What To Do When Clients Go Silent

Following up with clients that go silent is one of the toughest situations within the world of running your own business. Just like with any typical contract, both parties are supposed to perform and communicate to the best of their abilities. But unfortunately, there are times when problems occur, which can be frustrating beyond belief. So what do you do? Personally, I’ve found that the best plan of action is to be persistent, yet fair. Not only to yourself, but to your client as well.

Think of it this way: there are two sides to every story. You, the creative, are trying to run a successful business. You have schedules, deadlines, and things that need to happen in order to move forward. But your client has their own life as well. One that doesn’t stop for anything. And truthfully, there’s no telling what sort of road blocks, project related or not, will place themselves right within your timeline.

The way I see it, there are two types of silent clients. Intentional and unintentional. Luckily, most fall into the second category (which is easier to deal with), but I’ll spend time covering both below:

THE INTENTIONAL SILENT CLIENT

Because contracts and money are (and should) be involved in any project, clients that intentionally go quiet are quite rare. In fact, out of the hundreds of people I’ve worked with, only one stopped talking altogether, no matter how many emails I sent. To this day, I still don’t fully understand what happened. My best guess is that they didn’t love the initial designs and chose to walk away instead of communicate and collaborate, which is a major bummer if true. But I was already compensated for my time spent up until that point (thanks to a 50% downpayment requirement), so it was easy for me to walk away without further action.

A worse case scenario, however, is when creatives have finished a project and hear dreadful crickets when the final invoice is sent. Luckily, there are a few ways that you can prevent this from happening in the first place ...

01. DON’T SEND OFF FILES WITHOUT PAYMENT Whatever you do, don't do this. Sure, you may trust your client, but that won't stop a shady person from taking advantage of you by running off. But if they are required to pay first, then you’ll never have to worry about it. So just do it!

02. BUILD LATE FEES INTO YOUR CONTRACT People don’t want to pay more than they have to, which is exactly why late fees are such a smart strategy. It not only protects you, but encourages your clients to pay on time. To help explain, here is exactly what I use in my contract:

The Client agrees to pay the amount owed within 15 days of receiving the invoice. Payment after that date will incur a late fee of 5%, each month, on the outstanding amount.

If none of this phases your client, and they continue not to pay, you have every right to pursue them legally. Hell, even an email that warns them of upcoming legal action may be enough to scare them into paying you appropriately (late fees included).

But please, remember that this type of client is extremely rare. I’m sharing all of this so that you have your bases covered and don’t have to worry. ;)

THE UNINTENTIONAL SILENT CLIENT

As I mentioned earlier, this is by far the most common type of client that goes silent, most likely due to their own life getting in the way. Or at the very worst, if they’re just plain old bad at communicating.

For example, maybe your client had a sudden health scare in their family and had to step away to take care of things. Or maybe an email of yours simply went to their spam box and was never seen. You never know! As business owners, our first reaction to silence is typically negative. Things like “I haven’t heard from them for WEEKS! They must really hate what I’ve done and not want to move forward” cross our mind like wild fire. But nine times out of ten, that’s just not the case. So instead of creating scenarios in your head, try getting to the bottom of it instead.

The first thing I like to do when I’ve been expecting to hear from a client is a simple check in if a week has passed. I’ll keep things friendly and remind them about whatever it is that I need in order to move forward efficiently. If I still don’t hear from them within the following week, I’ll do the same thing — but also gently remind them that our communication is imperative for completing deadlines on time and that we’ve fallen behind.

If a few weeks have passed, I rely on late fees to push things forward. Because again, nobody likes to pay more than they have to. At this point, I’ll remind clients of the following clause in my contract:

In order to ensure that project goals and timelines are met, the Designer will set fair deadlines in a task management system that’s shared with the Client. If the Designer is expecting something (feedback, copy, materials, etc.) and doesn’t hear from the Client at all within five business days of the scheduled deadline, a $100 late fee will be added to the final invoice to account for project rescheduling.

If you do the math, you’ll notice that I air on the side of flexibility here (because life happens) and usually don’t even share this until they’re already subject to late fees. Luckily, this clause usually lights a fire and helps move things along right away. But if not, I’ll add $100 to their final invoice and keep up my persistence in the pursuit of fairness.

- - - - - -

Now, if there’s ever a case where you don’t hear back from a client, after weeks and weeks of check ins, then it may be time to consider a more aggressive approach. Perhaps in the next check in, you explain how the lack of communication is affecting your business and schedule, and that if you don’t hear from them in “X” amount of days, the contract will need to be closed. Think of this as a last ditch effort to get their attention. Your client, after all, has invested time and money into this project and will most likely go out of their way to finally respond if you’ve clearly outlined what happens when a constant lack of communication occurs.

But if they don’t — ask yourself if the chase is really worth it. Always keep your best interests at heart and realize that this end of the road type stuff doesn’t happen a lot. I promise.

And if you have any other tips for dealing with silent clients, please share them in the comments section below! This is a community, after all, and I love it when we can all help each other out.