• Advice

5 stages of unresponsive clients

It’s no secret that I am a chronic overthinker. I also worry like it’s my job. Put those together and you have a lethal combination of woe when it comes to unresponsive clients.

We have all experienced the potential client fizzle out. At first everything is great, they seem to really dig you, and then before too long, radio silence. While this problem can leave a lot of freelancers feeling rejected and disappointed, there are some secrets to surviving this issue.

However, what if you got the gig? You have emailed your client a few times, and it seems that the communication is spotty or downright nonexistent. Now what?

Stage 1: Everything is perfect and right with the universe

You got the job, your client is excited, you are happy, everything is great. Your emails are answered in a timely manner, and your questions are responded to appropriately and thoughtfully. What could go wrong?*

*Note to freelancers with perfectly responsive clients, you can stop reading now.

Stage 2: You realize your client is kind of a flake

If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it’s when you get into a back and forth with a client, where both are offering quick fire responses, and then all of the sudden, they disappear.

The thing I always try to remember in those situations, is that my clients may not be surgically bonded to their computers, things happen, people eat lunch. Give your client time to get back to you. If there is a pressing question that has gone unanswered, give them to the end of the workday, but then make sure you follow up.

Stage 3: Abandoning all hope while feeling OK

Once you have gotten through the honeymoon, the wishful thinking, and the fruitless follow-ups, sometimes you just have to accept that your client is bad at communication. Personally, I have a tendency to take unreciprocal communication very personally. So as soon as I accept that my client might just be a flake and that it’s not a personal affront to me, I usually feel better.

A good thing to do at this stage is to analyze the communication you have had with your client, what works, what doesn’t work? Maybe they are more of a phone person, or maybe you notice that they don’t answer emails after noon. Try to work within their communication boundaries and see if that improves things.

Stage 4: Set your own communication boundaries

Eventually things must come to a head in dealing with unresponsive clients for prolonged periods of time. Deciding what your expectations for a client are and expressing those when things get frustrating is going to make everyone's lives easier. It may be that your client doesn’t understand your perspective as a freelancer, and even though they are not your boss from time to time you may need guidance or feedback (in a timely manner!).

Stage 5: Manage expectations from the start

It’s natural to want to be super breezy and cool when starting a new relationship with a client. However, sometimes getting the awkward stuff out of the way and setting expectations from the start will make your relationship much better going forward.

Draw from your past frustrating experiences and let your new clients know that this is how you like to operate. Take into consideration their feedback and communication styles and try to come up with a plan of action. It may seem silly to plan how you are going to talk about things, but like any strong relationship, personal or professional, good communication is key.

Freelancers, what are your strategies for dealing with unresponsive clients?

Ashlee Christian is from the north-side of Chicago and will never stop saying "pop" or eating pizza with a fork and knife, so please stop trying to change her. Follow her on Twitter @nomadnation