How many follow ups is it proper to attempt before you give up on a potential lead? While everyone is different, my average is three. There are many factors to consider before throwing in the towel if you felt like you tried and got nowhere. Let's start from the very beginning with a basic scenario. You've found a possible new client and have communicated with them on what it is they're looking for or need in regards to what services you provide. They've answered all your questions, you've answered theirs and everything seems to be a good fit. You've completed your first meeting and/or phone call. So what happens next?

The First Follow Up

The first message should be done within 24 hours after the initial meeting. Sending an email to their primary contact address is a must to ensure you stay in their minds. Especially if you're not the only freelancer they are going to meet with. If possible, sending a hand written Thank You card goes much further. This follow up is a lot like after having an interview for a job. It's essentially the same thing.

Your email or card should thank your lead for their time to talk/meet with you and go over the project. Mention you're sincerely interested in seeing it progress into something amazing.
If it sounds like something you're not 100% on board with but still want to work with them and see how it goes, be positive. Don't over share your thoughts on the project if it's something you don't think you'll enjoy working on but want the job anyway. State you enjoyed meeting with them and look forward to working together in the near future. It isn't a lie.

If you aren't feeling like you and the client mesh well, now is the time to bail if you so choose to. Still thank them for their time but let them know that you don't feel this project is something you have the time/capacity to give your full attention. Again, don't over share your honest feelings here.

Always be professional in your correspondences! Even if you're taking a pass, be professional about it. You don't want to burn a bridge before you've built one.

The Waiting Game

With the message sent, now all you can do is wait. After the initial meeting, you'll have a good idea about how your client will behave on responding. How quickly did they reply to emails you sent prior to then? It's a good measure to how quickly they will get back to you. Unless they told you up front that they'll get back to you in a certain span of time, you can only wait now.

The Second Follow Up

If the reply time they stated as come and gone, or it's been at least a week since you last heard from them, it's time for the second follow up.

Send another email stating you're getting in touch with them or following up from the previous message. Remind them of the project you went over together and ask if they're still interested in seeking work from you. This opens the control over to the client. They can really only answer in one or two ways, which shows you're all business. They either do and just forgot to get back to you, or something came up and they won't be using your services at this time. Leaving it open to a vague answer will leave you in the dark, so be as direct as possible here.

Always include your email address and phone number in case the client lost them. It's hard to believe, but emails can get lost.

The Third Follow Up

There can be many reasons why a lead goes silent, even when the meeting went so well. Sending one more follow up might get that answer you're looking for. Normally, if it's been another week from the second follow up is when I send the third. Again, state you're following up with them and the project and posing the question if they're still in the market for your skills.

The trick here is to sound like you're worth hiring. Being confident is tough to pull off, but it's 100% worth it. And you don't know for sure why they haven't gotten back to you yet. It's better to not jump to the conclusion that they found someone else. Leave the prospect open that you're still interested in working with them (if you still are) and tell them you look forward to hearing from them soon. Include your contact info, hit send, and take a breath.

If you still don't hear back from the lead within a week of the third message, it's probably best to move on.

The One that Got Away

There are only so many times you can try to win a client before you come across as desperate. Three seems to be the magical number of trying hard enough without being overly pushy. Sending more than one message a week is a turn off unless the lead asked you to. And if you send one a week and follow up three times, three weeks seems like enough time to know if they're interested or not.

In the end, you can only do so much as a freelancer. Pushing too hard is dangerous to not only to that potential client, but your reputation. If you're labeled as pushy or overbearing, you might not get many more clients in the future. Sometimes, there isn't anything you can do but accept it won't happen and move on. Hope isn't something you can live on if you work for yourself.