“Why isn’t my client responding to me?
How TF do I get a hold of them?
I want to honor our contract and commitment, but I don’t want to keep waiting and waiting for them to respond and have these unfinished projects hanging over my head.”– Every freelancer at one point or another
If you’re having trouble getting a hold of a client that’s gone silent and unresponsive, it can be perplexing.
Did they become a monk?
Were they murdered?
Are they just a douche and/or scamming me?
Are they maybe just busy and I’m being impatient?
The trouble, of course, is that it can be any of those things – or a myriad of others – and you really don’t have any way of knowing, by nature of the fact that you can’t effing get a hold of them!
In my experience, there are some common reasons why I’ve had trouble getting a hold of clients over the years, especially around the project finalization & final payment phases.
(And I’ve noticed there are different reasons for why it happens in earlier stages, like when I need content or logos from them.)
Before we get into the list, I want to discuss the 2 fundamental causes I’ve noticed most often, that lie beneath the specific causes.
Fundamental cause #1:
The client is deprioritizing this project vs. other things, or putting it off for some reason.
👍 Potential Solution: Make it easier for them to get you what you need.
Fundamental cause #2:
The client is displeased with some aspect of the service they’re receiving from you and doesn’t feel comfortable telling you.
👍 Potential Solution: Make it easier for them to share their feelings with you, and make it your responsibility to “make things right.”
You’ll find as you read the list below that most of the causes & solutions stem from one or the other of those.
How to use this list
This list is meant to give you *ideas*.
I don’t know you or your client, so I can’t really make the call on what’s happening in your specific situation.
Only *you* can.
One note though: If you’re feeling scared or triggered about this client ghosting you, just be careful to not let fear / self-doubt / low confidence cloud your judgement too much when assessing potential reasons.
(Easier said than done, I know.)
13 Potential reasons your client is ignoring you
1. They’re overwhelmed
I see this one crop up most for clients who are unresponsive early in the project.
There’s something they feel overwhelmed by, so they’re putting off your emails “until they have time.”
👍 Potential Solution: Make it easier. Maybe this means writing it for them, or putting together outlines for them to flesh out, or referring them to a copywriter.
An email with a subject line like, “It seems like you’re maybe feeling overwhelmed” could be the solution here. Check out this post about getting a hold of unresponsive clients for ideas.
2. They’re busy and only prioritize putting out fires
I have a client whom I really enjoy working with, but has a tendency to mostly only prioritize whatever’s urgent and “on fire.”
This means if I need non-urgent stuff from her, I’m not likely to get it if I let her do it on her own time.
I’ve found that with her, the best way to get what I need is to set up live calls where I basically assign her stuff to work on quietly while I’m on the other end of Zoom doing interruptible stuff answering emails or doing some small bug squashing or whatever.
It’s annoying, but it’s what works, and I don’t want to fire her as a client, so it’s either this or be frustrated and feel like I can’t get what I need from her.
👍 Potential Solution: Create accountability. Tools like focusmate are great for this, but if you can’t get your client to actually use focusmate, you’re back at square one.
The advantage of a live work session between the two of you is that you’ll know for sure whether or not they actually did what you needed — it’s the ultimate accountability.
3. Your working style doesn’t match up with theirs
This one’s along the lines of #2.
If you’re assigning a bunch of tasks via email, Trello, or Asana, but your client’s always on the go and rarely sitting at their computer…
…Or they’re scatterbrainedAF and not very good at sitting down and doing detail-oriented tasks for a couple hours…
…Or the concept of having a couple hours available to work on something is not at all feasible for them…
You’re gonna have a bad time.
👍 Potential Solution: Ask them how they best work. An email with a subject line like, “How can I work with you in the way that works best for you?” might get opened and get a response.
4. They’re not satisfied with your work and they don’t feel comfortable telling you
Let’s say you create a design for a client.
You put a lot of work into it, and you’re really proud of it.
You send it to them along with something like…
“Hey Client, attached is the first round of the design.
I put a ton of thought and effort into it and I’m quite sure it’s going to win all the awards that exist and ultimately change the world.
This is by far my best design, and actually I already have it printed and hung up on my fridge.
I’d love your feedback on it but be aware that if you don’t like it I’ll probably kill myself.
Okay, thanks, let me know what you think of it, bye!”
How do you think they’ll respond?
If they don’t like it, do you think they’ll feel super-duper-comfortable telling you?
Do you think they’ll feel comfortable sharing even small critical feedback?
Ridiculous scenarios aside, the fact is: most people don’t feel comfortable sharing critical feedback with others, in general.
And thus, clients can feel hesitant to share critical feedback with you if they think it’ll hurt your feelings.
👍 Potential Solution: Make it easy for them to tell you they’re dissatisfied. Perhaps send them a pattern interrupt style email where you almost presuppose they’re dissatisfied with something (without putting words in their mouth).
You could perhaps tell them about how normal it is to have critical feedback on early designs, and how some of your most satisfied clients hated their initial designs. (Or whatever.)
