“I have some clients that I can’t get a hold of for the life of me. WTF do I do?”– You?
Let’s say you reviewed my list of the 13 Potential Reasons Why Your Client is Ignoring You and you think you’ve identified the reason your client’s ignoring you.
Now what do you do?
How do you actually get a hold of them?
Today I’ll share a strategy I’ve used that has occasionally been helpful for shaking a stalled conversation loose and getting the project back on track.
(I say it’s only “occasionally” been helpful because ultimately, there are no magic bullets for reliably tracking down people who are ignoring you, and the only REAL magic bullet that I know of is simply working with better quality clients in the first place.)
My personal outreach formula
Assuming you’ve already followed up in the past and accounted for the possibility that your emails are simply not reaching the client (and you’ve tried contacting them in other ways), here’s the outreach formula I personally follow…
Pattern Interrupt + Own Your Mistakes + Next Steps
If you’re going to reach out to them by email, and they’re already ignoring your emails, it helps to…
- A. Start a totally new thread; don’t just add a new message to an existing thread.
- B. Have a “pattern interrupt” subject line that catches their attention and gets them to open the email.
- C. Have the content of the email be oriented around you owning your mistakes (where necessary), taking responsibility for the situation, and proposing a solution/next steps.
If you’re a gmail user, it also helps to use a chrome extension like Streak to see if they’re actually opening your emails. (Note: if you notice that they instantly open as soon as you send, this is probably bad data from iOS 15 on your client’s device and doesn’t necessarily mean they opened.)
Choosing a good subject line to get an open
As I mentioned, a good subject line here should be a “pattern interrupt.”
If you’re waiting on your client for content and they’re ignoring you, and you send them an email with a subject line of “Still waiting on you for the content…” it’s not likely to get you a good response, because they already know you’re waiting on them for content, and it just feels like you’re nagging them.
Most likely, a subject line like that would just make them feel bad or feel shame. And fun fact: shame doesn’t catalyze action; it perpetuates avoidance.
Instead of nagging them or telling them what they already know, a “pattern interrupt” would be something “out of left field” that arouses their curiosity and gets their attention enough to open and read more.
Below are some example subject lines I might personally send. Which one I’d use would vary based on the situation, how long they’ve been ignoring me for, etc.
- “It seems I might have messed up…”
- “Haven’t heard from you in a bit – how can I help?”
- “Would this be helpful for you?”
- “Quick thought – please respond”
- “Do you still want to work together?”
- “Archiving your project if I don’t hear back” *
- “Taking your website down if I don’t hear back” *
* A note on the more threatening ones: People don’t tend to respond very well to threats, so I’d only personally use these as a last resort if I’d already built a website, launched it, etc. and had already tried other pattern interrupt emails and other forms of outreach (like calling them) and the client was still ghosting me and not paying for a completed product.
The content of the email
Now that you’ve got the open, the goal is to get a reply. Before you read further, I’d highly recommend you read my 13 Potential Reasons Why Your Client is Ignoring You post if you haven’t already, to help you get a pulse on why the client’s ignoring you.
(The reason why I consider that post a prerequisite is that the supposed reason for them ignoring you will largely guide the content of your email.)
But let’s say you read that post already and/or think you already know the reason they’re ignoring you. We can now craft the email.
It’s hard to give a “copy and paste template” here since it’s going to vary so much. Instead, I’ll give you two “KPI checklist” styles you can use.
‼️ Big-Ass Disclaimer ‼️
Some of these strategies, when used incorrectly, can actually work against you.
It’s inherently difficult to know what other humans are thinking, and if you’re feeling depressed, or low-confidence, or like you suck, it’s even more difficult because what you see in others is largely a reflection of how you feel about yourself.
Some of these strategies, especially as it pertains to “owning your mistakes / faults” leave you prone to giving away too much of your power or undermining your client’s confidence in you if you do it when you’re feeling under-confident.
So if you’re feeling triggered right now, or low-confidence, do not follow the “specific ownership” approach and instead follow the “vague outreach” approach so that you can avoid making things worse.
Style 1: Vague Outreach
When to use this outreach approach:
- When you’re not at least 90% sure of why they’re ghosting you, and/or…
- When you’re feeling triggered or low-confidence
KPIs for your email:
- The ONLY goal for this email is to get a response from them and start a dialogue
- Keep things vague but also oriented towards a solution
- Close with a targeted next step
(Keep an eye out for the KPIs in action as you read it!)
Subj: Haven’t heard from you in a while – how can I help?
Hey Clientname, haven’t heard from you in a while – wanted to reach out and see where you’re at and if there’s anything I can do to help keep the project moving along.
I also wanted to remind you that I’m 100% committed to creating a site for you that *YOU* think kicks ass, so if there’s something you’re feeling dissatisfied with about the progress of the site so far, I’d really appreciate some brutally-honest feedback from you to make sure I can fulfill my commitment there. (You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise!)
Would really appreciate a response, even if it’s just to tell me that you’re super-busy and will properly respond on XYZ date.
