The Most Powerful Secret to Winning New Clients

The Most Powerful Secret to Winning New Clients

The success of Men With Pens was forged on one valuable secret that consistently earns us respect, lands us new projects, books up our schedule and makes for unbelievably happy clients.

It isn’t mystical voodoo. It’s not rocket science. It’s just plain common sense… and so often overlooked you’d be amazed.

I’m willing to share this secret with you. Why? Because chances are good that the people who aren’t serious about their business success will just skim this article, nod and never actually put the advice into practice. (There are more people like this out there than you’d think, by the way.)

This gives serious people like you the opportunity to scoop up what they leave on the table. And personally, I like helping people like you.

So if you care about your business, if you care about winning more clients and booking yourself solid, keep reading. This secret – and understanding why it works – is crucial to your success.

Ready? Here it is:

Answer all your emails quickly.

That’s it. That’s all. Some people will be disappointed that there’s no magical incantation or wizardly spell involved, but that’s often the case with solid, proven, smart advice:

You have to be willing to apply effort to make magic happen.

You see, when people send you an email, they’re already thinking about working with you. They could’ve chosen not to send you anything, after all, or they could’ve sent an email to your competition instead.

But they didn’t. They sent it to you.

These people took time out of their lives and reached out to your business, giving you full opportunity to show them you’re the best solution for their needs.

All you need to do is reply quickly, with engaging and reassuring words that convey your expertise, and you’ve practically won the project.

If you wait… if you decide to answer tomorrow, if you’ve set up one of those silly “I only check my email twice a day” auto-responders, if you put off answering thinking you’ll get to it later… that decision might cost you everything.

People hate waiting.

Human beings love instant gratification. And we also love ourselves, thinking we’re the most important person in the world, and our needs are top priority. We matter. We want to be seen, heard and acknowledged – the faster, the better.

Make a client wait, and it signals that you don’t think that person is important. He or she isn’t worth your time, isn’t a priority and doesn’t matter to you right now.

So why should this person work with you if you don’t care?

Justify that wait time any way you’d like. Perhaps you think it’s good to train clients you don’t jump at their command. Maybe you’ve decided it’s more efficient to answer email on a set schedule. Maybe you feel people should show patience – after all, you’re not tied to your computer, and they shouldn’t expect you to be.

All those are true. You’re not tied to your computer. You shouldn’t be at anyone’s beck and call. It’s very efficient to schedule time to reply to emails.

But that’s all about you. And good customer service is all about the client.

The faster you answer that email, the more chance you have of winning that client.

It’s proven: at Men with Pens, we fire off emails like shooting stars, and clients consistently tell us they chose us over others because of our lightning-fast response time. It wasn’t our skill levels or qualifications (which were a given). It wasn’t because we were cheaper (we’re not).

It wasn’t even because we sounded smarter, friendlier or had pretty blue eyes (though that does help).

It’s because we acknowledged, respected and demonstrated interest in our clients by responding to their email in short order… while the competition took their sweet time.

We were there.

Where will you be?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I’m happy to say I do this, James.

    It always frustrates me when businesses take a long time to come back to me (and, conversely, blows me away when businesses I expect to take a while, like Mailchimp, are incredibly quick), so I’ve made a point of doing it for my clients/potential clients. It’s a small and (usually) easy thing to do, but, like you say, loads of businesses don’t do it!

    • I think responding quickly goes a long, LONG way with people – like you mentioned, it’s surprisingly pleasant when we get a quick reply, and we immediately think better of the person for it… and when you’re waiting for a reply, you think less and less of the person with every minute that goes by.

      And you’re right – it IS a small, easy thing to do! So why not, eh?

  2. Claire Baxter says:

    Perfect! So simple and so true!
    We all want to be acknowledged as soon as possible, especially if we need help or advice. No one likes to feel they’ve been left hanging.

