Do You Respond to Everyone?

As an independent professional, do you respond to everyone who contacts you? I don't. I had a comment left publicly for me on a forum today because I didn't respond to someone's contact through the forum's private message system. While a part of me understands their frustration (I struggle to reach colleagues that I know personally half of the time because of their busy schedules), I simply don't believe in responding to everything that comes my way. Here are some things I occasionally ignore:

  • Requests for free advice - If I happen to have some time, I may answer some of them, but far fewer now than I used to. While it can be good for marketing, I often just don't have the time. Also, much of what people ask me is already readily available through my sites and blogs. I figured, if they didn't take the time to so much as search first, I'm not going to hold their hand.
  • Vague messages - If you email me saying "I need you to do a press release for me," I probably won't respond. I shouldn't have to pull teeth to know what you want. At the very least, let me know the company or site name, URL, and basic news you want the press release to cover. I'll gladly take it from there and ask you for the details I need. Just don't expect me to be a mind reader.
  • Forum PMs - There are a lot of times where I ignore all forum PMs, and times where others get buried quickly. They're a very low priority to me. While I use forum posting as a means of marketing, it doesn't mean I have a lot of time to respond to non-public requests. The point of posting there is for people to see what I have to say and get to know a bit about me and my background professionally. My business site and contact info are readily available, and the forum is set up to allow people to email me. If I'm strapped for time, PMs are one of the first things to go. The way I see it is this: I don't care if the cheaper writers respond to them all. I don't run my business through a forum like many of them do, and I don't compete in the same market as them... the fact that I respond to them at all is highly unusual for anyone involved in my profession, and when I do it's a courtesy; not a given right or something that should be expected. My information is available on my site. I answer most of their questions there already. If someone on a forum wants to get my attention, they can do it the same way everyone else does if they want it seen quickly.
  • Weekend Contacts - If you email me on the weekend about a project, it's very possible that it's going to get lost in the pile. I get bombarded on weekends (I've never understood why, other than maybe that the webmaster group I do work for includes a lot of the weekend warrior type of entrepreneurs). I also don't officially work weekends, and I avoid my email like the plague then - professionals have the right to a life too. I didn't used to work that way - I'd respond on all days at all hours. Then I started respecting myself. So if you want a quick response from a professional about business issues, contact them during business hours... at least if you want to contact me I suppose.
  • Requests for Articles - 99% of the time, I turn these projects down. I don't write SEO articles, and it's exceptionally rare that I'll write an article for a webmaster (the group that usually contacts me about them). I used to waste a lot of my time writing responses to turn these projects down, and offering a lot of referrals - not so much anymore. If I have time, I will. If I'm busy, and you're asking about a service I don't offer within the scope of the project you're looking for, there's a good chance I won't respond.

On top of having a lot of contacts that I don't / can't respond to, I've noticed that over time people have come to expect much quicker responses, and with the growing demand on my time, I can't always provide it. I used to respond to most email messages within minutes. Now, if it's not a high priority message, it can take several days or longer (especially if I'm responding to anything from the list above that I may otherwise ignore).

Some people have this misconception that if you're professional, you'll respond to absolutely everything. I'd argue the opposite is true, and that anyone who has the time to respond to every email, PM, IM, etc that they receive has too much time on their hands and therefore isn't doing enough to market themselves and network effectively.

I don't think some people know how much time it really takes to do these things when there's a constant demand. It's easy to say, "Well you could have sent me a note saying you couldn't take the project." If I did that for every project I turn down, or simply acknowledged every message, I'd have no time for my client work, site development, or anything else that earns my income.

I know there are plenty of people who have a significantly greater demand on their time than I do, and I've yet to meet one who responds to everything, manages a full work load, and still has time for all their marketing, financial, and other administrative tasks all during the course of their regular work week (the ones who do are often the ones who neglect a lot of those financial, marketing, and other admin duties, leaving them "extra" time).

Here's what I'm looking at on an average work day (weekends get totally overrun half the time):

  • Anywhere from 5 to about a dozen requests for information about press releases.
  • Usually a request or two to have me look over a press release before someone submits it (something I charge for unless in a public forum where others can learn, so I ignore many of these too) - I get a handful of these scattered throughout each week.
  • 2-3 dozen legitimate emails about services or questions about one of my sites.
  • A few hundred to a few thousand spam messages I have to dig through (because I work with musicians and a lot of their messages get spam-blocked, I can't keep my filters high; every time I try I end up getting letters, phone calls, comments, etc. whining that they can't reach me to find out if I'll work with them or do a write-up on them).
  • At least a dozen or so news forwards from a few colleagues on issues in the PR industry, new media, etc. which I evaluate for my PR blog and commenting for my online networking efforts.
  • Anywhere from one to quite a few emails from colleagues wanting to chat privately about work issues.
  • Several back-and-forth messages between myself and clients on current projects, submissions of work, reviews and edits, follow-up questions, invoicing questions, etc.

