In general, people have long been ignorant of the practice of following-up, even while this highly important phenomenon is part of our everyday life. Oddly still, our very nature seems to prefer to ignore its usefulness. Whether you have promised a client, customer or supplier something or promised your partner a romantic dinner four weeks ago, the role of following up must not be underestimated. If neglected, you could end up earning a reputation as unprofessional or be bashed by your partner.
On the other hand, if you are impeccable with following up on your commitments, you will find yourself heading towards a successful career.
Today’s busy, fast-paced life and intense competitive environment truly highlight the importance of this practice. Despite being sensitive to this, how often have you been annoyed by a slow response to a query? In fact, we have grown so used to this lack of follow-through that when a timely response is actually received from a service provider, we are pleasantly surprised!
What amazes me, though, is the limited number of articles written about following up and the benefits it provides to freelancers. With this in mind, I will illustrate various aspects of this essential business practice.
Why Following Up Is Important
As a freelancer, you are certain to have found yourself in at least one of these situations:
- Cursing your bad luck, wondering why no response has come from someone to whom you’ve given your business card?
- Wondering why no response has come from a prospective client to whom you’ve emailed your portfolio?
- Wondering why a colleague or competitor always gets assignments that you think you’re more capable of doing?
Your search for answers to all of these questions ends here. And the answer is poor follow-up. Persistence is the primary criterion for success. Being persistent and following up is not disrespectful; instead, it shows seriousness and reliability. This attitude speaks volumes about your professional approach and keenness of mind towards business. Following up earns trust from your client and demonstrates trustworthiness, so know when and how to use it in all circumstances.
How Developed Is Your Portfolio?
When hunting for clients, there is no one way to proceed, as some may suggest. Cold calling might work for one, while others might be better served by a traditional mail campaign. As a freelancer, you alone are responsible for your business, and so you must find avenues to create momentum and fill the work pipeline. Whatever marketing strategy you choose, it’s critical that it suit the client. Have the best portfolios and proposals ready before you submit. After this, mark your calendar to follow up (as you would have promised in your proposal). And finally, sound confident and gracious when asking the prospective customer if you may begin working on the project.
Following up ensures that your messages have been received¬; there is always the danger that they didn’t get through the first time. Suppose a client was on vacation and the email never got through to their inbox but was forwarded to someone else. What if the client returns from their holiday to find more than 100 voicemails waiting, and then impulsively erases them all?
By following up, not only do you give yourself the best chance to win a project, but you are also being professional.
Be Quick to Respond When More Information Is Requested
Let’s say your proposal has been short-listed, and the client requests more information and details about your approach. This is an opportunity not to miss!
Never relax and presume that the client is won. Now is the time to put in your best effort to make an impression and build a relationship. Be quick and thoughtful in answering everything sought by the client, precisely and efficiently. Remember, if you have five competitors, the best chance to beat them is by responding first. This will also convey that you care for your clients.
Following Up Grows Your Business
As a freelancer, you deal with many types of clients from all over the world. Some are professional, some have a devilish streak, and others are somewhere in between. In your own career, you may have had clients like this. You may have thought a project you submitted was a masterpiece, only to face countless rounds of revision, modification and editing. Excessive back-and-forths can delay payments, setting back your schedule for current and ongoing assignments.
In order to avoid this type of situation, keep clients updated with progress reports, and follow up to seek their opinion on completed sections. Proactively asking whether they are happy with the work or would like something revised also helps. Do not procrastinate. You want to close the project before the deadline and certainly before it takes a toll on other work. Simple follow-ups will help close projects on time, even ones with revisions and modifications.
Get Paid Quickly
After all your hard work and countless reviews, the last thing you want is a poor client relationship and delayed payment. As you know, not all clients are timely with payment. And with the challenge of sometimes being far removed, freelancers must be stringent in following up for payment. Send out an invoice detailing the completed project, and declare the assignment closed with a formal email so that the client is aware that you expect payment. Work this into every agreement you have with clients. From the start, mention clearly and precisely the expected payment date, as well as the schedule in the event of delays. Here are some sample guidelines you could follow:
- Resend invoices not paid within 15 days.
- Apply a late charge of a specific disclosed amount for invoices not paid within 30 days.
