Not Using Your Phone Could Be Holding You Back

Are you afraid of using your phone ?

Well, maybe you’re not really afraid. But spending your precious time on a phone call while a client or prospect beats around the bush about what they want to do probably isn’t your number one choice for spending a morning.

I can totally relate.

However, if you have a tendency to avoid talking to prospects and clients on the phone, that tendency could be holding your freelancing business back.

In this post, I’ll explain why you should use your phone more often. And I’ll tackle common phone problems that freelancers face and offer a solution for each problem.

Why Not Using the Phone May Be Holding You Back

Most freelancers don’t realize it, but there are a lot of benefits for freelancers who deal with their clients and prospects by phone.

Here are some of them:

  • Real people. Making a phone call reminds the client that you are a real person, not just another nameless, faceless freelancer. A phone call can be the first step in building a real relationship with your clients.
  • Preferences. Phone calls really are the preferred method of communication for some. Most people have a preferred method of communication. Some people are more comfortable dealing face-to-face. Others truly prefer the written word. And some prefer the phone.
  • More effective negotiations. Over the past few years, the number of phone interactions that I’ve had with clients has increased. During that time, I’ve noticed that clients who talk to me by phone use low ball tactics less often than clients who communicate by email. I think it’s because using a phone puts a voice to the name.
  • Credibility. Using the phone helps you to seem more legit. In many businesses, dealing by phone is expected if you really want to be considered a professional.
  • Better communication. Dealing with clients/prospects by phone allows you to hear their tone of voice and thus, decreases your chance of misunderstanding them. A statement that seems to be outrageous in an email may actually be your client’s attempt at humor–which you quickly realize when you talk to them on the phone.

So, if you’re not currently using the phone to communicate with clients and prospects, your freelance business is missing out on these potential benefits.

Freelancing Phone Hazards

Of course, there are also some pitfalls to dealing with clients/prospects by phone. Here are some of the most common problems.

  • Time. Phone calls can really eat up a lot of your valuable time. Some people are talkers and get off track easily. You may wind up hearing about your client’s hobbies, pets, family, and so on–all of which has absolutely nothing to do with the project you are working on.
  • Free consulting. Sadly, there are “prospects” out there who will try to use a phone call to get free consulting from you. They have no intention of becoming your client, but rather want to get the details of what you would do for them so that they can do it themselves.
  • Inaccurate records. It’s easy to forget what was said in an oral conversation, especially after days or weeks have passed. What you remember about a particular conversation may be very different from what your client remembers.
  • Stress. If you have a tendency to be shy or don’t have a lot of experience dealing with clients by phone, a phone call can be stressful. I’ve even heard freelancers say that a phone meeting with a client or prospect throws them off for the rest of the day.
  • Interruption. Many freelancers are afraid to give out their phone number. That’s because unexpected client phone calls can disrupt your work and throw your schedule off kilter.

There are some ways to overcome phone problems and make phone calls more effective.

Make Your Phone Calls More Effective

Here are some solutions to solve the common pitfalls of talking to clients or prospects on the phone:

  • Let the prospect do most of the talking. Ask strategic questions and then listen carefully to what the prospect says. Avoid giving too much detail about how you would handle the project for the prospect. Instead, assure them that you understand their goals and can help them meet them. This will keep the prospect from using you for free consulting.
  • Stay on topic. If a client or prospect starts to talk about something other than the project, be kind but firm. You can say something like, “that’s interesting, but let’s get back to talking about your web design.” You may have to do this several times, but eventually they should get the point.
  • Schedule calls. To keep clients from interrupting your daily work, make use of your voice mail and limit the number of times you check it. Schedule return calls to clients. Your voice mail message should include something like, “I’ll get back to you within 24 hours. If you need to reach me more quickly, I can also be reached at your email address.”
  • Set a time limit up front. You can do this by setting expectations for the length of the call and referring to other appointments. To set expectations, state how long you expect the call to last up front–”this should take about a half hour.” And use a later appointment as an excuse to end the call–”I have another engagement at 2:30, so I’ll need to wrap this up before then.”
  • Recap the call in an email. It can be hard to determine the actual content of a phone call, so never rely totally on a phone conversation for your working agreement. Instead, send a written recap of what you agreed to on the phone to the client and ask them to confirm that the recap represents what you both agreed to.

Your Turn

How often do you deal with clients by phone? What phone tips would you add?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by JoshSemans

Comments

  1. says

    It would seem wise to remember that the difference between a client and prospect is that to be a client you have to have entered into a contract with that entity (preferable in writing). Any changes to that contract would or may cause pricing and delivery changes.
    Yes, written changes would be included in the contract.

  2. says

    Maybe it’s because I spent 30 years in corporate America that I don’t have a problem with the phone. Frankly, I was surprised when I started my freelance writing business that so many freelancers I talked to abhor using the phone.

    I agree, it can be a time suck, and you do want to follow up in writing, but it can also be an effective way to defuse a problem instead of launching email wars back and forth. Great points, Laura.

  3. says

    Thanks Cathy! I think freelancers are often in because they love thw work (design or writing or…), but forget that they still need to deal with people–which sometimes means phone meetings.

  4. says

    Great post! I was thinking about my phone arrangement just the other day.

    I totally agree with where you say they’re better scheduled, since if you happen to be waist-deep in work or “in the zone”, breaking focus is no help at all.

    Similarly though, many people simply hang up when they hear anything remotely voicemail-sounding. Scheduling is tough for this reason.

    I’ve been toying with a third option: putting a call answering service / receptionist on my line. This way, I’ll have somebody to take my calls for me so I can call them back at my leisure, knowing what the call is about, letting me focus on my work and prepare for incoming calls. It seems like money well spent to me.

    What are your thoughts on this as an option?

  5. says

    Adam Fairhead–Great comment and idea. I think it’s great to have a receptionist answer the phone (I assume you mean a live person and not a recording). He or she could screen your calls and set appointments for you.

    At some point, however, you might still end up talking to the client or prospect yourself.

  6. says

    This is a great, really useful post thank you.

    I’m really not a fan of talking on the phone, but I force myself to do it because 1) clients expect it and, 2) it is by far the best way to get the information I need.

    I can ask any number of carefully worded questions in an email, but to really get the client talking (as you said in the post, let them do much of the talking!) and give me the information I need, doing it with voices yields far better results in my experience.

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