5 Email scripts for following up when a client is unresponsive

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When sending an initial client intake questionnaire, proposal, contract, initial designs, or anything where you’ve asked a client to take action, you need to follow up if you don’t hear back from them.

Many freelancers don’t realize how important it is to follow up with prospects. We often only give prospects one chance to respond and if they don’t bite we throw up our hands, sigh and say, “Oh well.”

How to follow up

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of a business following up with you and didn’t notice it was an established sequence they were following as part of their operating procedures. A typical follow-up sequence for most businesses is 5-6 emails before moving on if you are unresponsive.

You can actually test this. Try it. Sign up for a service or SAAS product demo and don’t respond to any of their follow up emails and see what happens.

This will give you an idea of how persistent you need to be and you’ll get a first-hand look at their follow-up sequence.

Now if a company that has no existing relationship with you is willing to follow up that many times, it’s a given that you should continue to be persistent with prospects you’ve had some form of actual correspondence with.

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Why they don’t respond

The reason they don’t respond to you is that they have other stuff going on. It’s as simple as that.

As you’ll see below in an email exchange between myself and a prospect (who’s now my client), they have different reasons why they might not respond. Mostly it’s because they are running a business and have bills to pay, employees to manage, and meetings to attend.

You’re not their #1 priority. You’d be lucky to be top 5 on their priority list. So naturally, getting back to you sometimes doesn’t happen.

Did I say sometimes?

In actuality, I almost always follow up with a prospect after the first interaction before they get back to me. I expect it to be that way and that’s when I use my 5 step follow up sequence.

What to do when they don’t respond

Let’s say a prospect has contacted you. They’ve answered your initial questions about their project, and you’ve put together a proposal and sent it to them.

You get silence. No response. What do you do?

It’s certainly not the time to do nothing. You need to follow up!

Below are the steps I use to send a proposal and follow up with unresponsive prospects.

We recommend setting up auto-reminders using software like Freshbooks or Bonsai.

PS: Download these 5 scripts + 10 more proven templates for getting new clients, following up, and building your business—all for just $5.
Yes, seriously. Click here.

Step 1. Send proposal

Subject: Project Proposal

Hi [PROSPECT],

I’ve attached a proposal for you to review. Please look it over and let me know your thoughts.

If one of the packages looks good, and you wish to move forward, the next step is to let me know which package you would like to proceed with. I’ll then get a contract together for you to review, and we’ll proceed from there.

Feel free to ask me any questions about the packages.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

[YOUR NAME]

Step 2. First follow-up

If I haven’t heard back, three business days after I’ve sent the proposal I send follow up email #1:

Subject: Project Proposal

Hi [PROSPECT],

I wanted to follow up on the proposal I sent over on [INSERT DATE SENT].

I’d like to set up a call to discuss any questions you might have.

I’m available to talk between [INSERT MULTIPLE TIME OPTIONS], or between [INSERT SECOND OPTION (date, time and time zone)]

If these times don’t work, let me know and I’ll work around your schedule.

Please let me know if you are still interested, and if so, which day works for you.

Thanks again for the opportunity,

[YOUR NAME]

Pro Tip: Always send an email with a call to action. This keeps the process moving along. In this email, I am assuming they have questions, and I’d like to address those questions by setting up a call with them.

Often, they’ll schedule the call. Other times, they’ll respond to the email with questions about the process. Either response is fine.

Step 3. The reminder

If I hear nothing, I’ll follow up three or four days later with follow up email #2:

Hi [NAME],

Just floating this to the top of your inbox in case you missed it.

Thanks,

[YOUR NAME]

This email gives them a friendly nudge to respond. It’s really short and non confrontational and is just a gentle reminder.

I’ve opened a loop by asking them to set up a call and this email reminds them of that loop. They haven’t responded yet so that loop is still open in their mind and they may be keen to close it.

I’ll often get some sort of response from them at this point, but if I don’t hear from them, now is when I start to assume the project is not going to happen.

By now the expiration date on my proposal has passed, and they haven’t been responsive. However, I still go all the way to the end of the follow up sequence.

Step 4. Final attempt

I wait a full week and then I send follow up email #3 in the same email thread:

Hi [NAME],

Is this project still a priority for you? I’ve been keeping space open in my schedule for this project, but if you’ve decided to go in another direction that’s no problem. Just let me know.

[YOUR NAME]

This email has a very direct tone and may get a quick response out of them that gives some reason for not responding earlier. Something like, “I was traveling,” or “Sorry, I was very busy.”

Step 5. Close the loop

If I don’t hear back after another week, I close the loop and get it out of my mind by sending follow up email #4 letting them know I’ve moved on and will no longer be emailing them about this project:

Hi [NAME],

Since I have not heard back from you, I have to assume your priorities have changed.

Let me know if I can be of any help in the future.

[YOUR NAME]

Sending this email allows me to move on from any ideas or plans I might have had for this potential project. It’s tough when a project comes along that looks promising because inevitably, as a designer, you start to create a vision for the project.

