One of the most common marketing questions I get (from beginning and experienced freelancers alike) is about followup:
- Should I follow up on marketing contacts?
- If so, how often?
- If so, by what method?
- If not, then what?
My personal followup method
I hate following up. There, I said it. I hate following up because I hate feeling like a nag, and because I tell myself that if the person were really interested, they would respond without me following up. But…the problem is that followup works. It’s pretty rare that a potential client responds to your first inquiry, even if they are interested in or could use your services. Followup works on agencies; it works on direct clients; honestly it works on me. Followup just plain works.
Before you follow up
Before you think about contacting new clients and following up, promise me that you’ll use the world’s easiest marketing technique: nudging your dormant clients. A form of followup in and of itself, checking in with clients you haven’t heard from in a while is honestly the fastest and easiest way to get some work coming in if business is slow or if you see some blank space in your schedule. Every year when I run my March Marketing Madness challenge group, lots of participants are reluctant to nudge dormant clients (“I don’t want to bug them/They’ll contact me if they need me”), then some people try it, with results such as “They sent me a $1,300 project the next day,” “They booked me for a four-day interpreting assignment right after I nudged them, when I hadn’t heard from them in a year,” etc. Those are actual examples, and they’re the reason why I think nudging should come before followup.
To follow up, or just drop it?
Although I hate following up, there are a few situations in which I force myself to do it, and to continue following up until I get a straight yes or no from the client: if I know that the client needs me, I follow up until I get some sort of response. This applies particularly to agencies: an agency may not need me specifically, but agencies need translators and interpreters. Therefore, if there’s an agency I want to work with, I’ll follow up with them approximately every two weeks until I get some sort of answer from them. I’m about to start marketing for conference interpreting work, and this is my plan: contact every agency I can find that does conference interpreting, and follow up with them until I get some sort of response.
This particularly applies to agencies where you’ve applied, been approved, and been added to their roster but haven’t received any work. Follow up with them approximately every two weeks until they either send you some work or tell you that they don’t in fact need you. The same goes for direct clients who contact you about a specific project: you really want to follow up with them until they either assign you the project or tell you they don’t need you.
To be honest, when I contact prospective direct clients using a warm e-mail or LinkedIn connection request, if they don’t respond, I usually just move on. Partially, this is because I am mainly marketing for international development translation work, and there are tons of clients out there for French to English. I find that if I contact 100 potential clients, I’ll probably get two to three new clients out of the effort. If there’s not such a plethora of potential clients in your language/specialization, or if you simply want a more targeted approach, followup becomes really important. For example, Sarah Silva teaches a course on direct marketing for Training for Translators, and she wrote a blog post about her experience landing three new clients out of a list of 10 prospects, (no kidding: like 10x the results I usually get), because she uses a multi-step marketing campaign where she plans from the start to contact each potential client three to four times. If you’re interested in Sarah’s September 2021 course on this topic, you can read more here.
How to follow up without being annoying
I feel like there are a few keys to following up without being annoying:
- Personally, I would avoid fake-sounding excuses to follow up (“Not sure if you received my first message”), and I would avoid anything remotely pushy (“I’d appreciate a response either way”). Accept that people may simply not respond no matter how much you nudge.
- Always directly offer to stop contacting the person (“If my services aren’t what you need right now, just let me know and I won’t contact you again”).
- If you’re following up with an agency, just cut to the chase. Of course they need translators and interpreters, so stick with something like, “Hello Melissa; just checking in about my application for German to English patent translation work. Do you anticipate anything in the pipeline that I might be helpful with? I passed your patent translation test in November and would love to work together. If you’d prefer that I stop contacting you, just let me know.”
- I think it’s a matter of personal preference whether to include “hooks” in your followup e-mails (here’s an article I thought you might be interested in; I’m attending this conference and wondered if you’re going to be there, etc.).
- Yet another option is to follow up via a different method (this is what Sarah does, as described in the blog post above): for example contact the person first by postal mail, then by LinkedIn, then by e-mail.
- In all of your marketing efforts, make sure to comply with the European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and other, similar e-mail privacy laws. This is an argument for using LinkedIn, since it seems to be the consensus that messages sent on the LinkedIn platform aren’t subject to the GDPR.
Readers, any other thoughts on following up?