3 reasons and 3 techniques
Google displays 153 results when you search the exact phrase “the dreaded follow-up email.” When I started writing this piece, it was 138. People seem to hate both sending them and receiving them. But if you can “follow up” with everyone about everything, I guarantee your career, and your life, will be better for it.
Here’s why you should follow up with everyone:
1. You get jobs by following up.
In an ideal world, any time someone came into contact with your brand, you would follow up with them. That’s unrealistic, but every client was once a potential client. Reaching out to the people who have had the slightest interaction with you as a professional puts you on their radar. There’s a reason whole companies exist to monitor brand awareness. If you don’t make yourself visible to potential clients (or employers) by reaching out—personally, as an individual—they will slip away.
A woman emailed me recently, asking to buy the rights to a photo she had found online. Unfortunately, the photo in question wasn’t mine, so I directed her to the photographer, who declined to sell her the rights. I recognized this as a great opportunity, and quickly replied that I knew a location similar to the one in the photo and would be happy to shoot it for her. She declined. But… a few weeks later, she emailed me again, asking if I could go shoot a specific location for her (which was only 5 minutes from my apartment!) If I had not followed up about the original photo she wanted, she would not have thought of me for the next one. Now that I’ve turned around a photo request for her in under 2 hours, who do you think she will come to first for future photo needs?
2. You make friends by following up.
People love feeling important.
Last week, as I was merging some duplicate contacts, I came across an entry for someone named “Robert.” I had only a phone number for this person, and no last name. My first instinct was to delete the entry, because I had no idea who it was, but then I had the tiniest little memory: didn’t I meet a guy named Robert at a game shop in West Philly, like, two years ago? I enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering, but the folks at that shop were a little too competitive for my taste, and I remembered trading numbers with a guy I met there who felt the same way. So I texted him:
“Hey Robert, this is Eric. I think we played Magic together at a store in West Philly like a LONG time ago? Cause I remember trading numbers with a guy who enjoyed playing less competitively than the rest of the crowd. Anyway, if you’re still in Philly and looking for someone to play some casual Magic with, let me know! Or let me know if I have the totally wrong person!”
As it turns out, my memory served. So Robert and I are getting together soon to hang out!
3. You get better at communicating by following up.
It might shock you to hear this, but everyone is different. What you think is an effective follow up might rub someone else the wrong way. By making a habit of following up with people, you learn to read people better, and figure out what to say to get them to respond.
Back when I worked on the communications team for a national network of non-profits, one of my regular projects was a quarterly newsletter. The executive director was in charge of writing the majority of the articles, so it was important for me to get his content early enough to source photos, edit the text, design the layout, get legal approval, and proof the whole newsletter. But every quarter, we would get way behind because the executive director had not sent content when I had asked for it. I tried laying out the timeline for the entire project when we kicked it off, highlighting his deadline. He missed it. I tried sending reminder emails leading up to his deadline. He missed it. Eventually, I figured out a way to get a response:
“This email is to inform you that if you do not send me newsletter content by 8:00 am Monday morning, your members will NOT get a newsletter this quarter.”
I don’t view this as rude, and neither did he. This was simply the language and framing he needed to prioritize writing newsletter articles on time. And it wasn’t necessarily an exaggeration—my team couldn’t guarantee that we would be able to catch the project up enough to hit printing deadlines if he missed his.
Here’s how you can follow up with everyone:
1. Keep a list of every follow up you even think you might send.
One of the hardest things about following up with everyone you should is just remembering it all. Sometimes you need to follow up about a specific topic, or at a specific time; sometimes you might need to do research before you follow up; sometimes you might not even be sure you have the right contact information! It’s crucial to have a list where you record all the information you’ll need to properly follow up. May I recommend WorkFlowy?
2. Make a follow up schedule.
Alex Mathers reaches out to three or more people every day who could generate important opportunities in his life. Sounds good to me! Plug that to-follow-up-with list into a calendar and start crossing things off. If you carve out time to regularly follow up with anyone who might have a role to play in your life, some of them will undoubtedly pay off.
3. Remember that it doesn’t have to be an email.
Email is such a complicated beast. Some people are intimidated by their inboxes, some people are so busy they only check their email once a week, and some people respond almost instantly. Yes, from a career standpoint, email is still a terrific way to reach your audience, but some people might need or prefer a text, or a DM, or a phone call. Sometimes just commenting on an Instagram post qualifies as following up—after all, Instagram engagement theory revolves around liking and commenting on other people’s posts. So before you send someone a follow up email, consider your past interactions, your rapport, and their level of tech literacy.
I know how draining the follow up can be. But mastering this art will pay off in the long term. So it’s time: sit down and ask yourself, “who is the one person I will follow up with today?”