networking at my business began to grow, and by the end of my first year, I landed a large client. Let's call them The Seminar Kings (not their real name). Initially, they didn't have a ton of work for me; it grew over time. As my business grew, I started hiring support staff and additional Graphic Designers. We moved from my dining room to an actual business location.

Each time I would have a new Graphic Designer work with The Seminar Kings, there would be a learning curve. The client would complain about the designer, and I would ask for more time to train until eventually, they were happy with the designer, and all was good. The training included design preferences and customer service. When this customer turns in a request, we process it ASAP. We do not tell them that there is someone ahead of them, etc.

I also hired a Freeland Contractor. Unfortunately, this person ended up being the one who burned me in the end. So, here's what happened. A family member let me know of a woman (Graphic Designer) laid-off from a printing company (the company closed) where she had worked for many years. Without work, she was now living with her daughter. This person was in another state. In addition to working for me as a Freelance Contractor, she was also working a minimum wage retail job, and it began to interfere with how quickly she could turn the workaround.

I committed to her that if she quit the minimum wage job, I would pass enough work to her that would make up for it. Plus, I was paying her 3X's what she was making in retail. It was a no-brainer, but I had to convince her because she was losing the security of the retail job.

Before I go into how great everything was (for a while), I must tell you that she needed a lot of training. I spent hours with her on the phone going over how to work with the client. At one point, the client didn't want to work with her, and like before, I asked for more time to train, and I got her up to where she needed to be. Ahhh, all is good in the world now. She's doing a lot of work for the big client, which is freeing us to work on projects for other clients so that I can continue to grow my business. Everyone is happy! The Freelance Contractor was able to move out of her daughter's home and get an apartment, and the client was pleased with the service and turn-around time, and I was happy making all this happen. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I had the freelance contractor sign a non-compete agreement. Now, in California, where my business was, those contracts usually don't hold up in court because it's a "right to work state." Having her sign one anyway was because most people would abide by their agreements. Since she was out of state, she could go to work and find her clients; I didn't have an issue with that.

Here is where things took a turn for the worst. One evening my husband came to me and said, "the company that I work for is selling the business, and they want me to move to Texas to work at their head office." That's a no. I mean, I have a business that I've been building for ten years. I can't run it from another state. I'll have to write another story about that whole thing because my life completely changed course—something I wasn't expecting. We did move to Texas, and I tried to run my business from there, but it wasn't working, and sales started to decrease. Not only was it not working, but I had to let go of a designer who had been with me a long time (of course, I'm the bad guy for letting her go, and now she won't talk to me). I mean, we were hanging on by a thread. Do you know what happened to me? I stopped taking a paycheck to help with cash flow. Then my office manager became pregnant and, after she had her baby, decided not to come back after she had promised that she was going to (I support her decision, it just arrived at the wrong time for me). Lastly, my son, Ryan, who was helping to run the office, had to have throat surgery and couldn't talk or work for 4-6 weeks. I had to close the doors, fly down, pack up the office, and close. The worst part of the story is yet to come; keep going.

Even with the closed office, I was able to keep a good amount of business because most of our communication is via email, so that was good. All the printing was outsourced and could be shipped directly from the vendor. I still had the freelancer working with my big client and keeping them happy.

Now the horrible part. My client, The Seminar King, who had been with me for ten years, which I nurtured and made sure my employees did everything exactly right for them, sent me an email letting me know they were leaving me. Losing them would devastate my business as if it wasn't already. Then I thought about the poor freelance contractor who was utterly dependent on the income from The Seminar Kings. I called her right away, told her what happened, and let her know that I would try my hardest to send her work to help keep her afloat.

As it turns out, I didn't have to worry about her because she wouldn't be losing anything. She was going to be working with my client directly. She didn't tell me this. She played along like she didn't know anything, but while speaking to her, I figured it out. She thanked me for teaching her all she needed to know to have her own business when I confronted her. I never knew how much betrayal could hurt until this day. Someone who I helped when they needed a job and I trained.

Yes, I hired a lawyer and wanted to sue her, but The Seminar King backed her and wrote me that she didn't approach them they approached her. My mistake was not having a contract with them. But, when I started with them, it was just me, and over the ten years, I never thought to have them sign something saying that they wouldn't steal my employees. I never thought that they would do something like that. They were looking to cut costs, so cut out the middle man.

So yeah, no happy ending here. I cried and cried, and it took a few weeks to get over. But business is business, and that's how it goes. I got over it. I still have a handful of clients that I work for from home. I have no desire to hire people to work for me again—the end.

Remember Sleepless in Seatle? Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan "it wasn't personal" (after his business steels all of her business), she says, "it was personal to me".

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Everybody has a story and I'm fascinated with "our" stories... you, me, just everyday people. I like stories that we can learn from, stories that send a message, hopefully a positive message, and stories that make you think. This is a new journey for me and I hope you find my stories interesting.

Flower Mound, TX

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