Closing the loop on the project allows me to put that vision to rest so I can move on and stop wasting my time thinking about it.

A real life example

Below is real email exchange that shows how this can play out. You’ll see the prospect didn’t respond until I followed up with them using one of the scripts above.

It is so common for them to not respond right away that I always assume I will need to follow up. I expect it.

Unknown

Notice the dates. I sent an email with the proposal, and the prospect’s first response was to confirm receipt of the proposal. That was late on a Friday evening, so I didn’t send my email (Jan 11) until Monday morning.

After 3 business days (Jan 14), I sent him the follow-up email asking to set up a call.

Here’s the rest of the email chain after I answered some questions he had about the process:

Unknown-1

You can see how this process can take a while. It could have been sped up if he decided to take the phone call appointment with me, but he’s a busy guy and always answered my emails late in the evening after work.

Not surprisingly, his #1 priority is his business, not me.

You can see here that you have to be patient, but also keep the process moving along. Had I not followed up, it’s possible I would have never heard from him again.

What you can do today

So what’s the one thing you can do today?

The one thing you can do is get your follow-up sequence in place. Go with the expectation that you won’t hear back from a prospect on the first pass and the next time you send a client a proposal and don’t hear back, you’ll be ready for it and know what to do next.

Try setting up autoresponder sequences using Freshbooks or ConvertKit.

What are some ways you deal with unresponsive clients? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Great advice, Ian!
    Prospects who disappear after receiving our proposal is very common among freelancers and often discussed.

    I think a 2nd or 3rd follow up email would be enough for me.
    I don’t want to be pushy, because in my case, 90% of the prospects who don’t respond, they just don’t have the budget.
    And many of them feel uncomfortable to admit it.
    (I am an architect and my fee is only a small part of the whole amount one has to invest.)

    • Thanks Maria! Yes, working with the right clients is even more important than following up.

      It’s one of those things where you do it right in the beginning or all the other tactical stuff down the road becomes irrelevant.

      If you are working with the wrong people, following up with them is not going to help your cause.

      So what I do is first send a client questionnaire with a minimum budget amount on it. That way, if I’ve gotten to the point of writing a proposal for them, I know they at least meet the budget requirement.

      The reason I go all the way to the end of the sequence is really just to get it out of my head. At the point of sending them the Closing The Loop email, I am just looking for closure for myself so I can move on.

  2. This is a great reminder to follow up. So many forget this important step. I have my own “3 strikes and out” unofficial rule. I contact my potential clients 3 times after the initial proposal is sent. Usually once a couple days after, another about week after, and then a 3rd about a week after that. Usually after this point, they are “a gonner”, but you never know. I do keep “the loop” somewhat open so that I can reach out again…even if it’s months or a year later. I’ve actually had responses that far after. And if they haven’t officially told you no then they shouldn’t be annoyed if you keep reaching out 🙂

    • Thanks Mindy!

      I do something slightly different by reaching out later on down the road.

      About 6 months down the road I reach out and open a new loop by asking if there is something they need help with.

      If the timing is right, they may decide to respond and resurrect the old proposal or start a new proposal.

  3. Question for ya, though. I have a long-standing client that has been wonderful. One of those that you don’t want to lose. We have done several projects for him over the years. Recently we proposed ongoing marketing services/social media management. I sent him an email outlining the basics of what we would do and a starting price range to see if it was in the ballpark of what he was thinking. He never addressed that email, but we have interacted several times since then about other projects or questions he had. I specifically asked about it multiple times, but he still never responded. I do not want to chance being pushy since he is such a good client, but at the same time I really want to know if he is still interested. Any advice on how to gingerly approach it would be great!

    • Good question. Well, does he still have a need for ongoing marketing services/social media management? If he does, I don’t think it is pushy to ask about it. If you ask about it showing you are genuinely curious and interested in helping him and his business.

      So I would ask from his perspective.

      Instead of asking about the proposal, ask if he still has the problem that was the genesis for the proposal in the first place.

      Ask as though you want to know if he still has that problem that you were trying to solve for him. Get him talking about that first. You could ask him a two-part question: “Is that still a problem for you and is it a priority for you to fix it?”

      It could be the timing is not right. It could be that he has other more pressing issues. I would simply try to have a conversation about his business with him to get a feel for what situation he is in.

      From there, you can figure out if it is still a priority or not.

      The budget matter is probably less important if you have worked with him in the past and those projects were in the same or similar range as what you proposed.

      If so, then you know the money if there.

      The goal then becomes more about showing him that social media management and ongoing marketing management is important because it will help grow him brand, free up time for him to focus on things that he does best, etc.

  4. The article is good and indeed very very helpful especially as a reminder to follow up and offer that tiny bit extra in conversation.

    I did feel the 4th and 5th email is a bit cold in its words. Do you have a suggestion to deliver the same message in a better tone?

