How to Deal with Clients Who Ghost

For an artist taking commissions the prospect of a new project is always exciting. If this is a big part of your business it also, in a very practical sense, means more income to sustain your practice. It’s not always smooth sailing, however, and there’s an aspect to taking a commission that isn’t often talked about – ghosting.

That’s right folks, ghosting isn’t just for the dating world. It happens to artists and freelance designers all the time. How it usually transpires, is you get a message from someone rather informally through social media or even sometimes through email, inquiring about you creating a piece of art for them. Usually, there’s a lot of dialogue back and forth about the project and really no red flags to suggest that this isn’t going to pan out into anything. But then it happens – everything goes silent. This coincidentally (but not really) usually tends to occur when you’ve gathered enough information to be able to give them a price quote on the project.

an artists contemplating why her client chose to ghost her

So what happened? This can leave even the most seasoned commission artist at times left wondering if they said something wrong or worse, confirmed their fears that their work is priced too high. It’s one thing, if someone actually says, “I’m sorry, that’s more than I can spend right now.” That’s totally fair, custom art is a luxury item and is typically priced accordingly. However, when you’re left without the courtesy of an answer it can send you into an over-thinking spiral.

Artists new to taking commissions may be particularly rattled by this. It feels awesome knowing someone loves your work enough that they want to come to you directly to create a piece of art for them so it’s understandable that you would feel excited. Coupled with that the idea of being able to make some sort of income from what you are passionate about, is a dream for most. The thing to remember is that ghosting often has little to do with you personally.

Reasons why prospective clients ghost

  1. Bad Manners – This may be a bit blunt, but it’s true. For whatever reason, the way our digital world has evolved into the impersonal nature of communicating with someone through a text or email has made it “okay” to just end a conversation without any warning or social repercussion. In most cases, this is acceptable and we all agree that this is how things work. For example, the conversational formalities of saying hello and goodbye when texting a friend aren’t the same as when we all only had a telephone to communicate through.

    When it comes to initiating what could be a business transaction though, this is poor manners in my opinion. If you were going to buy a car and decided that the one you were looking at wasn’t for you, chances are you wouldn’t just run away when the salesman wasn’t looking. You would politely thank them for their time, let them know it wasn’t what you were looking for, and then leave.
  2. It’s Too Expensive for Them – This is a legitimate reason for someone to decide against a project but not a reason to ghost. What can happen here is that in conjunction with it being too expensive, they don’t want to be hurtful by telling you so or don’t want to make it seem like they can’t afford it so they just abruptly end the transaction. Again, not an excuse to ghost but it happens. They likely also assume because they haven’t signed anything and in their mind were still in the “tire-kicking” phase that they are under no obligation to go through with anything.

    It’s true that someone just looking for a quote doesn’t owe you anything. This doesn’t mean they should just drop off the face of the earth either if they decide it’s not right for them. A little courtesy goes a long way. I mean, what are they afraid of? That you’re going to guilt them for not purchasing from you? I don’t know of any artists who are that bold or rude. I’m sure they exist but there are few and far between.
  3. Something Came Up – Any number of things can happen on any given day in someone’s life. Sometimes the prospective client is taking some time to think about the project and something else in their life happens and distracts them. They may forget to answer you entirely depending on what occurred. People have families, relationships and jobs that are all bidding for their time and it can very innocently be a case of someone’s attention being pulled in another direction, which has nothing to do with you.

How to Deal with Ghosting

If you’ve determined that your prospective client has ghosted you, there are a few ways you can handle it. Depending on how long it has been you could send a follow-up email 3-7 business days after your last message exchange. If it’s a case of someone getting distracted, they will likely get back to you almost immediately letting you know that’s what happened and either say they are still interested or confirm they are not. If they are officially riding the Ghost Train, you likely won’t hear back at all.

My advice here is to only send the ONE follow-up email. If the project is important to them they will respond. When you do write them, politely ask if they have any additional questions for you about the quote you sent or details about the project and let them know you’re looking forward to hearing from them. DO NOT use any accusatory or sarcastic language in your response back to them. Sure, it can be tempting to do that if you’re feeling a bit jilted but you’re running a business and should ALWAYS be professional even if the other person is not conducting themselves the same way.

Related: 5 Ways You Can Fail at Customer Service

Should someone give you the feedback that your prices are too high, don’t panic and offer them a discount or run and lower all of your prices. Custom art is not affordable for everyone. I’m not saying that to sound like an elitist about it, it’s just a fact. Custom original art is not the same as generic mass-produced art you can buy from stores and it shouldn’t be treated or priced that way. There are many options available for people to find an artist that fits their price point. You have to be confident in your pricing and the reason why you are charging that much. Don’t sell yourself short.

I sometimes offer discounts to repeat clients or on occasion new clients, but I also line list the full value of their purchase without the discount so it’s visible what I would normally charge. Your time, your skill and your creativity have value and you should be paid for it. Every other profession is treated that way, so why not you? The right customer who values what you do will pay what ask for.  It’s also okay to say NO to a commission if you don’t feel like the project is for you or you’re getting a bad feeling from the client. There’s nothing saying you have to take every commission that comes your way.

While ghosting has become an unfortunate social norm, don’t let it get you down when it comes to your art business. Unfortunately, it’s all too common and it rarely is a direct reflection on you as a person. Don’t feel desperate to win someone’s business either. If art is how you make your income it can be hard not to be in that headspace sometimes, but you have to be confident that someone else will come along who wants to invest in your time and talent. Diversifying your income streams can also help with this so you are not relying on one source to pay your bills. Above all, have confidence in yourself as an artist. If you create it, they will come.

Have you been ghosted by a prospective client? How did you handle it?
Share with me in the comments!

Check out Episode 287 of the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast where Host John Middick and I dive even deeper into this topic and more regarding commissions and pricing.

Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

4 Responses

  1. I can understand a potential customer may feel embarrassed that the pricing is out of their budget and not have the social skills to politely decline. I get that. What I have a problem with is agreeing on everything, then giving the go ahead to make the custom item. And then when it’s all done and time to collect the money, “POOF” Gone. No communication. You wasted your time and money. Possibly turned customers down just so you could work on the Ghost’s item. That’s WRONG. I want to see sites like Etsy and Artfire start banning those predators.

    1. I completely agree with you, and unfortunately that happens more than people think. 🙁 The part that gets me is exactly what you said, turning down other customers that probably would have paid. The only way around that in my mind is taking non-refundable deposits or all the money up front before you start any work. I was nervous about doing that at first but people who are serious don’t have a problem doing that. Hopefully it then weeds out the people who might stiff you.

  2. Thank you for this very informative message. I now realize that I have ghosted someone at one time or another without intending to. As you mentioned, we sometimes have too many directions to go at a given point in time and time gets away easily. I would suggest that one might give the latest what went wrong and send one more email just a reminder that when they are ready, please let you know, maybe around 30 days or so. I get a lot of emails and I can not answer all of them in a timely manner and also, sometimes they get lost in my inbox. I realize that you have much more experience with this than I, however, perhaps this has happened to your potential client also.
    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to you and yours, may 2021 find us in a better place.
    Much love,

    1. Hi Sam! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I think you definitely have to take it by a client by client basis. If everything was going well and they suddenly dropped off, chances are they, as we both have said, maybe got distracted by something else that needed their intention. I think 30 days is a good follow up if you have sent a formal written quote to someone. If they have been sort of wishy-washy from the start, I think 7 days is a good follow up. After that, I still believe If the person is really interested they will contact you again. 😊 Merry Christmas to you as well and all the best for 2021!

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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