- Invoices not paid within 45 days should be resent with a formal letter informing the client that they have not paid, and that if payment is not received within another 15 days, legal action will be taken.
- A delay of 60 days or more warrants the involvement of solicitors to propose a course of action.
Remember, the key to each of these steps is persistent follow-up. It guards against spoiling a fruitful business relationship and should be relied on before pursuing any of the guidelines mentioned above. A simple email or telephone call should do the trick usually.
After the Project Is Completed
Once a project is successfully completed, do not assume that the job is done and you can just move on to the next assignment. Following up is essential even now. It can be used to solicit testimonials, review areas for improvement, secure more work and request referrals.
After a project is over and you have pocketed the check, don’t hesitate to get back in touch with the client. A simple formal email would do the trick, asking for their opinion, feedback and remarks on the overall project.
If your client appreciates the work done, let them know you would be honored to add their comments to your client testimonial page. Positive and appreciative testimonials go a long way in making your portfolio stand out. If the feedback is on the negative side and they were not too pleased with the result, you still stand to come out a winner. Criticism is often the best reward of a completed task. Strong observations from a client will help you address pitfalls and ensure that mistakes are not repeated.
Therefore, whether bad or good, client feedback is a win-win situation. But this wouldn’t have been the case if you hadn’t followed up in the first place.
Not the End of the Road
As a freelancer, you must be aware of the uncertainty of having reliable and consistent work. Entrepreneurs need to make sure that every good job, past or current, is thoroughly cashed in. Once a project ends, write an email thanking the client for their faith in your capabilities and for letting you work on such an interesting project. The aim should be a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. Do not hesitate to ask for more work, and tell them how happy you are to have collaborated and how you would love to be a part of any future plans.
Time for Referrals
As mentions, if a client is happy with your work and you have done complete justice to the assignment, but they don’t have any more projects that suit your skill set, then go ahead and request a couple of business referrals. There is no denying that the best leads are those that come from word of mouth. Offer a discount on a future project as a token of appreciation. By doing this, you will be remembered as someone who means business.
When following up, the best weapons at your disposal are the telephone and email.
Using the telephone can win over clients and close deals. This method gives you the opportunity to present yourself in the best light and to become acquainted with your client in a personal and informal way. Cold calling has been of great help to me in bad times and has helped me find work. It’s the quickest medium to reach clients and establish an effective follow-up schedule.
Email is probably the most potent and reliable weapon for freelancers. It facilitates free expression without any anxiety, and it allows for precise language without burdening the other’s schedule. In general, email is the preferred mode of communication today. People are often too busy to spend time on the phone, and a simple email can save time and can be reviewed later to recall details. With email, you are less likely to be misinterpreted by clients, and you have the best chance to convey your message carefully and professionally. Use it at every stage of the follow-up process, and you’ll discover its benefits.
Tips for Successful Follow-Up
Let’s lay down some basic communication principles that the freelancer should abide by:
- Keep it simple and concise, and sound professional while being personable.
- Be persuasive, but don’t push too hard.
- Be a good listener, and read between the lines. Try to judge the client’s overall behavior, their likes, dislikes and interests. And pay special attention to their problems and challenges. All of this information will be useful in your dealings with the client.
Turnaround time (TAT) is often written about, and the issue is truly immense.
As an initial step, make a schedule template to apply to all assignments and clients. Share this TAT schedule with the client in the initial meetings, and discuss how it will help enforce deadlines and ensures quality. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it will help the client greatly. TAT works reciprocally: it keeps the client informed about the development of the project, and it allows you to proactively send quick queries, smoothing the process along the way. This will go a long way towards helping to establish points that you and the client can follow up on.
This method has worked for me like none other. It has saved time that I would otherwise have spent following up repeatedly without concrete answers. Above all, by adhering to a TAT schedule, you reinforce your brand in the client’s mind.
We are all salespeople, selling our services to customers across the globe. And persistence is indispensable to freelancing, as it is to sales. Remember, a salesperson never forgets, and they make every lead count. Work this quality into your very being, and follow up, follow up and follow up again to really get your business growing.
If there are other aspects to following up not mentioned here, please comment.