When building a freelance business and marketing your services, you need to generate leads and turn those leads into paying clients. That means you need to learn to love answering the phone.
Far too many freelancers and repel potential leads with their disdain for the telephone, which leads to lost clients.
I’ve heard the frustration in the voices of prospective clients first-hand. They want to be able to make a quick call and ask a question, talk to someone, or get unstuck. Unfortunately, their efforts are often met with nothing more than a cold, lifeless contact form, or worse, a statement about how the freelancer doesn’t talk on the phone.
Check out this feedback I’ve received from real leads:
- “I’m so happy you answered the phone. I’ve called three other agencies and you’re the first person who actually answered.”
- “Thank you so much for calling me back. I left messages for two other designers I was referred to and you’re the only person that called me back.”
- “Thank God you answered. I had a speaker drop out of an event I’m hosting for nearly 2,000 people and I need to fill the spot within the hour. You came highly recommended by a couple of the other speakers and I was worried I wouldn’t reach you in time.”
- “Out of all of the web designers I was referred to, you’re the only one with a phone number I could call and I need a couple of basic questions answered before I officially request a quote.”
Many of my clients come from direct referrals, which means someone they know vouched for me and sent them my way. Often, I’m not the only designer they were referred to. So they reach out to multiple freelancers/agencies, intending to have sales conversations with each one before making a buying decision. But that’s not always possible.
The disdain other designers and developers have for the telephone works in my favor.
- I have landed high-value clients simply by answering the phone.
- I have landed lucrative contracts by returning voicemail in a timely manner.
- I have landed incredible opportunities because I answered the phone.
If you want to find success with freelancing, you need to get comfortable with answering the phone and having off-the-cuff conversations.
Answer The Phone
Still, to this day, I am flabbergasted by how many freelancers refuse to talk on the phone or answer the phone. It’s not just because communication and conversation are paramount to building positive client relationships, it’s also because of the incredible insights you can glean from a candid conversation that simply don’t come through in an email or form submission.
I get it. Sort of…
Answering the phone can be disruptive and distracting. It can also be quite frustrating to get “stuck” on the phone when you’re really busy — especially if the person on the other end is rambling and unfocused, fishing for free consulting, or clearly not going to ever become a client.
But instead of not answering the phone or making some kind of broad, unfriendly statement about how you don’t do business by phone, consider changing how you manage unscheduled business phone calls.
Place Boundaries On Phone Conversations
The avoidance of phone calls can usually be traced back to a lack of time. The good news is that you can place boundaries on your conversations. This means you can answer the phone without the fear that you’ll get roped into a long conversation you don’t have time for.
To put constraints on a conversation, greet the caller and ask how you can help, listen to why they are calling, and decide if you want to talk or if you want to establish constraints. If constraints are needed, you can put a limit on the time you have available.
Here are some example responses:
- “The good news is that I can help. The bad news is that I have a meeting in five minutes. Let’s see if I can answer your question quickly or point you in the right direction.”
- “I’m so happy you called. I have a meeting starting in 15 minutes, though, so why don’t we book a time to talk in the next couple of days.”
- “This project sounds like a great fit! I’m about to go into a meeting, so why don’t I get a bit of information from you so I can follow up by email later this afternoon.”
- “I’d love to talk about this with you but I’m about to step into a meeting. Why don’t I give you my direct email address so you can send me the specifics — that way you get a faster response and I don’t hold you up.”
As you can see, by setting limits on your time — even if you don’t actually have a meeting — you can answer the phone, be helpful, add value to their brand experience, and wrap it up quickly. I love this strategy because I can choose what happens next: follow up by email, schedule a call, or quickly chat and be done.
Set Up A Business Ring Tone
Another common reason freelancers avoid phone calls during the workday is non-work-related calls from family members or friends. When I decided to start freelancing, certain family members didn’t understand that I was still busy during the workday. So I screened my calls from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, only answering those that were work-related.
I also quickly secured a separate phone number for my business. This way I could easily ignore personal calls and only answer business calls.
Later when I ditched the business landline and switched over to a digital number through Line2, my business number and personal number were both on my iPhone. Each phone number has a different ring tone, so I immediately know if a call is coming in through the business line or my personal line.
