Following up with leads: when, how often, and how to do it

Has a promising freelance writing lead gone silent? Here's how to approach it (and stop feeling bad about it).

How often and when should you follow up with leads? 

A new freelance writing lead came through your website. You’re thrilled! But after some emails (and/or a call) about their needs, your process, timelines, and rates—they ghost you.

This is tricky and feels awkward. The project (and income) you wanted is now uncertain, and you start analyzing every word you said and wrote.

In this guide, you’ll get a simple mindset switch about leads ghosting you, and a follow-up process that isn’t intimidating or stressful, but easy and streamlined.

First things first: do not take ghosting personally

Your conversation(s) with the new lead went well—how can you not take ghosting personally? This is especially hard if you felt a strong fit with this potential client; you knew you matched their needs and were thrilled about the idea of working with them, yet it’s like they fell off the face of the earth.

Here are two potential reasons to keep in mind:

  1. Priorities change. Something may have shifted internally—a product launch, a marketing timeline, a hiring/firing round—and your contact had to deprioritize non-urgent projects and communication.
  2. Budgets change. It could be cut by half or slashed to zero. The person or team you were in contact with may not have a system in place that would remind them to get back to you and explain the new situation they’re in.

The person you were in contact with likely has to look after many moving pieces, including approvals from their bosses, their in-house team, and deadlines for a dozen projects all at once. Add large internal changes to that, and it’s easy to see why they may have gone quiet.

Of course, there’s also the chance you aren’t a fit for them (from their perspective), or they had to choose between multiple freelance writers and went with someone else, but they either feel uncomfortable with the fact they need to tell you that, or they simply forgot.

Keep in mind that this is a reflection of them, not you. You’re not a fit for everyone, nor you should be, and you deserve to get closure on a lead, even if the project won’t go ahead.

That’s what the follow-up is for.

Following up is the key to stay top of mind and move projects forward

People probably do forget to get back to you more often than you’d think—even if their intention was to hire you.

This is what makes following up magical: you regain your influence and control of the process, and a client that really wants to work with you will respect and remember that.

When you make following up a part of your process, it also:

  • Gives you a tangible task you can complete and move on from
  • Makes it easy to part ways with a project that isn’t likely to go forward
  • Helps you learn the reason why the timing might not be great for the lead right now, and makes you an option they’ll consider once circumstances change (freelance writers that don’t follow up don’t get this opportunity!)

When potential clients ghost you, it can be a rollercoaster of emotions and second-guessing yourself. Making follow-ups a part of your process removes emotion from it and protects your energy.

How to follow up with your freelance writing leads

Here’s the follow-up process that’s been serving me well for years. Take what I’m doing and adapt it to your personal communication style.

  1. First follow-up: 5-7 days after my last email. In this email, I offer help or clarifications to any questions the lead has—I’m simply making sure there are no grey areas or confusions about my process and what I can do for the lead.
  2. Second follow-up: a week after the first follow-up. I use this email to essentially remind the lead of my previous follow-up and encourage them to reach out with any questions.
  3. Final follow-up: a week after the second follow-up. In this email, I state that this is my final follow-up, that I understand if this isn’t the right time to move forward, and that my doors are always open.

Here’s an example from my inbox of this process in action:

 You’ll notice that I skipped the second follow-up in this particular case. The deadline they were mentioning was early November 2019, and we were already in October, so I knew that if they wanted me on board, it made no sense to extend my follow-ups that far into October as it would have been too late to get started.

This project didn’t happen at the time, but the client came back to me six months later (inside the same email thread!) to continue the chat, and we ended up working together very soon after that.

Would that have happened if I didn’t follow up after my initial email? I can’t know for sure, but my guess is the follow-ups helped.

There’s another approach I want to highlight here in case it sits well with you, and that’s the follow-up strategy by Steli Efti, the CEO of Close:

If you reach out completely cold and never had any interaction with the other person, follow up a maximum of six times. You really don’t have the type of relationship that gives you permission to do much more than that.
If you already had some kind of interaction and that interaction was not a clear, definite NO, then follow up as long as it takes to get a response. Never stop til you get a response.

The type of follow-ups we talk about here—leads that reach out to us—falls into the second group, meaning you should follow up until you hear back.

This certainly works in many cases, but I personally don’t prefer the idea of cluttering someone’s inbox—it goes against my gut, so I follow up three times and call it a day so I can focus my efforts elsewhere.

If you like this approach, though, go all in! Steli covers hands-on tips for this in his article.

Tips to make following up easier

Here are some final tips to nail down your follow-up process (and make it smooth and seamless instead of stressful):

  1. Set reminders when you’re due to follow up. Either create them manually (in your todo/project management tool like Asana or Todoist), or automate them (Gmail and Superhuman let you set up nudges/reminders). This way, you never have to wonder where a deal is at—your tools will remind you on time.
  2. Create templates you can reuse for each of your two or three follow-ups. Use my suggestions for the three follow-ups and adjust them to your tone of voice and communication style. You can then add these to Gmail templates, Superhuman snippets, or an easy to grab Google Doc to copy and paste from.
  3. Be ready to part ways with a lead, at least for the time being. Don’t dwell on it; focus your energy on leads that are responsive to your emails. If this lead is supposed to turn into a project, it will do so when the time is right for them.