So your client’s gone through an acquisition – now what?

Nobody likes change, and a merger/acquisition is a pretty major one. In Q4 2023, the value of UK domestic mergers and acquisitions was £2.7 billion, up from £2.5 billion in Q3.

As for our industry, well…anyone who’s not under a rock will know all about the deluge of tech lay-offs since 2023. So what happens to the little guys when the scythe swings? It’s something I’ve been pondering as I continue to question the freelancer’s role.

Not all acquisitions are created equal

Or rather, not all break-ups. If you’ve got a ‘good thing going’ with a client, there’s nothing more disheartening than a change of ownership. Workloads fluctuate. Processes merge. Suppliers become surplus to requirements.

It’s not always a freelancer working for an agency that’s been bought out. Even if you’re in-house or an agency, you might have seen situations like:

  • Your favourite account manager leaving
  • The company taking everything in-house
  • ‘Restructuring’…

They have one thing in common. Change. So how do we handle it? I reached out to content writers and translators to get the skinny.

Speaking from experience…

At Katie Lingo, where we often work with agencies, we’ve seen this happen many times. It’s usually great news for them – a sign of growth, new market development and so on. But as a supplier, you may find yourself fretting or bewildered.

Here’s what my lovely survey participants agreed to share. Some have been kept anonymous.

Freelancers are told about the acquisition – mostly.

When asked if they were given a heads-up, all respondents said they were told in some capacity. “My contact did allude to changes, but I didn’t know a merger was in the offing,” says Natalie Elvin, email marketing strategist.

Others confess they were “savvy enough to suss it out” while brand voice expert Jonathan Wilcock was “well into a project” before being told his main contact had left. Asked if they were all-out lied to, almost half of all participants said yes.

This is likely to rile us up a bit, as one editor tells me. “You feel like you’re owed an explanation. In our line of work, we don’t want to piss anybody off – but there’s still a business relationship there.”

The moral of the story? Managers: draw up a list of every supplier you’re taking on and make it your business to let them know. Even if it’s bad news.

Navigating changes

Rare is the situation where nothing changes under new management. Content writer Jo Martin was assured nothing drastic was happening – just a change to invoicing. “The company totally changed – they became a lot more corporate, a lot less caring of their freelancers.”

Translator Bex Elder adds that acquisitions are common in her industry and often result in a worse deal. “Typically, I’ve been promised nothing will change. In the end, there has been more bureaucracy and complex systems to get paid, as well as less work and pressure to lower rates.”


Maintaining relationships

If things do turn sour, how can both freelancers and agencies cope? Often, it depends on our relationships with the individual. For example:

If a contact has left…

Perhaps they left on their own terms or were made redundant. In my experience, there’s no need to burn bridges. I have often sent ‘nudges’ to account managers and all-round good contacts, only to find they’ve moved on.

If this is the case, stay in touch on other mediums. “I always recommend reaching out on LinkedIn,” says one anonymous editor. “Somebody might be swamped by 200 emails per day but more responsive on another channel.”

This has worked for Katie Lingo, too. We started out writing for a running brand and kept in touch with the contact before moving with her to a period tracking app. Relationships are key.

If your contact has stayed…

HR consultant and content writer Bryan Driscoll recalls seeing a whole supplier network unravel. “My relationship didn’t change much because my contacts at the company remained. They had cut out every freelancer except me – selfishly, I was glad they kept me, but after a while, I saw the writing on the wall.”

Bryan adds that he and the company did eventually part ways, so it always pays to be prospecting. This may even mean reaching out to new management. Speaking for Katie Lingo, I have been wary of bothering account managers when they can no longer speak for the company. So I looked up the new owners, introduced myself and went for a coffee. Like Bryan, I’d always advise being proactive.

If it all goes t*ts up…

Sometimes, new management means a whole shift of working cultures – and not always for the better. One employee tells me about a mid-sized agency that was bought out by an investment company.

“The new owners decided to merge their various London premises. On the surface, this made sense, but some of the cultures were diametrically opposed. Clients new and old didn’t understand it. My advice would be to the management: talk to your stakeholders. If neither your clients nor your staff are on board with the merger, call it off. It could save you millions.”

As for freelancers, Natalie Elvin suggests tightening up your payment processes. After one deal left her without the final payment on a project, she changed her terms. “I now ask for 50 per cent before I commit the project to my calendar.”

It’s not all bad news

There is a silver lining to these war stories. For example, Natalie maintained her contacts and continued to work with them elsewhere, as we have done at Katie Lingo. One agency worker says: “There’s no need to panic. Yes, a change of leadership could mean job cuts or different ways of working.

“On the other hand, there’s a strong chance they will value the continuity you bring and your knowledge of their clients.”

Top tips for client acquisitions

Whether it’s a Musky takeover or a gentle transition, there are always lessons to be learnt. Take it from me and my lovely agency/freelancer contacts:

  1. “Trawl LinkedIn and look for new people to approach. You have a massive advantage over a cold supplier if you’ve worked for the company before.”
  2. “If your contact has moved on, don’t disparage the old company – even if they want to! There is rarely a need to burn bridges and you can maintain relationships with both.”
  3. “Set aside time each week to prospect, whether on LinkedIn or networking.”
  4. “Make sure your payment terms are watertight and don’t have your final payment on completion.”
  5. “Trust your instincts about new contacts. You have to decide if it’s worth continuing.”
  6. “Know your boundaries and stick to them, such as minimum rates or admin hours.”
  7. “Keep in touch but don’t hassle. More importantly, don’t rely on one client for all your income.”
  8. “Make sure you’re clear on the impact it has on you and ask questions if you’re not sure.”


They say every crisis is an opportunity. If you suspect changes ahead, don’t panic – treat it as a chance to strengthen your relationships. Send that email. Tag them on LinkedIn. Grab a coffee.

What will be will be, but there’s no replacement for a genuine rapport with your clients. Take that, ChatGPT.

Acquisitions of clients
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
31st March 2024