On top of that, I'm doing client work, blogging, revamping my business site and two other sites, writing an e-book, commenting on blogs for networking, posting in forums and getting started on an industry white paper about some current relevant issues for marketing purposes, and trying to do it all while maintaining my sanity and keeping enough "me time" like a normal human being so that I don't burn out.

So while I understand the frustration as someone who struggles to keep contacts moving on interview fronts, who struggles to keep in touch with colleagues, and who struggles to their clients to respond about their own projects, I'd also ask that people emailing solo professionals be a little bit more patient and understanding in this instant gratification world when it comes to the reality of not being able to respond to absolutely everything all of the time.

So, what are your thoughts on responses, and do you feel like you have to respond to every message you receive?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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5 thoughts on “Do You Respond to Everyone?”

  1. I’m new to your blog and your professional websites which might make me unqualified to comment on this subject, but I did see the exchange you mention. I agree with you 100%. If you make it quite clear that you don’t cater to the SEO article market, and you have, frankly the other person is at fault and their raising the subject in a public forum is unprofessional and forces you into damage control, which I’m sure you’ll agree will periodically haunt you no matter how well you’ve responded.

    Taking the approach, bluntly, publicly, and with conviction that you will not allow these people to jeodardize the existing contracts you have or your valuable private life is the sanest approach. This is the approach I take with all of my clients.

    Reply
  2. Jenn,
    As a person who generally lurks more than he participates, I have always found you to be very helpful and responsive. I agree that it is almost impossible to be effective and respond to every attempt at contact that comes your way. I enjoyed this blog a lot, but might suggest that for simpletons, like myself, you should establish a techno geek glossary for accronyms like SEO and PM’s.
    As for the person who took you to task publicly in a forum, most people will instantly recognize that this is the of a someone who is petty, inappropriate and unprofessional. What’s more, these are the very same people who explode when they are called out. Ultimately, you get what you give and as a casual oberver I believe you have given plenty and it will pay off for you in the end.

    Keep up the good work!

    Bob Audette

    Reply
  3. Andrew, being new to my blog certainly doesn’t make anyone unqualified to comment. 🙂 I never worry too much about the damage control aspect. I just tell the truth, often bluntly, and people can like it or not. I don’t expect everyone to, so then I don’t get disappointed when people have negative things to say about it.

    Bob, I do try to be responsive when I can help, and when I have time. I’ve always looked at that as a nice way to market and network, and it does work. But no one has time all the time. Here are a few definitions to help out. 🙂

    SEO – Search engine optimization – when in reference to articles this generally means articles are written for search engines more than for the reader (shouldn’t be that way, and doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s the reality of what often happens and what a lot of webmasters want – articles that are keyword-stuffed).

    PMs – Private Messages – these are like a private email system on forums where you have an inbox there and people can leave your private notes rather than posting publicly in a thread on the forum.

    SchemingTurkey, welcome to All Freelance Writing. I hope you enjoy the blog. 🙂

    For the record, I wasn’t trying to cause issues for the person to brought up the issue publicly. 😉 He brought up a concern and misunderstanding that I imagine is pretty common for webmasters. You have to remember, when you go to a webmaster forum, you’ll have a lot of new service providers (whether that be PR / marketing, design, SEO, etc.) who really do run their business primarily through one or more forums. They’re also the type who are going to be there to answer every request coming in via PM, because they don’t take as many emails, phone calls, snail mail (which I get a LOT of btw in press kits I have to evaluate on the music side of what I do, although I forgot to add that to my original list). They just hang around posting ads and contacting people about gigs (they usually also either have fewer gigs and more free time, or they have to respond to everything in a desperate quest to jam their schedule just to earn enough at lower rates to get by). Then they do the work and resume that practice. That’s not how more serious business owners would run a business (and in all fairness, a lot who do are more hobby providers than ones trying to make a serious living). Clients can’t differentiate the two types of providers and business models, because both can be found in the same place. This post was more to satisfy my own curiosity on what others think is appropriate and what they do. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Quote “This post was more to satisfy my own curiosity on what others think is appropriate and what they do.”

    Fair enough, you vented and got it off your chest, I’m sure you felt better about it. You also asked for opinions, I’m pleased to see we all agreed with you and flames were avoided. You handled the situation in the most appropriate manner you could.

    I take your point about people being understandably interested in your opinion, but as BobA pointed out the people who take you to task for not responding to them “are the very same people who explode when they are called out”. Taking a stand, and publicly drawing attention to your position is the correct action, and you can refer future troublemakers to this entry, in fact, it may even be a good idea to post a permanent link in your sidebar to this entry and not let it slip beneath the radar.

    Reply

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