    It may well be common sense (and ultimately basic good manners), but as my dad likes to say, “Common sense is only common to those that have it.” Admittedly someone else probably said it first…

    Love to see Men WIth Pens in my inbox. Hope you’re all having a great weekend.

    Claire :)

    • I think there are a lot of uncommon people out there… which is great! Means the rest of us get to scoop up accolades and praise for being on the ball!

      (And happy weekend to you, Claire!)

  3. We’ve been exchanging emails on and off for a few years now and your promptness with email was the first thing I noticed about you, James (and also learned from you).

    Responding to emails has made a huge impact on my business. Clients actually thank me for getting back to them so soon. Makes me wonder how many freelancers make them wait.

    I am actually in awe of how prompt you are with your responses. Not just your client communications (which I’ve experienced as well) but also with your Damn Fine Words course.

    Some of the homework I turned in as a student required a LOT of feedback but you always responded on time I knew that by next morning before noon (barring some huge event) I would have heard from you. And I did. Every single time. And I was just one student. There were 20+ more!

    • Aw, that’s awesome to hear. I’m really glad my efforts to be there for others shines through – it means a lot to me.

      And you’re right on target with wondering about how many people make clients wait. The answer? A LOT. That lets freelancers like you stand out above the rest, showing respect and dedication to providing good service.

      Which, as I mentioned in the article, will win you the gig ;) Glad it’s working well for you, Samar!

  4. Woohoo!! My Internet addiction has its benefits!! :-) I am one of those folks who hates waiting on emails. I also have a client who likes to hear back within 24 hours. So even though sometimes (eek!) it slows down my productivity, I keep those iPad email notifications going 24-7. I try to take “breaks” such as when I’m on vacation, but that’s it.

    • That’s one caveat I’d add: be fast and responsive, but not to the detriment of your business.

      For example, during my most optimal writing hours (somewhere between 8am and 11am), I work and don’t let distractions interrupt me. When I’m done, checking email (and responding to it) becomes a nice break before I most onto the next task.

  5. Great post James as always! — I’ve always been one of those individuals that responds to an email sooner than later. Most often, when I see the notice flash by on the bottom of my screen, I open it and try to address as quickly as I can. If anyone is reaching out to you and has you on their mind, I believe in “striking while the iron is hot”. It’s a great way to shore up and strengthen a business relationship, be it colleague or client.

  6. You are absolutely, positively correct! I have long since believed this was the reason behind my success in freelancing. I am always available, period. And during waking hours, no email waits more than 20 minutes for a response.

    • Weeeeelll I’d actually not be “always available”, as it’s important to create boundaries around your own time, work and life. I’d definitely say that trying to respond to all email within 20 minutes is pushing the limits of extreme, so try to find a better balance between being “always on” and “nicely available”.

  7. So true. I recently contacted three companies to get quotes for service at a party we’re planning. One company came back to me within three hours, and was very patient as we went through their various packages and my indecision.

    8 days later, I still haven’t heard back from the other two. Even if they contacted me now with a cheaper quote, I’d still stick with the first guy because I’m so impressed with the response.

    This tip would never have popped into my head, but it’s so obvious I’m really glad you raised it – thank you!

    • Yeah, that’s the PERFECT example of what I’m talking about, Tahlia. In my industry and with my line of customers, it’s normal for companies to put out several feelers to different suppliers for quotes – and I often hear clients say, “It’s been a week, and I still haven’t heard back from the other guys. You get the job.”

      I love it :)

  8. Thank you for a reassuring post! I am pleased to know that I am doing it right. Prompt response to my clients e-mails has always been a priority for me, and it has a tremendous impact on my business.

    It works both ways: clients appreciate when I reply quickly and I am happy when I receive a prompt email back.
    Thanks again for sharing this practical tip that works!

  9. I guess I’d be interested to know what you define as “promptly”. Someone commented that they’re pretty much “on” 24/7. Sorry, but I have a life and I will not jump to answer someone 5 minutes before I’m ready to sit down to dinner or go to bed. If someone does not respect that there are work hours and non work hours, why would I want them as a client?

