Call me a typical millennial, but is there anything more terrifying than answering an unexpected call from an unknown number? Probably, yes. But, as far as freelancer fears go, phone calls with potential new clients is certainly up there.
While it feels like we all use email nowadays, there’s always the odd client who prefers an old fashioned phone call and, unfortunately, they have their reasons. Namely, calls are a better way to register someone’s tone, personality, and generally build the trust that’s vital to a working relationship.
This is particularly important in those early stages when a client is either considering whether to spend a lot of money (hopefully), commissioning you or working with you to nail down the details of a project.
Knowing this, however, doesn’t make the phone calls any less terrifying. So, here’s advice on how to stay calm, confident, and in control on the phone with new or potential clients.
“When I first started as a consultant, I was petrified of my phone,” admits Kerri L Watt, journalist and PR trainer. “Having no one to fall back on meant I was the one who had to make the decisions.”
Freelancers often steer clear of phone calls for fear of being put on the spot, especially with a new client. The solution? Don’t let yourself be caught off guard. At the most basic level this means making sure your phone has lots of battery, plenty of signal, and you have zero distractions.
One benefit of phone calls is that the client can’t see you. So, do what you need to feel your most confident and professional self. That could be sitting perfectly still, pacing around the room, wearing your smartest office attire, or donning your comfiest onesie.
For Sapphire Bates, founder of virtual freelance community The Coven, “a powerful outfit and a bit of visualisation always makes me feel good, like imagining I’m sat in a big glass office in the middle of the city.”
It may sound obvious, but have a time scheduled for the call. If a client rings out of the blue expecting you to drop everything and chat through a project, politely get a meeting in the diary instead. This will give you time to prepare and increase your control and confidence in the client-freelancer relationship.
Always have notes. Unlike a face-to-face meeting, the client can’t see the pages of notes you’re shamelessly riflying through, so there’s no excuse not to research the company, know who you’re talking to, and feel confident about your rates and availability.
We’ll touch on questions later, but spoiler: they’re important. Make sure to note some questions beforehand, as well as some objectives. Writing down what you want to know and want to achieve from the call will save you a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing down the phone later.
Freelance PR Sara Teiger even recommends to “share an agenda for the call beforehand so there are no surprises.” This depends on the type of call, but she also suggests “agreeing a length of time for the phone call and keeping an eye on the time throughout the call.”
Know your worth
The key to confidence on a business call is valuing your work. Remember, this is a two-way conversation between two businesses and while yes, you’re trying to win the client over, you’re also seeing if they’re a good fit for you.
Sapphire explains, “This is an exchange of power. You are giving the client something that they need and in return they are going to pay you.” Keep this in mind at the start of a call - you may even choose to voice your aims for the conversation.
As Kerri says, “After the hellos, go right in and say ‘right, well today is all about…’ and lay it out for them. It shows them you are confident and you know what you’re doing.”
At the same time, don’t be afraid to admit if you don’t know. Even if you were to spend weeks preparing, a client could still throw you a curveball. Fortunately, phone calls aren’t exams and no one expects you to be a walking encyclopedia.
“If you’re not sure about something, say that you will give it some thought and let the client know when you will get to them,” advises Sara.
One thing you should know is your rate, so discuss this early on. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but you don’t want to have a lengthy phone call only to discover your rates don’t match their budget. Your time is too valuable.
If you’re not comfortable declaring your rates outright then Sapphire suggests asking about their budget: “Be clear and firm that you need an idea of their budget to know if you can help them.”
Most importantly, ask questions. Along with the right tone, asking questions is a great way to project enthusiasm over a call.
On phone calls with new freelancers, Ben Watts, managing editor at IQPC Digital, says, “In the early stages of a relationship, a lack of questions can often be a telling sign that a freelancer may not be 100 percent confident on delivering the project.”
What are the right questions to ask? Ben recommends that “freelancers should always ask for a publisher’s editorial guidelines and style guide” as well as previous examples of the product. While this advice relates to editorial, it can apply to a range of industries.
Every company has their own style or way of doing things so ask about it. And, in lieu of a company guide or handbook, then previous examples of the end product will answer most of your questions.
One way to round-off a call with control is to conclude your takeaways - AKA what’s been agreed and what the next steps are. It may also be worth dropping this into an email to the client. It’s professional, confident, plus it’s always best to have important points in writing in case you need to refer to them later. We’ve all been in that awkward situation with a client when we’ve kicked ourselves for not getting certain details in writing.
You may even choose to schedule another phone call, especially if you’re about to send them a proposal, for example.
As Kerri says, “Pencil in a second call to go through it [the proposal] while you are there on the call with them. Don’t leave it to them to contact you after they receive it. My conversion rate went through the roof when I started doing this.”
Unfortunately for nervous millennials, there are still lots of benefits to phone calls with new and potential clients. But, as long as you're prepared, confident, and know your worth there’s no need to fear the green answer button.