How many times should I follow up with a potential client?

February 6, 2010

by Jake Poinier

Dear Dr. Freelance,

I know it’s a fine line between being persistent and being annoying. If I’ve got a warm lead for a potential client or a new freelance gig, how many times is appropriate for following up?

–Getting Warmer

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Dear Getting Warmer,

As with so many aspects of freelancing, the follow up is a matter of understanding the prospect’s style as well as her business needs. No one enjoys a hard sell, and I think it’s particularly ill-suited to something like creative services. If you come across as at all desperate, the Universal Law of Need (i.e., the more you need something, the less likely you will get it) comes into play.

A couple of tactics that can help during the sales follow-up process include:

  1. Finding out if there’s a specific project and/or budget, or if they’re just tire-kicking. If it’s the former, you can be (slightly!) more aggressive about the follow up because there is likely a deadline involved.
  2. Getting the prospect to do something: Fill out a form, sign a contract, send you some information…any kind of commitment that steps away from you doing all the work.
  3. Asking directly, “So, what’s our next step?” or “When would be a good time to follow up?” Ideally, you’d want the client to tell you a time and a date rather than you proposing one.

Based on the results of those steps, you should have a good feel for where you stand and what kind of next action is warranted. Depending on the potential of the deal, your patience may eventually be the limiting factor. (That’s the way it is for me.) Keep in mind that as goes the courtship, so too goes the relationship.

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