Helping Your Clients in Extreme Uncertainty


I woke up on the Friday morning, October 16, 1987 in my house in London, having been kept awake half the night by a brutal windstorm that resulted in the closing of all financial markets in the UK—and a throbbing headache on my part. I checked my voice mail (no email in those days!) and discovered that my meeting that day with a client, a leading British bank, had been canceled. All week, the stock markets had been experiencing growing turmoil. The following Monday—now known as “Black Monday”—the Dow dropped 22.6%, the largest single-day decline in history. All in one day!

The economist Robert Shiller later surveyed 889 investors to determine why everyone sold stocks that day in historic numbers. Shiller wrote that “The most common responses were related to a general mindset of investors at the time: a ‘gut feeling’ of an impending crash, perhaps brought on by ‘too much indebtedness.’”

Perception, in other words, can quickly become reality. If you think negatively about your business, these perceptions about your business can also become reality.

Today’s crises are not just a “gut feeling” of course. They are very real and significant. But you can make them much, much worse by your beliefs and attitude.

Since Black Monday in 1987, I’ve experienced the “Dot-Com” meltdown in 2000, the great recession in 2008, and now the current crisis (did I mention the 1982 recession also?). Through every recession and crisis, I have consistently grown my client base and my business—it’s never retreated.

Below, I’ve shared some practices that have kept me in good stead. They will help you maintain your professional equilibrium and positively support your clients:

In turbulent times, your client’s priorities will rapidly shift. “Agenda Setting” is no longer a once-a-year activity—during crises, you have to frequently check in with your clients and their evolving priorities and goals.

Maintain contact with clients, but don’t get in their way. If a client is focused on urgent operational matters like ascertaining the location of each employee or enacting time-critical decisions like the cancellation of meetings, there may be nothing you can help them with right now. You don’t want to come across as over-eager and insensitive.

Some of your clients may be feeling dismayed, depressed, upset, adrift, and even helpless because of external events. Don’t act like a naïve booster, but do project confidence and reassurance. Ask them how they are doing. Be empathetic. Make a personal connection with no other agenda.

Remember that things usually do improve. I mentioned the various recessions I’ve been through—I invariably emerged wiser, more experienced, and more prepared for the next crisis. Read this very recent (early March) survey of CEOs from Chief Executive Magazine—it’s not all roses by any means, but the long-term outlook the CEOs express is quite positive.

If you have downtime, sharpen your saw, to quote Stephen Covey. Invest in your thought leadership. Develop a white paper. Restart your blog. Conduct some interviews on an important challenge for your clients. I actually find I work even harder because I double-down on personal and practice development if my client load lightens up a bit.

Have a point of view about the crisis. This might simply mean carefully reading what the real experts are saying, and synthesizing that into several potential scenarios. That way you don’t pretend to be the authority, but you do act like a thoughtful, sophisticated observer who can help clients think through their own options. One of the key roles of a client-advisor is that of “sounding board.” You don’t always have to have the answers.

You may have suffered some disappointments in terms of postponed or lost client business, but remember that a difficult period like this is often the crucible through which deeper, richer relationships are often formed—with your clients, and also with your family and friends. Look forward to that.

Related: You Need Enthusiastic Clients for Your Job Security

PS: I am still offering both of my acclaimed online courses to my subscribers at very substantial “launch” discounts—check them out here:

Building Your Clients for Life (See overview, here. Use the coupon code “subscriber” to get this course for $597, which is $300 off the regular price of $897)

Building Relationships that Matter. (See overview, here. Use the coupon code “relationship” to get this course for $347, versus the $797 regular price)