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You have an amazing first meeting with a potential client. You’re excited! It’s going to be a fantastic project, and you know you can deliver exactly what they need, within their budget and timeframe constraints. You email your thanks, including follow-up questions, and then poof! They’ve disappeared into the ether, without a trace, or a response (and you become painfully aware that you don’t have a strategy to follow up with clients).
First you’re mildly annoyed. Then you’re frustrated. Then you’re worried. Then you panic. This is not playing out as you had envisioned.
Did they not like you? Did they change their mind? Did they find a faster or cheaper solution?
Possibly none of the above. Possibly all of the above. For whatever reason, when people don’t respond, you begin to have doubts about yourself, what you said, what you did. But don’t let those doubts or concerns take over. It’s time to follow up, determine what caused the lapse in communication, and get the conversation back on track.
When should you follow up with your clients?
Having a variety of “next step” action plans in your bag of tricks makes it easier to follow up in several situations:
- You’ve submitted a proposal that has not received a response.
- A project has been on hold and seemed to stall out.
- You’re waiting for a client to send materials you requested.
- An overdue invoice has gone beyond the reasonable expected payment timeframe.
- There’s been a break in the action, such as holiday or vacation time.
Related: How to get clients to pay on time
Why don’t people respond in the first place?
If there’s no response, don’t take it personally. Be sure to reach out and provide an opportunity to explain. And remember, it may not be all about you:
- They have a business to run — they’re busy, too.
- They’re soliciting more input or feedback before getting back to you.
- Your email was mis-labeled as junk.
- They have concerns and haven’t figured out how to circle back.
- They’re not ready to make a commitment.
How long do you wait before following up?
It all depends on how patient you are, and what you’re following up on. Having said that, my patience has limits and I have guidelines I follow:
Call/meeting request: I expect a response within two to three days. If it’s urgent and I’m requesting something that must happen within two to three days, I’ll follow up the next day.
Submitted proposal: I give them a week to respond. They might be soliciting input from others so it makes sense to give them time to do so. At that point, if still no response I’ll send a short check-in mail. I don’t ask for a decision, but frame it as checking in to see if they have any questions or need more information.
Overdue invoices: I do what I can to encourage on-time payment. When payments are two weeks overdue, I send a friendly remind-o-gram. Another two weeks, another reminder. After that, a message spelling out non-payment consequences.
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8 tips for following up with your clients
At a loss as to how to follow up on that proposal, invoice or request? Here are some helpful tips to remember:
- Be pragmatic.
- Emphasize your needs with a direct subject line.
- Give a specific call-to-action.
- Keep it short and to the point.
- Retain a neutral tone.
- Make it about their best interests.
- Be persistent, but not annoying.
- It’s fine to follow up for other reasons.
1. Be pragmatic
Do you really need to follow up yet? If your request isn’t urgent, will waiting another day or two matter? Check spam. Is it possible their response got misfiled and has been waiting for you all along?
2. Emphasize your needs with a direct subject line
Perhaps your original request was not clear, or the message was overlooked thanks to a noncommittal subject line. Articulate exactly what you need, and by when:
- Images needed by close of business Tuesday
- Signed proposal needed ASAP
- Please check on this overdue invoice
3. Give a specific call-to-action
Be specific about next steps that require action. Clarify the timeframe, and make it one where an extra hour or day won’t negatively impact your progress. For example, if I need something by close of business Friday, I’ll ask for it by close of business Thursday.
4. Keep it short and to the point
Maybe your original request was buried in a long email and they didn’t notice. Keep the reminder short and directly request what you need.
5. Retain a neutral tone
Avoid sounding accusatory, irritated or aggressive. You may have presumed failure or bad intent on their part, but you might be wrong.
Give ‘em the benefit of the doubt, and assume their non-response was merely an oversight.
My preferred approach: “speak precisely, listen forgivingly.”
6. Make it about their best interests
When you follow up, position the ask to highlight why it’s in their best interest to give you what you need. Explain why fulfilling your request actually helps them achieve what they hired you to do. Make it all about achieving their goals, not yours.
7. Be persistent, but not annoying
If your reminder sounds annoyed, harsh or snarky, best to take a breather and re-visit your words after calming down.
8. It’s fine to follow up for other reasons
Usually we follow up because we’re waiting for something. But sometimes it makes sense for other reasons:
After a completed project
Following up on a completed project is a great way to make sure clients are still happy and don’t have any other needs. Clients may hesitate to contact you with questions after project completion, worried they’ve used up their allotted time. If you reach out and demonstrate your willingness to field questions, it could very well remind them why they thought you were the right choice in the first place.
After the holidays
While I try not to start big projects right before the December holiday break, sometimes it’s unavoidable. That one- to two-week break in the middle makes it challenging to get everyone re-focused on the work at hand. I’ll usually wait until January 3 or 4, and then send a check-in email, starting with “Hope you had a great holiday and your New Year is off to a fabulous start. Let me know when you’re ready to get back to our project.”
Any milestone is a good excuse to follow up proactively, such as to acknowledge special anniversaries of customers doing business with you. And at the same time, make sure they’re still happy and their needs are being met.
Create a plan to follow up with clients
Before your next follow-up situation occurs, consider crafting boilerplate messages you can use as a starting point. Then use these tips to move follow-up activities from stress-inducers to issue-resolvers.