Unresponsive clients can be a real headache…so what should you do when you don’t hear back from a client? This post shares my own experiences and best practices for following up with clients that just won’t get back to you.
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 with unresponsive clients
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.
Why clients don’t respond
The reason clients 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.
(PS: If we’re talking about clients who won’t pay you for services you’ve delivered, It’s best to use use auto-reminding software like Freshbooks or Reply. Alternatively, you can train yourself to ask for payment without being rude.)
Step 1. Send proposal
Subject: Project Proposal
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.
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
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,
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.
[Tweet “Emails with a call to action keep the process moving.”]
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:
Just floating this to the top of your inbox in case you missed it.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Then download the free email script bundle below, edit for your clients’ needs, and plug them into your software of choice.
What are some ways you deal with unresponsive clients? Let’s hear it in the comments below.
our client email scripts bundle (a $9 value) for FREE using this link.
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