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?