The important first step here is that you need to be comfortable receiving critical feedback. This takes practice and intentionality, and is a post in and of itself, but the best tip I can give is decoupling your perception of your own skills from your client’s personal preferences.
(It’s the things that we’re the least confident about that we’re the most sensitive to criticism with.)
5. They’re not getting what they expected
A content writer recently cold-emailed me offering to write posts for me.
I’d been wanting to have some of my videos transcribed, so I decided to give it a go.
I hired them to transform one of my YouTube videos into a blog post as an experiment.
They sent me the article…
…and it was honestly pretty bad.
I was expecting them to watch the video, ingest the information, and write a fresh post from it. (I told them in advance this was what I wanted them to do.)
Instead, they more or less just transcribed the video.
I paid them for their work and told them I’d review soon and get back to them with revisions.
Weeks and months dragged on and they didn’t hear a peep from me.
*I* was the unresponsive client.
The reason? The article was just so. far. off. from being useable. It felt impossible to give any useful feedback.
What do I say to them?
“Just make every aspect of this 4 times better? And follow the original instructions better?”
How do you say that to someone?
That, coupled with them not encouraging me to send critical feedback – their only followup to me was “let me know when you want to do more projects together!” – meant that their email sat in my inbox for a couple months until I eventually made the decision that I’m never going to use their article or ask them for revisions, and I decided to just archive it to get it off my plate and out of my mind.
Back to you…
Are there any ways in which your unresponsive client might not be getting what they expected from you?
Or that your design is much different / lower quality than their references?
Or some miscommunications (/ lack of communication) that might have you going off in a totally different direction than what they expected?
👍 Potential Solution: Open a dialogue. This reason is a particularly challenging one because it’s difficult to identify without getting feedback from them, unless you can identify a specific conversation where you might have both left thinking different things.
Using the “pattern interrupt” email technique with a “how can I help / what’s going on” approach could be a way to get the conversation going here.
6. They didn’t have their expectations correctly set from the get-go
When you did your initial kickoff with this client, did you talk about how you like to work?
Or about what sort of time commitment you expect from them?
Or about how difficult the tasks on their plate might be?
Did you aim to reduce friction as much as possible to “close the sale,” or were you really clear about all the ways this project was going to be demanding on their time and schedule?
Sometimes struggling freelancers are so desperate to make the sale that they mis-represent the time, energy, and commitment required from a prospective client.
👍 Potential Solution (moving forward): Moving forward, raise the bar a bit for your prospective clients. Make it clear that you’ll need things from them and that those things take time and effort. If they shy away from that, you can either up-sell them on a done-for-you service, or decide not to pursue them as clients to save yourself the headache.
👍 Potential Solution (for this unresponsive client): Get their attention (perhaps with the “I messed up” subject line approach) and find out how to best work with them and what sort of time commitment they can realistically make.
7. This project isn’t as big of a priority for them as it is for you
This one sorta ties in with the one above — did you actually talk with this client about how big of a priority this project is for them and how urgent it is for them?
I’ve noticed that most clients, given the option – assuming no demands on their time from you – want (or sometimes air-quotes “NEED”) a project done, like, yesterday.
But once they learn that it requires ongoing commitment from them to keep it moving along, suddenly it’s totally cool for it to take several months to get finished.
If you feel you’re constantly waiting around for the client, have you considered that this project, which is maybe a big schedule allocation and high priority for you, is perhaps just one more responsibility on top of a million others on their plate, and it’s actually not a very high priority for them?
👍 Potential Solution: A combination of several techniques we’ve covered so far. Reach out, recalibrate. Find out if the solution is making it easier for them, adding more accountability (like with live work sessions), or simply you understanding they’re going to seem to flake out for weeks at a time.
Also, it’s worth asking yourself if they’re actually ghosting you or if maybe you’re just being impatient. Some clients will legitimately take a couple weeks to reply if they’re really busy and the project is low priority.
In these cases, the best thing you can do is re-work your schedule with them, such that this project will be a low priority for you and you can take on new projects to fill your time. (You’ll just need to make it clear that that’ll mean you won’t be taking action immediately when they do get back to you.)
8. Their business is skraight-up crumbling
This was what happened with the last client who ghosted me.
They were always super optimistic when talking about their uber-awesome business whenever we spoke, but then fell off at the end of the project and never paid their [not-inconsiderable!] balance.
I escalated my outreach to them such that it skewed more into the threatening department, and eventually heard back from one of the business partners that they were out of money and their business was going under.
I never did get paid for that one — I decided not to pursue it any further than asking once more to be paid when they reached out to apologize. (They were apologetic but I guess not sorry enough to pay for my work?)
Rather than try to take it to small claims, etc. I instead chalked it up as a lesson in the advantages of getting paid at intervals along the project, rather than in one large sum at the end.
👍 Potential Solution: I’m not sure there is one. The difficulty with this potential reason is that it’s really tough to know unless they tell you, and if they’re ghosting you, they’re by definition not telling you. 🙂
If you’ve reviewed this list and wracked your brain and you think this one might be most likely, I think your best course of action may be to try to send a pattern-interrupt message to try to find out what’s going on and if there’s something they need from you to make things better.