But Jen, Your Phone Is On Silent
If you’ve been connected with me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me talk about my ruthless approach to time management and productivity. And, you’ve probably heard me say that to get more done in less time, I keep my phone on silent.
Yes, you should always answer the phone when it makes sense but that doesn’t mean putting your phone on silent and ignoring calls is a bad thing.
- During blocks of time dedicated to administrative work, low-level tasks, and running my business, I answer the phone.
- At night and on weekends, I turn Do Not Disturb on for my business line only. This way I can still get all personal calls and tune out business calls.
- During focused blocks of creative graphic design, web design, and writing work, I not only turn off the ringers for both my personal and business numbers, but I also put my entire phone on silent and leave it in another room. When writing, I also work on a different computer that doesn’t have distracting things, but that’s fodder for another blog post.
This approach reduces distractions and interruptions and helps me improve productivity. It ensures I show up as my best self to do my best work for my clients.
Check And Return Voicemail
I feel comfortable ignoring phone calls — even those for business — during focused blocks of work because:
- I don’t always have my phone on silent or the ringer turned off.
- I check my voicemail at the end of each block of work.
- When checking voicemail, I take action if action is required.
With this approach, clients don’t fret when I don’t answer the phone and they have to leave a voicemail because they know I’ll get back to them as soon as I can. And, strangers or prospective clients, who don’t have a strong relationship with me yet are always pleased with how quickly they receive a response.
I know checking and responding to voicemails can feel tedious. I also know that you may not have time to return a bunch of phone calls or even that one call from that really talkative client.
That’s why you need to consider alternate options like:
- Limits on your time. For example, when returning a call say, “Hey there! I got your voicemail and didn’t want to leave you hanging, so I figured I’d squeeze in a quick response between meetings…”
- Email responses. Yes, you can respond to a voicemail by email. Simply start out your message with something like, “Hi! I’m booked solid today, but wanted to let you know that I received your voicemail,” and then explain your response to their message. You could also say, “I’m in meetings all day today and I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to get back you. I listened to your voicemail and…
Solutions For Freelancers Who Hate The Phone
If you’re a freelancer in need of clients and really uncomfortable using the phone, and none of the options I’ve outlined above work for you, there are other options to effectively and professionally manage inbound business calls.
Engage An Answering Service
Freelancers can delegate answering the phone to an answering service, digital front office, or virtual assistant. An answering service will answer the phone, take detailed messages, and pass them onto you to respond to. In some cases, you can even provide a script and specify what information needs to be gathered when taking a message.
Some services, especially when establishing a relationship with a virtual assistant, will encourage you to outline different segments of inbound callers and provide instructions for how you want each type of caller handled. In these cases, you can train them to respond to certain segments on your behalf with templated emails and/or scripts, and escalate only the high-value calls to you.
Redirect Callers With Your Voicemail Message
Another option is to use your voicemail message to redirect callers somewhere else.
For example, my personal voicemail message says, “If you know me well enough to have this number, you know me well enough to know I’ll never check this. Please text me instead.” The message is both tongue-in-cheek and serious — and it works like a charm. I now never have to call the dentist or the school back and can instead respond quickly by text.
The same methodology works for your freelance business.
People call businesses for all sorts of reasons and don’t always need to speak to someone right away. This is why many businesses make you sit through a laundry list of alternative options that redirect you elsewhere before being able to speak to a real human.
You too can use a voicemail message to redirect inbound callers to alternative options:
- Have question? Please visit our FAQ at [URL].
- Need help? Go to [URL] to file a ticket or submit a question.
- Want a price quote or estimate? Visit [URL] to get the ball rolling.
- Want to have a conversation? Schedule a video chat at [URL].
- Or, leave a voicemail with the following detils…
To Make More Money, Embrace The Phone
People do business with people they know, like, and trust. They do business with people that care about them and their success. In many cases, these are the same people that answer the phone, have a quick conversation, provide a little help, book a follow-up call, or actually call people back when they leave a message.
I have gained new clients, long-term retainers, and lucrative opportunities simply from being willing to answer the phone and have a conversation.
Business is all about relationships so answer the phone and call people back. It will help them connect with you and get to know, like, and trust you.
Don’t sabotage potential new business opportunities by being resistant to real-time, off-the-cuff conversations and phone calls with real people. Or, on second thought, please do and I’ll keep scooping up those clients.