Following up is an inevitable part of life and creating a successful career. People may fall off your radar, or you may need to remind someone of something very important — like getting paid. As a freelancer, following up is crucial for growing your biz, keeping your clients, and making sure you get compensated for your time.
“Following up, instead of giving up, can turn something you thought was a lost cause into an awesome opportunity.”
In my own life, I’ve come to cherish the follow-up strategy. To me, following up shows that you want something badly enough to put in the time and effort.
This scenario can be tricky though, because many people associate following up with bugging or annoying people. Obviously, this is the last thing you want to do as someone trying to grow their business. So as with anything, moderation and timing are essential.
Remember that your attitude is the key to achieving goals.
Step 1: Silence the self-sabotage
For example, let’s say you email a new editor and pitch your fabulous idea. Then… crickets. Radio silence. You hear nothing except the voices in your head saying that it must be you.
Quit it! All that self-sabotage talk is garbage. I’ve been guilty of letting my imagination run wild when I don’t hear back from someone. I think; “I must be a terrible writer! They don’t like me!”
Even if those things were true, it’s OK — there’s no reason to stop trying and get better. But, more than likely, you’re just making up elaborate stories within your own mind.
Step 2: Send a short reminder
If I don’t hear back from someone that I don’t know very well, I will give them a week to respond before I send a polite follow-up.
My message usually is something like:
A week ago, I sent you [this really awesome idea] and I wanted to follow-up and see if you are interested in pursuing it further. I’d be happy to chat about it more in detail.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I keep it very short and to the point. People are busy, especially editors of larger blogs or publications, and more often than not, they don’t respond to me because my ideas were bad, but because they are busy. Let’s admit it — we’re all busy. Sometimes we all need a little nudge — a reminder to respond to that email that was somehow buried among all the rest.
By sending a simple follow-up, I have a 97% success rate of getting a response, which I think is pretty good when it’s someone I don’t know personally. As I mentioned, sometimes sending a simple reminder shows that you want something bad enough, and that you’re really committed to that request.
In my own experience with following up, I have been able to:
- secure more gigs
- forge relationships with people
- make it clear I’m interested
- ensure I am on top of payment (this is so important — no one will come and find you to pay you — you need to follow-up about payment as a freelancer)
Carrie’s note: I actually use the follow-up technique to weed out emails, interviews, and requests. If someone doesn’t take the time to send me a follow-up email, they must not be serious about their inquiry.
Step 3: Stay on top of what you want
I know many people that usually give up if there’s no response. Think of the money that could be left on the table if you don’t try to reach out again. You’re not bothering people if you show them you’re interested in working with them and offer value. In fact, as we’ve discussed, this is likely the opposite.
As a business owner, you are in charge — which sometimes feels like herding cats. You’re tracking down payments, following up about pitches, maintaining existing relationships with clients, and more. It’s a lot to handle! Staying on top of what you want and following up with people can make a world of difference in your income and your relationship building.
For example, I followed up with someone on an opportunity in the past that didn’t end up working out. I said thank you and moved on. Later that year, this same person had a different opportunity for me, and thought of me first. Why?
Because I’m persistent.
Step 4: Know the best time to follow-up
So how do you know when it’s time to follow-up? As I mentioned, being patient is key, but you also don’t want too much time to lapse between your requests (in the event they forget about you, or the project has expired).
Here are some quick tips to know exactly when to follow-up:
Create a spreadsheet
I have a spreadsheet that lists all my clients, pay rates, due dates, and invoice procedures. This helps me keep track of payment, timing and administrative duties. You can use the Careful Cents client list template to create your own spreadsheet.
Craft a custom follow-up
I don’t know about you, but I have an irrational fear that my important emails are getting lost in the vast abyss of the internet. To assuage my fears, I use a tool called Sidekick, which lets me know if people have opened my email.
Knowing this information helps me realize that the intended party has received the item in question. This information can help you craft your follow-up.
For example, if your client has not opened an email, you can wait a few days and send a short email saying, “I just want to confirm you got this? Let me know if you need anything else!” — or if they have opened the email you can say, “I wanted to follow-up about X — [insert specific action or request].”
Understand communication styles and roles
Some people aren’t living on the internet like I am, and aren’t as responsive with emails as I am. That’s totally fine! Some people are very fast, while others take longer, and even more so, some of us need a nudge.
Start understanding your clients’ communication style. I have a client that sometimes falls off the face of the planet and requires several follow-ups — they have even admitted this! Because I know this is their style, I don’t follow-up incessantly unless I really need something.
However, if it becomes too much of a habit and you can’t get your work done, or you’re having trouble getting paid, it might be time to cut your losses. Consider the amount of time between contact. This should be calculated on how important the project is, and how well you know that person.
Send unique and specific reminders
Editors and clients get a lot of email — sending a one sentence vague email, or conversely, a verbose ten paragraph follow-up, won’t work. Keep it short and sweet, but also be specific. Mention specific dates and topics related to what you are following up about.
By doing this, you increase the likelihood of getting a quick response. You can also end your email with a question to help garner a response.
Do work on the front end
If you know you need a response, or your email is very important, then mark it as such. You can put “Important” or “Urgent” in the subject line of the email, but please use your discretion with this. You can also say explicitly, “please confirm you have received this,” which can help with the back and forth and limit incessant email tag.
By using these steps and applying these tips to my freelance business, I’ve stayed on top of assignments, gained new clients, and ensured I get paid in a timely fashion.
Following up is a process that involves creating your own luck, so when you need an opportunity or a contact to pay off, you’ll have already invested the time and energy, and can now reap the rewards.
The art of the follow-up isn’t annoying if you do it the right way. Remember, you could be leaving money on the table by assuming silence means “no.”