As a web designer, how do you feel about business phone calls?
Your answer probably depends on your personality. Some people love to talk on the phone. Others dread phone calls.
If you’re busy, an unexpected phone call can disrupt your day. If you’re a bit on the shy side, talking to a client on the phone may make you nervous.
Love them or hate them–business phone calls are an important part of running your web design business. That’s not going to change any time soon.
Fortunately, regardless of whether you love business phone calls or hate them, there are some steps you can take to make your business phone calls go more smoothly. In this post, I share five of those steps. If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like 5 Communication Tips for Freelancers and Designers.
Step 1: Schedule All Client Calls
Unexpected phone calls can be a real nuisance. Here are just some of the disadvantages of getting an unexpected phone call:
- Interrupts your train of thought. Interruptions can cause you to make mistakes. They can cause you to skip steps in your development process. They can even cause stress. You can read more about the adverse affects of interruptions in the news story, Even Brief Interruptions Spawn Errors, published on ScienceDaily.
- No time for preparation. Another reason unexpected phone calls can be bad is that you have no time to prepare. A client may call you out of the blue and ask a question that you really don’t have any answer for. Even worse, your lack of preparation may cause you to give a wrong or incomplete answer.
- Can cause stress. For some of us, receiving a sudden call can be stressful. Not knowing what the client wants or whether they are upset can contribute to that stress. In some cases, an unexpected call on a busy day can lead to overtime or even a missed deadline.
These disadvantages are why I recommend that freelance web designers and other freelancers encourage clients to schedule a time to talk on the phone. Usually, email is adequate for scheduling calls, but if you handle a large volume of client phone calls, you may need to consider scheduling software like Bookeo or EZnetScheduler.
If a client really needs the ability to contact you whenever they want to and will not agree to schedule a phone call, you should charge an extra monthly fee for that convenience. After all, they are basically asking you to be “on call” for them.
Step 2: Be Prepared
Having your clients and prospects schedule their calls with you gives you a chance to prepare for the call.
When they schedule an appointment, ask them to give a brief overview of the purpose of the call. Here are some common reasons why clients and prospects request a phone call:
- They want to discuss additional projects.
- They need your professional advice.
- They want technical support for a project.
- They want to involve you in their company’s regular team meetings.
Knowing what the meeting is about gives you the chance to do your homework and present yourself and your web design business in a positive light. You’ll also discover what type of involvement you need to have in the meeting. For some meetings, such as a regular team meeting, you may only need to report your progress and identify any problems you have. For other meetings, such as when they want professional advice, you may need to conduct the meeting yourself.
Step 3: Use an Agenda
If you’re expected to conduct the meeting yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare an agenda. Your agenda doesn’t need to be anything formal. A simple outline is usually good enough.
Having an agenda keeps the meeting on track and reduces the amount of wasted time.
Once you’ve created your meeting agenda, it’s a good idea to send it to your client. If the client will have more than one person participating in the meeting, ask for the names of the other participants and send them the agenda as well.
Distributing the agenda in advance lets the client know what you think the meeting is about. It also gives them a chance to add a topic to the meeting if they see that you’re not covering everything they want to discuss.
Step 4: Listen Carefully
Listening is an important part of any relationship. The freelancer/client relationship is no exception.
In fact, if you do all of the talking on your phone call, something is wrong.
Here are some guidelines to help you pay attention to what your client or prospect is saying:
- Take Notes. No matter how good your memory is, the odds of you accurately remembering everything that was discussed during the meeting is slim.
- Ask Questions. Too many freelancers fail to ask questions when they don’t understand something the client says. It’s better to ask now than be sorry later.
- Send out meeting minutes. I often send the meeting minutes to the client for their agreement. This is their chance to say, “I agree” or “I do not agree.“
Remember, phone calls aren’t the only way to have a meeting with your non-local clients and prospects.
Step 5: Consider an Alternative to a Phone Call
Today’s technology offers many alternatives to the telephone when it comes to meeting with long-distance clients. Here are just a few of those alternatives:
- Skype IM or Video Chat. In addition to providing the capability to make VOIP phone calls, Skype also gives you the option to instant message with your contacts or to have a video call.
- Google Hangouts. Many freelancers don’t realize that you can schedule a private meeting using Google Hangouts for up to ten people.
- Web Conferencing. In addition to the tools listed above, you can use a specialized web conferencing tool such as GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx . One advantage of web conferencing is that many tools allow you to share visuals and even your computer screen with participants.
How do you manage phone calls? Do you schedule calls, or do you take them as they arrive?