Navigation Menu+

The Day I…

The Day I Lost My Biggest Client, by Boss Man Jamie Freeman


A day to remember, or a day they’d rather forget. Organisation leaders share the lessons they learned at a tipping point in their lives or careers: the day when something – maybe everything – changed. Here, web designer and entrepreneur Jamie Freeman explains why he saw a major blow to his business as a massive opportunity.

Strategist The Day I

Jamie Freeman of web company Message

My company had been responsible for building one of the Noughties’ most successful and influential ecommerce sites, which helped turn my client, a startup, into a £25 million turnover company in less than a decade. Combining their branding skills with our user experience and web design talents had really gelled and for years their growth spurred our own. It was a match made in heaven.

But many relationships go through rocky times, and ours was no exception. As a small agency we sometimes struggled to keep up with their growing needs, and yet it seemed to us that our efforts to serve them for the best often went unheeded. A typical quarrelling couple, then.

The ecommerce platform we’d built was still going strong (turnover was going through the roof) and at peak times they would take thousands of orders in a single day. But we knew the code, some of it approaching eight years old, was in need of serious work. So we arranged a meeting with the client’s senior team and went to pitch them on the idea of a rebuild.

Our 20-minute presentation was excellent. We showed them our ‘house built on shaky foundations’ analogy, explaining that the endless extensions, conservatories, loft conversions and UPVC windows they kept asking for (in web terms) were, sooner rather than later, going to bring the whole edifice crashing down around their ears.

The solution? Rebuild from the ground up, at a cost equivalent to a tiny percentage of turnover – and probably for less than the current schedule of maintenance and developments was costing them. The new platform would be robust, built to modern coding standards, way more secure, fully unit-tested, thoroughly documented, extensible, and completely modular.

A different solution…

It was a killer presentation, and we sat back and waited for them to applaud our frankness and vision. Instead, we were fired. They’d been thinking along similar lines, realising that the platform was not going to meet their needs for much longer and that it wouldn’t take them forward to being a £50–£100 million-turnover company. It’s just that they had a different solution: find a new supplier.

With our biggest client heading for the door we decided on the only sensible course of action: expansion! To hell with continuing to develop on our old platform; it was making our developers’ lives a misery, not just because it was a pain to debug old code, but because it made us a backward-facing company. We decided to completely rebuild our ecommerce platform from the ground up, just as we’d pitched to our client, but even better.

We hired more staff, moved into bigger premises in the heart of the city, with none of the baggage of the previous 17 (and now 18) years in business. All the staff are energised by our new goal – “Be the best!” – and every day we strive together in the same direction.

We’ve doubled in size since being fired, such is the investment we’ve made in our own future. Rather than continue to tread a rather dull path of servicing clients in exchange for mere money, we’re cutting swathes through uncharted land. The company has changed direction and become an exciting place to work with an outstanding bunch of fellow travellers.

So the day I lost my biggest client was also the day I found my future.

The Strategist says

Jamie Freeman’s response to a major blow to his business marks him out as someone with entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of navel-gazing and licking his wounds, he seized the opportunity to go somewhere new, realising that his company had drifted into safe waters where it risked being becalmed. Dealing with success is sometimes the easy part; how you handle failure can mark you out as a real business strategist.
Jamie Freeman calls himself ‘Boss Man’ of Message, a web design company based in Brighton. It was founded in 1995, making it perhaps the longest-established company of its type in the city. Its clients include cycling brand Rapha, Manchester-based men’s clothing outlet Oi Polloi, and online design emporium Darkroom. Jamie is also a musician and co-runs the popular Union Music Store and record label with his wife, Stevie.








Signal, not noise
Twitter @strategistmag