Let’s talk about Ghosting.
Now I’m not talking about ghosting in the dating sense but the professional sense. Yes, professional ghosting is very much a thing these days.
What is ghosting? It’s when a prospect or client has been in touch with you, sometimes you’ve even done work for them – and then you stop hearing from them. It all seems to be going well and then poof! They’re gone.
And just like being ghosted by a hot Tinder date – professional ghosting hurts. No one wants to feel that they weren’t important enough for even a simple break-up email. At best you’re left thinking you did something wrong and wondering what it was that they didn’t like about your product/service. But it’s way worse when you’re ghosted halfway through a project with them – and the very worst is when they owe you money for the work done.
So why does it happen?
Unless there’s a definite cause for the ghosting (and you’ll know if there is) then nine times out of ten the old adage of “It’s not you, it’s them” applies. They may be putting out fires or have too many things on their plate and your project with them may have been bumped from top priority to the bottom of the list. And in the current climate, you must also consider the possibility that your client may not be ok and unable to reply to your emails. You never know what is going on in someone’s life.
Or, as blunt as this may sound, they may just be rude. These days, it’s a lot easier to ghost someone – especially if you’ve only ever met that person online and you’ll never run into them at the grocery store or gym. And if they are just being rude – you’re probably better off without them as a client.
How do you prevent being professionally ghosted?
The bad news is that you can’t – it’s going to happen at some point. But there are a couple of things you can do to try to reduce the likelihood and the impact of being ghosted when it does.
- First impressions count. I’m not a fan of automated template email responses – especially if it’s the very first communication you have with them. If they ask a specific question and your automated, template reply doesn’t happen to answer that one question – it doesn’t give a great first impression. They’d probably be happier to wait a day to hear a personal and thoughtful response directly from you. Start the relationship off by treating them well and they’re less likely to ghost you further on down the line.
- Communicate in the way the client wants you to communicate with them. Some people like phone calls, some hate phone calls – so if you’re communicating via email with a client who doesn’t have time to read your lengthy emails, then they’re likely to just get frustrated with you. How do you find out how the client wants to communicate with you? Ask them in your first meeting with them.
- Give them a deadline. You can do this in your communication with them and your proposals. Something along the lines of this proposal expires in 10 days – or if I don’t hear back from you on this by next Monday, I’ll assume we’re not moving forward with this project. If they don’t respond by the deadline date – you know they’re not interested and move on to the next client.
- Always have a contract. It should clearly outline the work to be done with the deadlines for both parties, a payment schedule and the terms in which payment is to be made and the consequences of non-payment. You can create a template contract (and it’s always a good idea to get a lawyer to have a look at it) but you should individualise it and include the specific project tasks outlined for each individual client.
So, what do you do if a client does ghost you?
There are different ways to handle it – depending on when they ghost. And always lead with empathy. Empathy means understanding where they’re coming from – people always remember how they are treated and someone who isn’t ready to become a client now may become one in the future.
- How to handle being ghosted in the prospect stage
Kill them with kindness, reach out and just make sure things are OK and let them know you’re still there for when they’re ready. Give them time to respond with a deadline and if you still don’t receive a response, move on.
- How to prevent being ghosted mid-project
Having a client ghost you mid-project is a little more complicated and there are two important things you need to have in place in order to minimise the damage. Number one, only start work on receipt of a 50% upfront deposit. Then if it looks like the client is starting to lose interest in the project halfway through, then you can put the project on hold – or terminate – but at least this way you will have been paid for the half-completed project. If the client asks to put the project on hold you can always request a re-engagement fee to get started up again when they’re ready. And instead of having the final payment due on project completion, create a payment schedule with regular payments due based on agreed-upon deadlines.
These two things make it less likely that your clients will ghost mid-project and also help protect you financially in case they do.
So have you been professionally ghosted before? How did it make you feel? I’d love to hear how you handled it?
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