P.S. I’m also happy to jump on a call to hash out action steps and keep things moving along if that works better for you than email.
Style 2: Specific Ownership
When to use this approach:
- When you’re feeling confident in your skills AND you’re pretty sure you know why your client’s ignoring you
KPIs for your email:
- The ONLY goal for this email is to get a response from them and start a dialogue
- When in doubt about their reason for ignoring you (which you probably always will be, at least a little), it’s best not to put words in their mouth or accuse them of feeling a certain way. A good way around this is to give them “alternative motivations they can pick” if you’re speculating about how they might feel. (e.g. in the example below how I suppose that maybe they don’t like my designs or maybe they’re just super busy)
- After you’ve written your email, read through it looking for “you-focused” sentences and consider rewriting them to be more “I-focused” (i.e. “you haven’t responded” becomes “I haven’t heard back” — the rationale being that “you-focused” statements are more confrontational.)
- Take responsibility for your part in creating an uncomfortable / painful situation and take responsibility for your mistakes/faults where necessary
- Close with a solution + next step
Here’s an example situation, supposing I sent the initial designs to the client and never heard back. The email is written under the assumption that I think the client’s not satisfied with my work and they’re not comfortable telling me.
Subj: I think I might have messed up…
I noticed that it’s been a couple weeks since I sent the designs your way and I haven’t heard back yet.
I’ve noticed in the past that when this has happened, it’s usually because of one of the following…
- The client was waiting on feedback from key design decision-makers
- The initial designs I sent were waaayyyyyy off from what the client was looking for and they didn’t feel comfortable telling me they didn’t like them
- The client was super busy and hadn’t yet had the time to get to it
Just in case it’s #2 for you, I just wanted to reach out and let you know that I’m 100% committed to creating a design for you that *YOU* think kicks ass.
So if you’re not feelin’ the design – or if you think it’s way off – I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate any and all super-blunt feedback and that it won’t hurt my feelings. (Even if it’s as blunt as “the quality of this isn’t as high as I expected.”)
Would really appreciate if you could respond and let me know where you’re at with everything.
👟 Action Steps…
1. Reach out
Assuming you’ve already…
- Sent the client an un-answered follow-up, AND…
- Accounted for the possibility that your emails are simply not reaching them (and you’ve tried contacting them in other ways like FB messenger, Insta, SMS, phone, etc.)
…Your next step would be to reach out to them using the steps & KPIs outlined in today’s post.
2. If you hear back, try to find a solution
In my experience, most of the time, the client gets back to me with something like, “Sorry! I’ve just been soooooo busssyyyy!!!!”
(Although sometimes I don’t hear this until I’m sending emails threatening to drop the project, take the website offline, etc.)
In these cases, you might need to give them some deadlines to get stuff to you and/or let them know that if they don’t have the space in the schedule right now to give the project the attention it needs, you’re totally ok with that, but you’re going to need to take on other projects and can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to work on their project at the drop of a hat when they are ready to get moving on it again.
(And sometimes, that alone is enough to cause them to prioritize it.)
3. Optimize for better clients moving forward
For me, over 90% of my experience with chasing down unresponsive clients happened in my early “struggly” years, when I was working with low-quality clients and always desperate for work.
Once I started really focusing on doing my best-quality work, I started getting lucky referrals a lot more, and the frequency with which I needed to chase down an unresponsive client plummeted.
It also helps a lot that these days, I’m building websites for people whose business revolves around their website, so it’s naturally a really high priority for them.
(Versus, say, a small restaurant owner who begrudgingly agrees to get a website done, but doesn’t actually think it’s super important and sees it as more of an “accent” to their business.)
These days, my “unresponsive client challenges” are usually less about chasing someone down who’s ghosting me, and more about finding a working style that works well for a client who’s super busy and not making enough time for the project.
Back to you… As long as you’re in a place where you feel desperate for work, you’re going to attract low-quality clients who don’t value your time.
When you get to the point where you don’t really care whether or not a given prospect signs on with you, you suddenly gain a lot of negotiating power.
You’ll be able to be more protective of your time and energy, and work with clients who you can tell feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with you, vs. signing on anyone who’s willing to pay you anything at all to work for them.
The best thing you can do to get there is make it your mission to get really, really good at what you do.
Build your skills to the point where you’re doing uber-kickass work for all of your clients, and they’re getting an epic deal by working with you.
If you’re already doing this, consider that every talented freelancer goes through a period where they’re quite good, but not super in-demand yet. This period usually lasts a year or two, if relying on word of mouth alone to grow.
If you’re confident in your skills and want to speed that process up, your next step is to start intentionally and consistently building your incoming lead flow. Check out my 11 Ideas for Getting Clients Without Prospecting post for things you can start working on to get more leads coming in.
Thanks for reading; hope this post gave you some helpful ideas. If you enjoyed it, be sure to get on the newsletter so that I can send future posts right to your inbox. And as always, I appreciate shares with friends, on social media, etc., or direct emails to me with positive (or critical!) feedback.