There’s no better feeling.
After weeks of cold outreach, failed negotiations, and a very scary period of unstable income, you land yourself a killer lead.
They’re exactly what you need and, from what they’ve said, you’re exactly what they need.
Through sheer force of will, grit, and determination you’ve pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and convinced a business you’re not only good at what you do, but that they should pay you to do it for them.
You’re on top of the world. Only a few more steps and you’ll be cashing that 50% deposit check and getting down to work.
But it’s at this final hurdle where everything unravels. The client, despite seeming pretty interested, goes dark.
Every email you send is met with resounding silence, your invoice hasn’t been opened, and you’re starting to worry this could all unravel and drive you back to step one.
You’re stuck in this weird state of limbo. Do you fill the time you’d blocked out for this client with other work? Or have faith that, given time, they’ll return to the fold?
It’s a problem you will face at some point in your freelance career.
It could happen here, when negotiating with new leads, after sending through your proposal and pricing, or even after you’ve turned over your work for their approval.
Later in this piece I’ll detail some smart, tested tactics to bring clients that suddenly go dark back on board. But first, let’s look at the wider picture.
Securing Clients is All About the Follow-Up
Landing clients always has and always will be a case of effective follow-up.
Even when a prospect is responsive you’re going to need to reach out at least three times to get them to hire you. I recently booked a client call which took no less than five cold emails.
The prospect didn’t request any of these five emails and, often, I was following up without hearing anything back from them. If I’d simply quit the first time I heard nothing back I wouldn’t be prepping for a phone call which should translate to $2000 per month.
Effective follow up is the basis of any cold email prospecting strategy (to grab the templates and use the process I do to land clients with email check out this article).
The need for a follow up is no different whether the client is super responsive or takes an age to get back to you.
I see too many freelancers making assumptions and getting themselves into a panicked state because they think the lack of response is somehow their fault.
They do nothing but sit on their arse and wait, which is terrible for morale and a huge drain on productivity and profitability.
Waiting earns zero cookies
You have to follow up if for no other reason than to get a response. A definitive response, be it good or bad, is what you need to continue moving forward.
So, if a client has become unresponsive, don’t panic. Don’t make any assumptions about their thought processes or whether they’ve gone with someone else.
Get your follow up strategy in place and take action to get the answer you need to move on, either with this client or without them. It all starts with…
Consider the Larger Picture
If you’re freelancing, this situation is inevitable. Sooner or later someone is going to not get back to you. It could be after an initial cold email, sending a proposal, or even after submitting work for approval.
It’s gonna happen. But before you go making huge assumptions and convincing yourself you’ve done a crappy job, take a second to think.
There are dozens of reasons why a client, potential or current, could have failed to respond. Very few of those reasons are to do with you.
Below, I’ve listed a couple of reasons that cause unresponsive clients which are both easily remedied and have nothing to do with you or your ability.
An Overlooked Email
How many emails do you receive every single day?
A tonne, right?
According to the Radicati group, the average business person receives 124 emails every single day.
To think there’s no possibility your email simply fell through the gap is ludicrous.
If it has been missed, the client is likely in the same boat as you wondering why you haven’t got back to them.
Emails are often accidentally overlooked, incorrectly filed, or mistakenly deleted. Don’t make assumptions and don’t jump to conclusions. Sending a second email will reduce the risk that it simply fell through the gaps.
Confusion or Lack of Experience
A lot of writers I speak to have at least one client who hasn’t used freelancers before. The nature of freelance work is a completely different kettle of fish to what most are used to and could well cause a client to delay a response.
It’s nothing personal, it’s simply a process they’re not familiar with.
If you have a question or need something clarifying in an office and email isn’t working, you simply stand up, find the person you need and walk over to them. But when the person you’re trying to hash out details with is in a completely different building, city, or even country that’s not an option.
That change in process, despite being super simple, throws people into a bit of a tizzy. They’re taken out of their regular habit and don’t know what to do. They might even confuse speaking to Jen in the office with having told you what to do.
It’s nothing personal, it’s simply that the task of managing outside consultants and contractors is a task traditional businesses often have no experience in.
