One of the hardest things about growing a small business is the lack of urgency you often encounter. You have no time to waste. You want to know where things stand now. The rest of the world seems content to just keep plodding along. At least that's how it feels. Simply put, limbo isn't a place entrepreneurs want to take permanent residence in.

Nowhere have I found that to be more frustrating then the inevitable ghosting of proposals. Simply put, ghosting is what happens when you are communicating with someone and they suddenly just fall off the radar and stop responding. No explanation, no replies to your emails or voice mails, poof, they just disappear into the ether. That's especially frustrating after you've spent time understanding the prospect's needs and have taken the time to pull together a proposal.

Ghosting seems to be a phenomenon of the digital age. It may be because finding and communicating with providers and suppliers has become so easy via email that the personal connection, which would normally entail some degree of obligation to respond, is missing.  Without any real human interaction by voice or with a face-to-face meeting, it's easy to feel anonymous. I call it digital road rage because people who are otherwise well behaved do something entirely out of character under the assumption that they will never see you again. 

Whatever the case, it's more than an annoyance, it's a waste of your precious time. Most entrepreneurs would rather have any answer than no answer at all, since one of your biggest challenges is planning for resources and projecting revenues.

But dealing with this sort of lack of responsiveness can get tricky. On the one hand, you want to keep the lines of communication open and give people the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, you don't want to do it in a way that seems like it's pestering or you're being desperate. So, what to do?

Be crystal clear about expectations.

Be sure that during the initial conversations with a prospect you are clear about expectations for future communication. Always tell prospects that you are counting on them to provide a timeline, process, and decision-making authority. It's ok to ask, "Who will be making the recommendation, the decision, and ultimately signing the contract--and when when will all of this happen?"

Be proactive when approaching deadlines.

Don't let any deadlines that have been communicated pass without being proactive in asking where things stand. I can tell you with complete certainty that if you ignore deadlines you are also giving license to the prospect to do the same.

When all else fails, make it even easier for the prospect to respond.

If you're getting ghosted long after you've taken care of the above, there's an approach that I've found to be nearly 100-percent effective in getting even the most reticent ghosts to respond..

Send an email that reads as follows. (You can fill in the blanks based on the specifics of your situation.)

Hi______,  

We're still very interested in working with __________ but I hadn't heard back from you in a while about ______.  I know how busy we all get, so I wanted to make this as easy as possible for you.

I'm guessing that one of four things is going on:

1 - You decided to work with someone else to ________

2 - You no longer need someone to ________

3 - You've been swamped and haven't had the time to respond but you're still considering us.

4 - You're taking a very long and well-deserved vacation!

Whichever it might be, could I ask you to just hit reply and include the number above that best applies? 

Thanks!

That simple email calls them out in a way that's not threatening, provides them with an easy way to reply--no matter how busy they are--and injects a bit of humor into what may be turning into a tense situation.

Will it get you the business? Sorry, the answer to that is no. But what it will do is provide you with something that is often just as important, a first-class ticket out of limbo.