How and Why to Follow Up with Clients
It is one of those things that you know, but you don’t really know.
Following up with customers is something you are just supposed to do. It is a business truism, seemingly as old as some of Ben Franklin’s advice from the Farmer’s Almanac:
— moving three times is as bad as a fire
— the best investment is in the tools of one’s own trade
— fish and visitors smell in three days
— you should always follow up with your clients
Okay, the third one isn’t about business, and maybe that last one isn’t Ben Franklin. However, there is advice that is given repeatedly across trainings, presentations, and books about growing your business. And it comes down to the importance of doing the little things to stay in touch with your clients over time.
It is easier to keep a client than to win one.
Soon after I was approached by two friends for help writing their books, I started my writing, editing, and proofreading business. Thinking it unwise to continue to use the “I hope someone new randomly asks for help” approach to getting more business, I looked to Freelancer and Upwork to help fill my daily work schedule.
On these freelance sites, customers turn over incredibly quickly. There were few book offers, and many many single blog post offers. As a beginning freelancer with no reputation yet, I found I had to take these single options and just work my way up. Over time on Upwork, I earned Rising Talent status, then Top Talent status.
My first few follow-up with clients came not from an interest in getting repeat business — I didn’t believe the average Upwork client was in need of a lot of regular writing — but from an interest in just finding out how things went with our project.
Whether it was the teacher needing help for a press release about her daughter’s academic success, or a startup business with a need for a Father’s Day themed blog post, I genuinely wanted to hear how things went.
It is easier to keep a client than to win one. — Jack Jose, and countless others.
And when I checked back in, nearly 40% of the time, they wanted to give me more work.
The teacher was excited to say her daughter was having a spectacular academic year. The startup asked if I would review their landing page and write an article explaining their product from a different angle.
So, to make this article fit with other business advice articles you read, I will give you this advice: follow up with clients.
But, in order to make this article actually useful, I will give four ways to do it.
Each and every client should fit into one of these four follow-up categories. It might be useful to use these as chart headers and place your clients on the list as you read the article.
Approach 1: The “thinking of you” note or link
A recent client needed help reaching out to a prominent US businesswoman to speak at their women’s business summit in Asia. My proposal touted my experience corresponding with the Korean Consulate in Chicago, and I was called on to write a letter directly this prominent individual.
I was happy to do it. I wrote a letter that was a balance of appreciation for her work, mild flattery, and a call to the work of empowering women around the world. It was solid. If a cold letter was going to convince her, this was going to be the one.
I also proposed two additional avenues to potentially break through to this corporate leader, two individuals close to the targeted individual, and my client agreed. I wrote the letters, provided addresses based on my research, and we went our separate ways.
If a cold letter was going to convince her, this was going to be the one.
Two weeks later, this businesswoman appeared in the news. I crossed the article Sunday afternoon, and it made me think of my work with this client. I copied the article URL and sent it along with a brief note asking if he had heard anything. I also gave a suggestion for another avenue to reach the target. It was Sunday, so I expected to hear back in a few days.
Three hours later I had an offer in my queue to write another letter.
So approach #1, in summary: if you see something that makes you think of the client and their work, let them know. They will appreciate that you are still thinking of their best interests. If they have work, you will get it.
Approach 2: The timed intentional follow-through
Having worked as a high school principal and teacher, I have helped a lot of students get into college, and I have hired a lot of people. So a big part of my work through my website and through Upwork is assisting with resumés, cover letters, and college or graduate school applications.
The nature of this writing is that it is almost always one-time work. You provide structure and ask questions, capture the strongest answers in their own words, and guide them through creating the story of their most formative moments and greatest accomplishments.
It’s quite intimate. I find it some of the most rewarding work I do, though it is not the most lucrative.
The work fits well with a timed intentional follow-through because with each application for a job, or a graduate program, there is a date when you will have an answer, and learn whether the application worked.
So, I make a note to find out whether my client will be starting the MBA program at Harvard in the fall …
Approach #2, in summary: On the date that they expect to hear back about their application, I place a reminder in Todoist. On that day, I drop a note expressing excitement and confidence and finding out what they learned.
Sometimes it’s great news. One of my earliest clients got into all three nursing colleges where she applied. (Full disclosure: as a former student, she got the 100% discount rate.)
Sometimes it’s no news.
I will let you know how that turns out. I’m quite curious myself. I kind of miss her, we corresponded a lot through the process. And I told the story of how she, a writer, hired me, a writer, to write.
Ultimately I anticipate these follow-ups will provide no additional business for me. But not everything is business.
Approach 3: The monthly
Some of my clients just want articles written on specific topics, and they have come back to me after multiple articles because I deliver on time.
I like to think it is the quality of my writing, but I know that some part of the work is just to churn out content for SEO purposes, or just to help a website feel full.
It is hard to marry “churn” with “engagement” … the best substitute then is “timeliness.”
With these clients, I have a Todoist reminder on the first or the 15th day of the month. I check in to see if they have any work they need right at the moment.
It’s sort of a new situation for me that I find myself telling them that my schedule is rather full. Sometimes I hear back, sometimes it is with work.
This generates additional work nearly 30% of the time. That’s a pretty solid ROI.
Approach #3, in summary: On a set date, check in with clients and simply ask if they have more work that needs to be done. You might just take something off their plate.
Approach 4: The annual
I have been freelancing actively for just four months, so I’m going to go beyond my experience as a freelancer into my experience as a client here.
24 years ago my wife and I bought our house. We thought the world of our realtor, who was patient with our many requests. She worked hard to find the right neighborhood that met my intention to utilize Cincinnati Public Schools, and my wife’s intention to have access to local amenities including a library and grocery stores.
Every year, near the anniversary of the finalization of our purchase, our real estate agent sends us a packet of forget-me-not flower seeds.
I’m not buying a lot of houses. In fact I paid this one off, and not having that payment is working quite nicely, thank you very much. My wife, when pressed to comment about the forget-me-nots, says, “It’s just your standard sort of follow-up thing people do.”
But when we were thinking of buying an investment property, you know who we called.
Approach #4, in summary: For big purchases and major projects, checking in once a year with a friendly, no-pressure reminder, keeps you in the front of your client’s mind. And a big client, twice, is a pretty good deal.
Freelance writing is pretty lonely. While I appreciate having the time to work on gun violence prevention and homelessness in my community, I still miss the daily ebb and flow of working together with others to create a sense of community and shared purpose.
Checking in with clients to see how your stories intersected helps break up that loneliness. It also reinforces my belief that it is in forming these connections, and deeply caring for one another, that any of the work we do means anything.
I don’t want to go all Jerry Maguire here, but having warm relationships with clients is satisfying in ways that simply having clients is not.
I recognize and appreciate the impressive ROI from merely dropping a note to my Upwork clients (why not Freelancer? More on that later) but that is not the richest reward. Knowing about how the project turned out — and caring about how the project turned out — help me invest deeply in each project.
Caring about the final product makes it better.
That wasn’t Ben Franklin, but it is still a pretty sound piece of advice.
Jack Jose is a freelance writer at thebestwordsllc.com and on Upwork (https://www.upwork.com/fl/jackjose). This post was cross-posted on his infrequent blog. Jack is moderately uncomfortable talking about himself in the third person. He also wrote about how he once got a 25% tip on Upwork.