    Thanks

  5. Great article and great advice, especially for newbies. I find it can be tricky getting the right tone over email and being confident, but not sounding bossy.
    I found your “I’ve attached a proposal for you to review. Please look it over and let me know your thoughts” a little pushy/bossy.
    If you’ve had success with that perhaps I should try it! I’m just very sensitive to being told what to do!
    I do tend to assume if I don’t hear back by 2nd or 3rd email that the client (or potential client) isn’t interested, but perhaps a bit more persistance is needed.
    Thanks for this!

  6. Hey Ian,

    Thanks so much for this! I don’t always remember to follow-up, which is why I got Boomerang to keep track of all the emails I send.

    But when I do, it’s amazing how often I get responses back saying something along the lines of “sorry I took a while to respond I was…sick, dealing with a family emergency, on vacation, etc.”

  7. Thanks for your great help regarding following up old clients, but how to get new good paying clients? What’s your strategy for this part of getting new business?

  8. This is what my client replied after step 4 of my email.

    “I don’t think it’s any of your business to question my priorities, I am a client to you, you have given your proposal i will respond at my convenience.
    We are busy with other things, you are at your liberty to engage yourself.

    • Wow! Sounds like not an ideal client for you. I believe clients should be partners, and if they don’t care about the fact that you’re taking the time to follow up AND “saving space” to ensure you can meet their needs, then that doesn’t seem like a good long-term client relationship! How’d it turn out?

  9. This also presupposes that you have enough time on your hands to do these follow-ups. You may have a programme to enables you to maintain focus on all these things,

  10. Great article but I have a tricky one for ya . . . I contacted a company (Well funded as in 8 figures). I met there Marketing Director, we had a great chat. He suggested to make a proposal and then we can all discuss it with the CEO. Two days later I sent him the info he needed, no response.. 1 Week later, I followed up, no response. 2nd time I followed up no response. 3rd time, I followed up with your message above lol “Is this project still a priority for you? . . ” – That one and I added ‘tracking on it’. Just to see if he will open it. So he opened it but again, no response. I”m assuming that I’m in the running and they are just weighing in on other options as well (Originally they were looking for someone in-house). Funny thing is I have a meeting with a prospect who are in the exact same market as these guys tomorrow. So if I like them, and things work out, I won’t be able to work with them regardless. PS: Great site by the way.

  11. Great post.

    I usually remind them three times via email spread over 2 weeks.
    and then call them up ( which almost everytime they never pickup)

    however , I call them up or send them an email after a month or even two months and I always connect with them. and I actually closed many deals this way,

    they were just busy .

    They sometimes just need time.

  12. Gurpreet kaur says:

    its very helpfull for me

  13. Kristian Rei says:

    I have a client who asked me to work on 15 units of 3D rendering job for $30 each. The deal was a done deal. The client was happy with the output. One month later, the client has contacted me again to work on 120 units of 3D Modelling and Rendering task. He asked me to give him a quote. The new task were a mixture of complicated and easy objects, and after careful analysis to the new project scope, I decided to charge the same amount per piece as our previous deal. After I submitted the quote, the client did not reply back. There is no word from him at all. No bargaining whatsoever. Where did I go wrong? It has been more than a month since I submitted the quote. Should I still follow-up?

  14. How would you respond to this email? keep in mind that we trat all of our clients with the same priority… i guess he doesnt want to pay us all..

    “Sorry for the delayed response as I have been dealing with some personal issues for an extended period.

    I have been meaning to write you earlier but have not found the time. I am back working now.

    I am going to be quite forward in this email as I have been a client for a very long time and have always been satisfied with your firms work. You have been my lawyer in Mexico since day one and have been a great value to my endeavors as well as my fathers and for that I will be forever grateful.

    However, since the merger with Dentons there has been a major change in the quality of services and a lack in the attention to detail your firm has provided. I know your focus is on bigger accounts and that an account like mine will take a backseat but I did not anticipate such a drastic change.

    There have been some notable issues that I would like to highlight.

    For over a year there have been a revolving door of junior associates that were accompanying Dante to our meetings and they weren’t versed and in most cases briefed about the items I was going over with Dante (this list of items has been static for over a year). Since they weren’t familiar with what was being discussed there was little value added by their presence and this resulted in a waste of time/money.

    Additionally, I have been trying to resolve the same issues (a court releasing money to Cosafi as the result of an appeal where the has been a simulated workers claim taking a lien on the money) for almost a year and was hitting my head on the wall trying to think of ways to solve these issues. There has been no creativity or thinking on the firms side as to how to resolve the issues. The ideas on resolving issues were solely coming from me and then the feasibility would be analyzed by your lawyers. I expected more from your lawyers in way of coming up with solutions rather than evaluating my proposed solutions. I know the counter party is a difficult counter party but since I have had other lawyers working on this that provided an avenue of options never brought up or discussed by your team.

    The biggest item that I took exception to was not being informed that Dante had left the firm. In the past I was always advised of changes to my legal team and was particularly advised if there would to be changes to my relationship manager.

    Regarding your fees I will make a payment next week and hope to have the balance paid by Christmas. I kindly ask that you reconsider some of the fees of your jr associates that accompanied Dante to these meetings (for the above reason).

    I still want to work with your firm and am still satisfied in many respects. “