    To me, within business hours the same day is great, but within 24 hours (not counting weekends) is fine too. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wait that long.

    • I agree – it’s important to set boundaries and business hours.

      In my example I contacted each company before 10am so hoped for a response that day or within 24 hours. Given the nature of my enquiry (straightforward quote request), after two days without contact they were written off.

    • I agree with this too. You can be chained to an email client.

      For me, responding quickly usually means within the same day, or early the next day, if something comes through late. That’s pretty much what I expect from businesses I use.

    • You’re absolutely right, Cheryl. Being “always on” and responding so swiftly that you break the balance between your personal/work boundaries isn’t a good thing. I don’t commend anyone drop everything to leap to a customer’s beck and call.

      I think if an email comes in at 9am, it’s feasible to give that person SOME sort of reply by 5pm, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks for getting in touch, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

      Of course, if you DO have free time to answer before then (say, noon), then by all means do so.

  10. This is timely as I just experienced an issue regarding response time with a potential client. What I find frustrating is that this client said that a person who works from home does not have the right to set business hours- I disagree greatly. Boundaries are so important. To that end, I try to respond within 24-48 business hours for general inquiry as my business hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. I think this is reasonable and my clients tend to agree.

    On the flip side, I think responding too quickly can be a downfall too as when people come to expect something, they are less forgiving should you be unable to provide that service all the time.

    • Working from home is the same as working from an office anywhere else in the world, doing any other job. You absolutely have the right to set business hours, and you have the right to respect yourself and your business, as well as your free time. This IS reasonable and normal – and necessary!

  11. Answering emails quickly sounds like such a small and simple thing to do, but it is the tip of the iceburg for clients. It gives them the indication that you there for them and ready to help with their problems.

  12. I have always kept this in mind when I get an email from a prospective client. They took time to contact me, so I should respond as soon since it is evident they are looking for something NOW not when I get around to it. Great article.

  13. I agree and disagree, James. I think the bigger issue goes deeper than this. I think it’s really about taking amazing care of the client — about really caring at every phase of the engagement.

    Caring about their business. Caring about their project. Caring about their objectives. Caring about the people you work with. And caring enough that you show it through your actions.

    That’s what makes you likeable. That’s what turns you from a vendor to trusted partner.

    But it really depends on what you’re all about. I respond to inquiries within one business day. Sometimes that same day. But rarely within an hour or two. Lighting-fast response is just not part of my value proposition.

    I’m not saying lightning-fast response is right or wrong. Just saying it’s something I’ve chosen *not* to make a core principle in my biz. Instead, I place more emphasis on other aspects of the engagement and relationship.

    I know you take great care of your clients beyond that first email. My fear is that email response time could become a crutch for others see it as a silver bullet and ignore the other aspects of being awesome.

    • I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page and talking semantics, because I wholeheartedly agree that first contact is just the beginning, and that caring about every phase of engagement is important indeed.

      That said, I know that sometimes the best of the best of the best… don’t get the job because they took several days to reply to emails. I also know that sometimes the “good enough” often do win the job because they demonstrate interest, enthusiasm and a willingness to be available.

      That’s ultimately what I’m talking about, at the end of the day. Caring enough to not let days go by (sometimes weeks!) before replying to that first email that says, “Hey, can you help me?”

      As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I think if an email comes in at 9am, it’s feasible to give that person SOME sort of reply by 5pm, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks for getting in touch, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” Just good form. And I’m sure you’ll agree with that!

      • Agreed! My comment is mainly based on questions I’ve been getting recently from other freelancers who feel that they have to respond to client and prospect emails within 5 minutes of receipt. When I suggested that we can get a ton more done (and be happier) if we schedule email time 3 – 4 times a day in order to develop more focused periods of work, it was as if I had suggested that everyone give up beer and wine for a year. I mean … the horror! ;)

  14. Hi James,

    I love this, for good reason ;)

    But how can I articulate this in my own way?