The average client managing their first freelancer
If your client is still learning the ropes in regards to working with freelancers, try to be patient. Help them through the process and outline what your usual processes are. They’ll be far more grateful for the effort and think of you first when it comes to new work because the whole process is simple.
Their Role in the Decision-Making Process
If you’re working with a larger company,you’re not only going to have to cut through all the red tape bullshit but you’ll likely not be working with a decision maker.
Your contact will have some pull within the company, but often the real decision makers are too busy pulling strings to do the day-to-day management.
Take one of my clients as an example. I work directly with the content marketing manager and she’s amazing. However, if I have ideas about how to amend site structure, improve conversions within articles, or how certain things relate to the bigger picture, she’s not the person to go to.
Her job is to organise, write, edit, and publish according to the content calendar. Not to make decisions based on strategy. And so if I went to her, I’d have to wait for her to either put me in touch with her boss or ask him herself.
A fair comment…
When you’re waiting on a response, ask yourself if you’re speaking to the primary decision maker. If not, it’s going to draw the process out. Especially if you’re awaiting approval on a proposal or offer.
The polite thing would, of course, be for them to keep you updated but hey, not everyone is as polite as we’d like them to be.
I recently lost a client because he was taken extremely ill.
This client had the foresight to update me of the problem and how he was soon to be starting treatment. He also mentioned that he wanted to continue working throughout his treatment.
Which was great news to me, especially as it was for $3,000 per month. However, once treatment started, he went completely quiet.
Emails stopped being answered, the side of his marketing I wasn’t assisting with stopped, and payments stopped coming through. After a couple of weeks of no response, I decided to cut my losses.
I was in a unique position because I knew something was wrong and I knew what was going on. But that could just as easily have been a complete surprise to me.
Last year I suffered an eye injury which put me in hospital for three weeks with zero warning.
If people were waiting on responses from me, they’d have been waiting for three weeks. I wasn’t avoiding them, I literally couldn’t see and, thanks to a lack of wifi and signal, had no way to let them know.
Illness can take people out of the game at a moments notice. Fortunately, it rarely lasts longer than a couple of days so sit tight, follow-up with the below methods and you should see some good progress.
How to Ensure Your Clients Stay Engaged and Responsive
If you’ve been waiting on an important response for a couple of days or weeks, it’s easy find yourself penning a passive aggressive chaser.
Before you put pen to paper, put yourself in the client’s shoes. Try to think what could have gone wrong on their end and be a little sympathetic. The last thing you want to do is take a slow responding client and turn them into a pissed off client.
The below are a couple of actions I take to both reduce the chance I get caught up in a lack of response situation without knowing why, and also to bring them back into the fold.
Establish a Single Point of Contact
I once did some work for a large American payment solution company. The place was huge, and I had no less than four contacts for the project.
It was a fucking nightmare.
I would liaise with the marketing manager and we’d hash out a good strategy. After I’d done 20% of the work, the marketing director wanted to take a look and changed a few bits.
Then there was the product manager who needed me to change things and the CEO who wanted to put his own personal spin on everything.
I was being torn every which way but forward, and making next to no progress.
And yet, the worst part of this wasn’t that we couldn’t decide on a direction, it was the communication. I became the de facto centre of communication. It got to a point where I didn’t know who to contact because everyone thought my questions were everyone else’s job.
I’d send a group email and everyone would ignore it because it was [insert the next guy]’s project.
The solution was pretty simple. Get everyone on a conference call and persuade them to give the job to one person. That one person became my contact making it easy for me to maintain a constant line of communication.
Don’t be afraid to put your foot down and force clients to give you a single point of contact. In the contract I use (and you can download for free here) there is a clause which clearly states I will only to talk X. If anyone else gets involved, then I will refer it to my contact and not action the advice.
It allows me to know who to chase and get familiar with their communication patterns.
Send a Chaser
As I’ve already said, chasing forms the backbone of any communication.
Missing emails and overlooking tasks is just a fact of modern business. Chasing people for a response (when done correctly) is the helpful prod many of us need to take action and get the ball rolling again.
Of course, the chaser you send is going to depend on what point in the relationship you’re at. The chaser has to be relevant to what’s been discussed, or what’s not yet been discussed.
Below I’ve outlined the times in your client relationship that they could go dark, and included a couple of real life examples that have brought clients back into the fold for me.
