Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Referral From a Lost Opportunity

Two years ago I lost a bid on a project, and just last week the would-be client recommended me over the design firm he eventually used. It seems that maintaining professionalism and humbleness even in the face of defeat can also yield opportunities.

Something odd happened to me earlier this week that I think is worth relating strictly for its anecdotal qualities. It turns out that a new client I met with just this week was referred to me by a person for whose website project I bid on but ultimately lost to a competitor.

Two years ago, a commercial real estate developer contacted me to provide an estimate on a website redesign. I put together a competitive and detailed proposal, and visited the client in their office to go over my methodology, their business, and the scope of the new site in some detail. I was confident the job was mine; the client and I developed an immediate back-slapping rapport, and we clearly saw eye-to-eye on all aspects of the project.

Unfortunately, the client’s partner did not like me, and the company ended up going with another local design firm. I was surprised, annoyed, and disappointed. But I sent the would-be client one final e-mail congratulating them on finding a design firm with whom they were comfortable, good luck in future endeavors, and some other mushy business fluff that I considered a formality at the time.

Fast forward two years. Well it turns out the client I met with this week is related by marriage to this real estate developer, and when my new client sought recommendations for a local web designer, he gave her my name — not the name of the firm his own company ended up using.

I have never been referred by someone who chose not to use my services over a competitor; in fact, I never even considered it a source of leads. A lost bid is water under the bridge, after all. But I guess the qualities that help a freelancer win a job — professionalism, humbleness, and talent — are equally valuable when accepting defeat and backing out of an opportunity. You know, graceful exit and all that.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Friday February 8, 2008

Very cool. It’s probably good to be professional when you don’t get a job. I prefer leaving a flaming bag of poo on their doorstep.

Michael Dick

wrote the following on Friday February 8, 2008

Interesting, I am assuming it was the partner that ‘liked’ you that sent you the referral though? Correct?


wrote the following on Saturday February 9, 2008

Yes, the referral came from the parter with whom I got along. And in all honesty, it’s not like the other guy smashed a bottle over my head and called my mother something naughty — for whatever reason, he was adament about going with the competitor.


wrote the following on Tuesday February 12, 2008

It’s always good not to burn your bridges…you never know where that next referral will come from. I’m glad you got something out of the situation!


wrote the following on Saturday February 23, 2008

So true. I’ve had many the same experience now where I am glad that I had the wits to put my emotions aside and act professionally. It’s a small world we live in and the web design world is even smaller…