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Why clients and prospects ghost (and how to make sure it never happens again)

There’s no question that being ghosted sucks. But with a level head and clear plan, you can address the problem.

Design by Johnny Orel

Profile picture of Ido Lechner


4 min read

You’ve been working with a new client and you’re ready to create stunning work, but what happens if your questions are met with crickets?

It seems unlikely that a new or pre-existing client would ghost after the ink dries… until it happens. Though clients and prospective clients ghost for separate reasons, never take their communication for granted. Hopefully you’ve signed a contract, but even (and especially) then, the ball’s in your court to address the problem. (Related: How to create a successful website design proposal.)

Whether your deal was sealed with a formal signature or a trusting handshake, you never want to find yourself in a game of cat and mouse. But if you do, we’ve got some tips to help you navigate the situation.

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First, you need to know why you’ve been ghosted

Before you can get ghost-busting, it helps to know why promising prospects disappear on you in the first place. Usually, there are two main reasons people vanish right before you close a deal:

  1. The timing isn’t right for your potential client, either strategically or due to some extenuating circumstances. They may even come to this realization on the precipice of signing a contract, in which case it might be best to cut the work short and give them a grace period to return at a later date.

  2. Your prospect might be leaning toward one of your competitors, which should raise alarms at your agency if you determine this to be the case. It’s one thing to lose prospects or clients to poor timing, but if a competitor pulled the rug out from under you, then you might want to reassess your unique selling proposition.

People you’re already working with ghost for slightly different reasons than prospects do. In this instance, the reasons are more personal:

  1. You’ve made a mistake somewhere along the way and they aren’t happy with your services.

  2. Your client no longer sees how your solution is fitting their needs.

  3. Your client was thrown a major curveball you might be unaware of.

How to handle being ghosted by a client

There’s no question that being ghosted sucks. But with a level head and clear plan, you can address the problem and prevent it from happening again. Of course, you’ll want to have a transparent conversation with the client in question to learn exactly what’s going on, but these tips should offer some guidance in the meantime.

Keep your cool

Be the first to reach out and always create a pleasant climate for prospects to return to. Never be snarky, even if you feel like you’re in the right (which you very well might be). Avoid being accusatory, but be clear in your messaging that things need to change for work to continue.

Reach out across multiple channels

It’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt; inconsistency isn’t desirable, but clients are human, after all. Never spam your clients if they aren’t getting back to you, but don’t consider the job done if you’ve only reached out once. Send an email and leave a voicemail. Just be sure your messaging is courteous and not aggressive. If they’re still not getting back to you despite your best efforts, try another person on their team or within their company (assuming you’re not working with a team of one).

Make your value super clear

Part of any creative work you do for a client involves connecting the work you’re doing to the bigger picture, especially if it’s not immediately obvious. How can better design increase conversions in your client’s site? Why should they trust you to write their newsletters? How will adding custom code snippets change their UX?

You may need to better demonstrate value by walking your client through some case studies or offering a small freebie that will re-energize them after you get a hold of them. You don’t want to be in selling mode, though: focus the conversation on the problems they need solved, not the services you provide.

Own up to your mistakes

If a client’s behavior leads you to suspect that they’re unhappy with your work or process, it’s best to apologize and offer a redeeming one-time service or discount. You can use these win-back strategies to incentivize clients to return, and read more about how to productively manage the client feedback process and why you should know your clients' core values.

Send them their bill

If you have a contract with your client yet you still haven’t heard back from them despite your best efforts to reach out, invoice them for the month(s) they’ve been absent. This will serve as a more assertive reminder that they’re still under contract and therefore responsible to pay. For future cases, make sure to include a clause in your contracts stating that if you’ve been putting in the work, but the client doesn’t honor the relationship, they still have to pay for your efforts.

Become un-ghostable with future clients

Once you’ve been ghosted, have a post-mortem with your team about what went wrong, and how you can prevent ghosting from happening with future clients. Here are some ways to get ahead of the problem next time:

Tap your network

Recommendations by trusted sources reduce the chances of getting ghosted based on the fact that both parties have already been vetted. Since no one wants to look unprofessional in front of their network—clients included—you know that both parties will put their best foot forward to avoid tarnishing the recommender’s reputation, and their own.

Make sure your contract protects you

Your contract should include a termination notice, and also a contract settlement fee to cover the time you’ve already spent. Once you start seeing some initial ghosting, make sure you have a paper trail of your attempts to connect, which can serve as legal proof that you did your best to honor the relationship.

Be more than a service provider

If you want to bullet-proof your brand in the eyes of your prospects, get to know their industry on a deeper level by doing your homework: set notifications for news in their sector and share relevant suggestions. This not only conveys professionalism (and an eagerness to work with them), it further cements your services as an invaluable asset—and who would ghost an invaluable asset?

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