    Oh, how about this … James Chartrand is wickedly creative. She’s also relentless when it comes to integrating value into the pages of her site.

    She also practices what she preaches. She fires off emails like shooting stars.

    Trust me, I know :)

  15. I couldn’t agree more with this post! I work for a solar panel company and just yesterday I received an e-mail from an interested potential customer. I responded this morning as soon as I saw the e-mail and she replied back thanking me for such a quick response. I think the power of e-mail and responsibly managing it has gotten lost in all the social media hype. Good post!

  16. You are so right. I have been responding to all my client emails as soon as I receive them and I have seen a dramatic increase in client satisfaction and repeat business since I got into this habit. I have a 5/5 star rating on a freelancing site I work through and the “secret” to maintaining that rating is this one habit I’ve adopted.

  17. A competitor and I have been “sharing” a client for a couple of years. The client has been having a technical issue recently, which still hasn’t been resolved.

    I responded to all of his emails immediately and kept him in the loop. He also involved my competitor. When my competitor basically said “It’s not my problem,” I asked my client if he gave any indication to what the problem may actually be.

    The response was priceless: “No, I tried twice as clearly as I knew how to express that I wanted his thoughts about the problem and he was brief and generally unhelpful.”

    I still don’t know how to fix the problem, but I now have a client for life.

  18. Great advice – and yes – common sense, but SO MANY PEOPLE ignore this simple gesture. Setting the tone of a new business relationship is all important and a fast response shows you are confident in your product, you are curious to know more about your clients needs, and you build correspondence momentum with your client. This in turn evokes reciprocal emotions from your client, building their confidence in you, their curiosity in what you have to offer and ups the pace of communications to hopefully secure a solid business partnership.

  19. Hi James – thanks for sharing a secret of your success. Much appreciated! But I’m curious… since the only means of contacting MwP seems to be your contact form, do you use an auto-responder to respond to enquiries immediately?

    These days small businesses can leverage technology to make responding quickly easier. For example, I was using a receptionist service that would take a phone message and send it to me via email. That way my phone would always be answered by someone, but I wasn’t interrupted by it ringing while I was working. If an enquiry was urgent I could call back when I got the email.

    • That auto-responder would be me :) I make it a point to reply to people damn rapidly, and it pays off.

      I’ve tried using auto-responders but none really play well when it comes to non-client emails, and I haven’t yet found one that filters who to respond to (and who not to respond to) yet. If you know of any, I’m all ears.

      I actually dislike and don’t recommend autoresponders, and the reason why is proven each time a Men with Pens post goes out to several thousand readers… we receive a pile of autoresponder messages back in our company inboxes.

      And when I receive them, from emails I send out personally, they often leave me feeling strange. “Thanks for message! It’s important to us, but we only check my email once a day.” Hmmm… “Thanks for your email – I’m on vacation right now and will get back to you in two weeks.” HMMM.

      And so on.

      Having a receptionist service is smart. Voicemail’s fine too – I think that’s still pretty acceptable. Both go a long way.

      As for contacting MwP, we actually have several means – email, phone, meetings, etc. We just like to make sure we’ll be speaking with nice people and schedule calls in so that we can give these clients our full attention!

  20. This would have been good advice to hear when I was just starting out. I used to purposely delay my response because I thought replying quickly made me look desperate for work.

    I totally agree with you that a quick response gives you a competitive edge. More than 24 hours tells prospects that you don’t have time for them. I agree with Ed though that it’s most productive to schedule email time. I do it during my slump time especially after lunch. I also find using a filtering tool for client emails helps with response time.

    If you just can’t make it happen in 24 hours it’s worth finding time that you’re wasting in your day. It’s there trust me! Being more deliberate about the process you take to handle your emails will also save time so you can make sure the important stuff always gets handled.

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