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Following up is hard. It sounds like a simple, easy thing to do — but there are all sorts of things that make it more difficult. It takes time. You have to remember to do it. You don’t want to come across as pushy. An answer seems unlikely.
But following up is key in many situations. From following up on a job interview to reminding someone you asked them for some mentoring, well-done follow-ups can provide a big boost to your success.
Why Following Up Is Important
In short, because people forget. They’ll read your email and forget to respond to it. Or forget that they promised to call you back. They could forget that they were going to meet up with you for coffee. With serious information overload becoming more common, it’s not a surprise.
People deal with way too many stimuli in any given day, and even with a great task management system, they’re bound to forget things. And some of those things are probably going to be your emails and calls. That’s just life.
But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Following up on your emails, calls, discussions, connections, and actions set you apart from the hundreds of other people out there vying for attention. Steli Efti, for example, followed up with an investor 48 times before getting a meeting. It works.
At the very least, a lot of follow-ups will get you a “No,” which is better than no answer at all because you can move your efforts elsewhere.
No matter whether you’re trying to get a job, ask for advice, pitch a freelance service, establish a relationship, or just get the answer to a question, following up is crucial. And getting better at it will not only make your life easier but help you boost your rate of successful communications, too.
Here are five things you can do to get better at following up.
1. Commit to Following Up
This is possibly the most important thing you can do to improve your follow-up skills. You have to understand that if you don’t hear back from someone, you’ll be following up. If the stakes are extremely low and you’re not super concerned about the answer, you could skip it. But the majority of your communications are going to require follow-ups.
Knowing that ahead of time is key. You won’t have to debate whether or not to send a follow-up because you’ll already be totally committed to doing it.
2. Set Up a System
Systematizing your follow-ups will be a huge help. It’s not just other people that forget things: you do, too. Which means that if you don’t have a system with good reminders, you’ll forget to follow up, and you’ll be back where you started.
There are a lot of ways you can go about this. The simplest is with a spreadsheet. Here’s an example of an email follow-up spreadsheet:
Each row contains the date I emailed someone, who they are, their email address, and the scheduled follow-ups. If I sent a follow-up email, I highlight the cell green. If the follow-up got a response, it’s marked in purple.
This is just an example. You could use a wide variety of organizational methods for your spreadsheet. Or specify the method of contact so you can track your email follow-ups to your calls (or vice versa). You might include the time of day, so you can vary your contact times.
There are tons of other ways to set up a system, too. You could create a Wunderlist list that reminds you when you need to follow up. You could use Evernote to track your contacts.
If you have an iPhone, there’s a cool trick you can use for call reminders: tell Siri to remind you to call someone who’s already in your contacts list, and you can call directly from the lock screen. Android’s Call Reminder app [No Longer Available] provides similar functionality.
And there are plenty of email apps and extensions that will help if you need to follow up with email. Airmail, my favorite email app for macOS, allows you to set reminders if no one responds to your email. Just pick a date when you’re sending an outgoing message.
Boomerang is a popular Gmail extension that can return emails to your inbox and even lets you schedule automatic follow-ups. Rebump and LeadCooker are two other Gmail extensions that give you similar functionality.
With all of these options, you’re sure to find (or create) something that works for you. Just make sure that you have something that’s going to work. Trying to remember it all just isn’t going to cut it.
3. Pick the Right Dates and Times
This is going to vary a lot based on your industry, goals, the people you’re communicating with, and other factors. But having an idea of when you should follow up can boost your efforts.
Following up on an email about a freelancing opportunity or some blogger outreach might be best served by sending an email the next day, just to stay top of mind. Some people recommend following up the next day, then two days after that, then every five days after that until you get a response.
You may not want to call that much, but it might depend on why you’re calling. Waiting until a week after a job interview is probably a good idea. But you could call every few days after that if you haven’t heard back.
Different companies have found different things when they research the best time to send an email. This is usually for company newsletters, but 10:00 AM seems to be a good time, as does late at night. When you’re following up with email, it’s a good idea to try sending your email at a different time. It’s possible that you just sent the first one at a time when the recipient isn’t likely to open new messages.
When you’re calling, there are a few other things to consider. For example, if you’re calling someone at their work number, you’re going to want to call during the workday. And probably not around lunch time. You’ll also want to take their time zone into account.
In the end, it’s best to experiment with a few different schedules for your follow-ups. My best advice is to give it some thought before you start firing off emails and calls. Ask yourself if the current day and time is a good idea. If it is, go for it. If it’s not, wait a bit. As long as you’re intentional about it, you’ll be fine.
4. Keep It Quick
The importance of concise communication can’t be overstated. This goes for pretty much any type of communication, but it’s especially important when you’re following up. There’s a good chance that whoever you’re getting in touch with already knows who you are and what you want because you told them that already. Just stick to asking for a response.
It could be as simple as “Hey, just wanted to check in with you about [whatever you’re emailing about]. I know you’re really busy, so I thought I’d follow up. Looking forward to hearing from you!”
You can also paste the content of your previous email below your message so they’re reminded of what you emailed about in the first place.
Calls are very similar: just let them know who you are, that you called earlier, and what it is that you want.
“What it is that you want” is also important. If you don’t tell the other person what you’d like for them to do next, there’s a good chance they’ll do nothing. “I was hoping to get your thoughts on this article,” “I’d love to ask you some question via email — let me know if that’s alright,” and “Is it alright if I give you a call next week?” are all great indications of your desires.
If you tend to ramble on or get sidetracked in your emails, try using an email writing tool.
5. Stay on It
When you’re having trouble getting in touch with someone, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking negatively. Keep in mind that — at least most of the time — it has nothing to do with you or your request. It likely has everything to do with the fact that everyone is super busy.
In fact, many people will appreciate the fact that you followed up. Few people have the time to stay on top of all their emails and voicemails, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk to you. In most cases, they just forgot.
So keep following up. You don’t need to call every day or pester someone on Twitter until they respond. But keep checking in until you get a response, even if it’s a “No.”
How Do You Follow Up?
Methods for following up on communications are quite personal. The way that I follow up my emails could be very different from how you do it. Maybe you don’t follow up on calls at all, or you only send emails after the first two calls. Your circumstances, industry, and goals all affect your follow-ups. We want to hear your experiences!
What do you find is helpful when following up? Do you continue to get in touch until you get an answer? Wait a long time before resending a message? Share your best tips in the comments below!
Image Credit: Gustavo Frazao via Shutterstock.com