If they’re out of money, you can work out a payment plan with them, and if their business has gone under, perhaps you can reach some sort of compromise, where they pay you at least something for your time, even if it’s not the full amount that they owe you.
9. Their email server is blocking your emails
If you don’t have DKIM and SPF and all that other [confusing] sender authentication stuff set up for your sending domain (assuming you’re sending emails from your own unique website URL, vs. an @gmail.com address or something), spammers can imitate your email address, which lowers your sending score, and can cause certain servers to automatically block your legitimate emails as spam.
This happened to me.
Sometimes I’d get notifications that my emails bounced, but other times I’d think everything was working hunky-dory and that someone was simply ignoring me, when in truth, they never saw my message because it either wasn’t delivered or went to their spam folder.
It can be kind of involved to get all of this stuff set up (even if you’re techy it’ll probably take you a few hours to figure out), but I hired someone on upwork to help me with it when I first set mine up, and that made the process a little less painful.
👍 Potential Solution: Reach out to them on a different platform. If you’ve already sent them a pattern-interrupt-style email and haven’t heard back, it could be worth reaching out to them via SMS, FB Messenger, Whatsapp, or – gasp – a good ole fashioned phone call.
Let ’em know you haven’t heard from them in a while, and you just wanted to check that they’re actually receiving your emails and have just been too busy to respond.
Less-helpful, but still possible, potential suspects…
I say these are “less helpful” because they’re much more difficult to accurately guess as potential problems if you’re not in touch with the client, and in most cases, if you do manage to hear back from the client and learn that one of these is the issue, there’s not a whole lot you can really do about it.
In all of these cases, I think your best bet is probably to try to get a response with a pattern interrupt style email with the aim of figuring out exactly what’s going on. Try to open the conversation and make it easy to share with you what’s really going on in their life.
10. Their business direction changed and they don’t want your service anymore
I’m sure most business owners would agree that on principle, honoring contracts and commitments is a good thing.
But when the rubber meets the road and honoring an agreement is painful…
(Like if it requires paying money they’d rather not pay, or spending time they’d rather not spend…)
Some people can demonstrate an amazing ability to talk their way out of honoring an agreement.
👍 Potential Solution: Reach out with a pattern interrupt, find out what’s really going on, and try to come to an agreement for terminating the relationship.
11. Shit’s going down in their personal life
If you learned you had a terminal illness, would you be prioritizing writing the text for your website?
Or if you learned that your partner of 27 years was leaving you and taking the kids?
Or if your house caught on fire and then flooded in the same week?
Sometimes life happens and causes people to deprioritize work.
👍 Potential Solution: Reach out with a pattern interrupt, find out what’s really going on, and be supportive and patient.
12. They are actually scamming you
This hasn’t happened to me ever (to my knowledge) but it surely happens sometimes.
I would say that this one is quite unlikely compared to the others in the list, especially if this client came from a word-of-mouth referral, as they wouldn’t want to be seen as a scammer in the eyes of whoever referred them to you.
UNLESS THE PERSON WHO REFERRED THEM IS IN ON IT TOO 🤯🤯🤯😬😬😬
Depending on where your clients are coming from, scams may be more likely for you than they have been for me historically. Only you can say.
👍 Potential Solution: Assume they’re not scamming you. When a client ghosts you, fear can make this potential reason seem the most likely, but in truth, I believe it’s one of the least likely.
And if it were happening, could you really do anything about it? Do you really want to spend your time and energy taking this person to small claims court to try to get paid?
13. Some other reason that you’ll never know
People are complex, and it could very well be the case that no matter how much thought you put into this, and how hard to try to get a response from them, you’ll never ever hear back.
And you’ll never ever know why TF they ghosted you.
👍 Potential Solution: Select for better clients moving forward. Instead of trying to make it as easy as possible for someone to work with you, make it a little harder.
Make it an earned privilege to work with you; not a right for anyone willing to give you the time of day because you’re so desperate for any work you can get.
Communicate that you have limited availability and you want to make sure you only sign on clients who are a good fit for your style, both for your own benefit and the benefit of the clients.
And fun fact: as you do these things, you actually make yourself more in-demand anyway. (Most clients – and people in general I guess – are repelled by desperation.)
Obviously, if you’re a new freelancer or otherwise struggling to keep your plate full of work, this is nice in theory, but no clients = no bills paid. I get that.
Do everything you can to level up your skills and do your best work, and the work and lucky referrals will come.
And if you’re already really good at what you do but want to start tapping into higher-quality clients, perhaps this list of strategies for getting clients without prospecting will give you some ideas.
👟 Action Steps…
So you think you know why your client is ignoring you… now how do you get them to STOP ignoring you?
If you read through this list and found something that feels potentially true for this project, the next step is to reach out to them in a way that gets attention and a response.
I recommend that you review my approach for sending pattern interrupt emails, and send them one along with a message that makes sense for your guess about their reason for ghosting you.
(When in doubt about their reason, it’s best not to put words in their mouth or accuse them of feeling a certain way or doing a certain thing.)
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