1 – You’ve sent a cold email but received no response
Literally send a very short email which asks them if they’ve had a chance to look over your initial email and for their thoughts. The goal here is to get them to refer to the more value packed email and get their opinion.
If you offered something of value (like a download or link to an article) reiterate and let them know it’s there.
2 – They’ve expressed an interest but stopped after an initial engagement
Check in with them. Ask how things are going with the thing they engaged with and whether there’s anything else you can help with.
I like to send freebies to leads, cause who doesn’t love free stuff. It also gives me an opportunity to follow up with something more targeted. In this case, I offered some free advice the guy thanked me for and said he’d implement.
After a week, I checked it to see if it had been effective and this email led to us booking a call to talk.
3 – They’ve received a proposal but not responded
This is one of the more common delays as it’s related to pricing. Sometimes the prospect needs to convince themselves it’s worth the price. Sometimes they need to wait for approval from a higher up.
In both situations, I’d recommend pushing for the phone call.
A piece of paper with some fancy words and numbers on isn’t compelling and is easy to seem like you’re overcharging.
However, if you get them on the phone then it’s easier to ally fears and persuade them you’re worth it.
Here’s an example of an email I send after a week of not receiving a reply on a proposal.
4 – No response after work submitted
This is the one I hate the most because it’s the one that plays with my head.
I mean, they’ve decided not to respond after seeing my work so I start thinking that maybe I produced something that’s so far off base and so far from what we agreed that they simply have no words for it.
Truth is, it’s often yet another case of them being busy and having no time to respond. You’ve already been working with these folk and (if you’ve been doing things correctly) collected your 50% deposit up front so a short and sweet question will do the job.
Thos are the four most common sticking points I’ve experienced and have been asked about. However, what do you do if still, after a couple of chasers you see no response?
Pick up the Phone
If a client is being particularly elusive it’s time to pick up the phone.
I know for most writers that’s a scary prospect, but really, it’s one of the best ways to get to the bottom of what’s happening.
The way I like to look at it is it’s a five-minute call which could bring me another couple of hundred or thousand dollars. Not a bad trade.
It might be intimidating, but you’ll thank yourself after you’ve got the job done.
If you do agree anything on the phone, be sure to follow the call with an email detailing everything discussed and agreed to save any future confusion.
The Email that Rarely Fails
If all else fails then it’s time to break out ‘the email that never fails’. I didn’t name this email and for the life of me can’t remember where I first saw it or who created it.
It’s a smart email because it plays on the fear of missing out (FOMO). FOMO, if you’re not aware, is a psychological principle closely linked to loss aversion. Psychologists have discovered that, generally speaking, the fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain.
People will go to great efforts to not lose something and not feel like they’ve missed out. You can use this to prod your prospect into action by alluding to them losing you and the benefits you bring.
Subject: Ending the Project/[Project name]
I’ve not heard back from you in some time now regarding [project]. I’m assuming you’ve gone in a different direction or your priorities have changed. If I can be of any assistance in the future don’t hesitate to get in touch.
I’ve had some success with this, more so than with a general email requesting an update as it panics the client into action. you’re making them think that they could lose you and your awesome skills which, they know, would be bad for their business.
It’s a last resort but one that nearly always gets a response, and more often than not, one that’s positive for you.
Clients Are People Too, Give Them a Break
When you’re dealing with a corporation it’s easy to forget that it still depends on people.
People just like you and I. People who aren’t perfect, and for all the gears in those huge corporate machines are just trying to do their best and get their job done.
They’re busy, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. Often, a lack of response is nothing personal nor is it negative, it is simply the result of a heavy workload.
Give them a break and give them a real chance to get back to you. But never forget to follow up. If you don’t you could be losing 2x or more of the business you should be doing.
The final thing I have to say on this is, also be prepared to walk away.
Don’t chase forever. If you’re at the cold email stage, I’d recommend no more than 5 chasers, later in the relationship you shouldn’t need as many so I’d recommend three chasers and one phone call chase.
If you’re still being ignored after that, your time might be better spent finding a new client to fill the gap.
Got any slick tips or tricks that have broken a client’s silence? Let us know what they are in the commonts below.
Also published on Medium.