A few weeks ago I was sat watching TV wondering why one of my clients had ‘gone dark’. I’d asked for an update on a new customer of her’s which required a reply taking no longer than 30 seconds. Communication with this client had always been somewhat sporadic, each request often took one or two emails and maybe a Skype message to elicit a response, but this time it was different.
She’d recently landed a new customer she was extremely excited to work with. I was providing the copywriting service for this new customer and had sent through a few samples for the client to get an idea of my work. I gave it around nine days (as it was the christmas period) before chasing up any new developments, yet every message I sent was answered with silence. The curse of the unresponsive client had struck again.
I’m one of those people who can’t even have one outstanding phone app update. I need everything squared away before the end of each working day, responding to emails being a priority. I don’t believe in playing the games many advocate such as responding after a few days to create the illusion of being in demand. If someone emails a request, I’ll take the time to respond to it at the first available opportunity. Even if the response is unfavourable, whoever’s waiting deserves to know what’s going on. After all, it’d be rude not to reply!
This is why I have such a huge problem with non responders.
It took me a long time to realise is that this is my problem. I can’t expect all of my clients to share my views on timely communication and I can’t blame them for being unable to respond to me as soon as they receive my query.
The more I think about it the more irrational my annoyance appears. Of course I want the client to come back to me with the green light, not only for the monetary compensation approval promises but also the validation acceptance brings. I know all too well how even a minor delay can seem like an eternity for the writer whose business might not be going so well but the fact is we’ll never know what the person on the other end of the email is dealing with.
It’s easy to forget that there’s an actual person at the other end of the emails you’re sending. A person with their own worries, distractions and workload to consider. The client could be taking a while to respond for a number of reasons, most of which are nothing to do with you or your work. Put yourself in their shoes and consider if any of the below might be contributing to their delayed response.
Proportion of Workload
If the client you’re having trouble connecting with constitutes a large portion of your income (which they shouldn’t be!) then their deliberations could well be costing you a fair amount of cash.
They might be one of your primary clients but you might be a five or ten percent of their workload, especially if said client is a very large company. They’ve likely got a ton of other work with a higher priority meaning that you’re in the unfortunate position of just waiting it out.
We’ve all seen it happen, and I’m sure we’re all guilty of doing this at some point in the past as well. In my last full-time office job I used to receive around 150 emails per day. I’m oddly proud that I was able to clear this every day, but once a month or so I’d miss an important email which would often be followed by a rather angry chaser a few days later to ask why I was ignoring them.
Accidents happen, don’t be the person who responds poorly to a slow response, it makes clients less likely to want to work with you in the future.
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 people are used to and could well cause a client to delay a response for a number of reasons.
If your client is still learning the ropes in regards to working with freelancers try not to be impatient, instead 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.
Their Role in the Decision Making Process
Your contact at ‘Company X’ might not be in a position to make any large decisions relating to your working agreement, instead having to refer everything to a more senior employee. Obviously adding an extra link into the chain is going to slow things down.
Bringing Them Back into the Fold
Before you take to penning a chaser for the client remember to put yourself in their shoes. It’s easy to get worked up and send an email that you may later regret.
There’s a few tips that I’ve picked up which help get a response out of the clients who are notoriously quiet or slow to respond.
Single Point of Contact
I once had a gig writing for a large american payment solutions company at which I had no less than four contacts. This obviously made it a nightmare to get anything done. Contact A would make a specific request which was completely at odds with contact B’s needs. I eventually got them all in a conference call to iron out the details and designate a single point of contact for the project.
Don’t be afraid to be a little pushy with your clients if it really calls for it.
Send a Chaser
I usually wait around three to four working days before sending a quick chaser to the client. We’ve already covered some of the many reasons why you might be waiting on a response so be sure to keep it professional and polite. Include the original email you sent to them and ask if they’ve got an update on the projects progression.
Pick up the Phone
If a client is being particularly elusive it’s time to pick up the phone. It’s often the best way to get the issue sorted and get the ball rolling again. I know a lot of writers would prefer to rely on the written word for communication but if the future of a project hangs in the balance you have to take action.
If you have called a client be sure to email them a full report of what was agreed on the phone and ask for confirmation from them so it’s all in writing.
The Email that Never Fails
If all else fails then it’s time to break out ‘the email that never fails’. Just to be clear, I didn’t name this email and, for the life of me, I can’t remember where I first saw it or who created it.
I haven’t got the original template but from memory the email is similar to the below:
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. If anyone knows the original source of the email let us know in the comments so I can include the relevant link!
When you’re chasing a client for an update on a project try not to burn your bridges. Useful contacts will move around and you don’t want to get a reputation as being difficult to work with. However, don’t reserve precious writing time for the clients who can’t keep you up to date. Put their project on the back burner and work with the clients you can rely on for timely responses and a steady income.
If things really get bad, don’t be afraid to end the working relationship. Every minute you spend chasing a non responsive client is a minute not spent increasing your income.
If you’ve got any tips or hints on how best to deal with non responsive clients have a word in the comments below.