My friends and associates have been laughing with (at) me about how I go about responding to new client leads who e-mail me or call my voicemail requesting me to give them a quick call. These people usually find me from my blog or through referral and decide they need to talk to me on the phone before they can tell me anything about their task, job or project they are seeking a skilled developer to help them complete. I am always very interested in hearing about new prospective work with new prospective clients and always keep a little availability to take on the right projects that come my way. The problem is when these prospects build their own barrier by requiring me to speak with them on the phone first as if they need to hear my voice for me to help them.
Please do not get me wrong or take offense to this as ‘initial phone calls’ are still very much happening for my industry just not for me personally. Also, it’s not that I think I’m too cool for school or that I demand we play by ‘my rules’ but instead out of necessity for myself in qualifying my own leads just as any smart business would do.
Reality being current clients rarely require to speak with me on the phone but I’d of course be willing and able. Outside of that it’s mostly that I’m just not a big fan of the medium of a phone call.
Let me explain why I do not schedule calls with prospective new clients seeking to hire me.
1. Phone calls give me anxiety.
Scheduling phone calls, or even more stressful are calls out of the blue, with prospective clients (strangers) is not how I want to spend my time. I’m not in sales and try to actually avoid it at all costs and instead take a more consultative approach to those I end up working with. I’m the kind of person who actually communicates great on the phone but what you don’t see on the other end is me pacing back and fourth sweating bullets for no good reason. Don’t get me wrong I love a good ‘hot-seat’ session but prefer in-person as I think so much is lost over the phone. It’s so bad for me that if I have a call scheduled with someone I’ve never spoke with before I will actually sweat it all day until the call then feel exhausted after. At my agency I operated for 3 years I loved that my business partner would do this heavy lifting for me and take most all our calls with prospective new clients.
2. Discovery calls quickly turn into consulting calls.
It’s never the blatant intention of the prospect to get free consulting out of these calls they are trying to have but almost always ends up being the case. I consider myself very helpful by nature. I was the kid on the block who everyone’s parents would call over for dinner when they had tech issues and I would help them in exchange for dinner or hanging out with their kids. So I’m not saying it’s the fault of the person trying to get me on the phone but instead that I will always try to leave that prospect with some value on the call no matter what or I will end up feeling worthless and that’s just a double edged sword of my helpful nature.
3. Phone people.
I have really good friends, my own age and older, who are “phone people” and by that I mean they will pick up the phone and call you or anyone without even second guessing themselves or your desire to speak on the phone with them. I am not one of those people. I prefer text message, e-mail, or online chat. So if someone e-mails me and says “I have this/that project that I need help with. Please call me.” I will likely send them a link to this very post right here on my blog. Alternatively if I get an e-mail from a prospective client who describes the details of their prospective job I’ll engage with them right away and either ask questions to help clarify the scope of the project or give them my resources to get the job done without me. Could be the exact same project in either case but my response to each is very different in terms of how much value I am able to bring the prospect.
4. You gain phone access.
I am available by phone. I even pick up and call back for my clients who I have relationships with. They’ve earned it by showing me respect, gratitude and by overall just being great clients. There is not much I wouldn’t do for clients who I have a mutually respective relationship with that have stood the test of time.
Also I have a voicemail for those clients who just want to stream of consciousness at me when they are feeling inspired which is totally acceptable. My cells phone alerts me and transcribes these voicemails for me right away. I also respond to these voicemails with great attention.
5. Phone calls are not the best way to discuss a project.
So much is lost when discussing projects over the phone. Phone calls depend on someone to take notes and report on everything that was discussed during the call to be followed up on by the appropriate parties. This task is nearly impossible to do completely and something always gets overlooked, misunderstood, or just plain left out.
The better alternative to discuss a project is by having the prospective client create a project brief that describes the end result they are seeking for the given project, job or task. The prospective client and developer can then work together to refine the brief into a clear set of deliverables and scope. If the prospective client is not willing to take the time to do this it’s a red flag for how the rest of the time working with the client will look. Instead, the client should be willing to work with the developer over chat or e-mail or document sharing to get the project fully defined before any work is started, this is something I’ll charge prospects to help them with before even starting their project to ensure a quality working relationship.
How do you operate then?
I’m currently working as a self-employed freelance WordPress developer. It’s just me. I have no sales person, secretary or junior developers and I like it that way. And as far as new leads of prospective clients coming my way I’d say it’s about 50/50 of those who want to “hop on a quick call to discuss” vs. the ones who just start the conversation via e-mail, chat or leave me a voicemail with details. The please call me people usually get a polite custom e-mail response from me right away asking for the details of their project which often go unresponded to unfortunately. The other half get the opportunity to have me take a consultative approach to helping them complete their project myself or with my network of resources and guidance. Thankfully this gives me ‘enough’ work to live my life as comfortable as I need to.
Not always the case with new clients.
I recently completed a PSD to WordPress website development for a new client in the medical technology industry who initially left me a voicemail requesting me to call him back to discuss details before he hired me for the project. I listened to his voicemail and immediately called him back and the call went great. Why the exception for this guy? His tone and demeanor on the voicemail came off as very unintimidating and respectful to me. I could tell from listening to the voicemail that the client was of the type I was compatible to work with from years of experience working with different types of clients. My gut usually leads me in the right direction and in this case it ended up being a really great working relationship after that initial discovery call. What I should mention though is that since that initial call we haven’t once spoken on the phone again, because there has been absolutely no need.
My phone call alternative secret weapon.
I mentioned e-mail, chat, and voicemail as tools I prefer instead of call but should also mention my secret weapon. Screencast video recordings. I really enjoy laying down screencast video recordings where I have the client’s website on the screen and I am talking over the video going over something. I upload these videos and make them available to my clients to watch at their convenience over and over again if they wish/need. My clients love this and it saves loads and loads of time over scheduling a call. Think about if multiple people need to be scheduled on the call when instead they can all just be sent a pre-recorded video link with everything they need to know in a short custom video.
Thanks, but I can’t schedule a call right now sorry.
In conclusion, I am very complimented and grateful for the opportunities have a chance to work with any new client who reaches out to me. But different strokes for different folks and phone calls just are not my thing for the reasons described above. If I sent you a link to this post I hope I have not offended you and that you are able to constructively re-approach me or the next developer to help you with your needs. After all I consider all knowledge workers, like web developers, to be expert practitioners who deserve the respect that of a doctor who have their own requirements to how they take on new patients. So I simply request that you not expect me to be willing to ‘hop on a quick call’ just because you have a ton of potential work for me. If I’m willing to take on the work it’s not the work that will be difficult for me but instead the client management and this method of mine has proven to reduce the amount of days I dread a phone call.
I’m not the only one who feels this way either. Dharmesh Shah co-founder of HubSpot has the very same inclinations explained slightly differently in his article at SorryNoCalls.com.
Still not convinced? How about Rand Fishkin’s post about time recovery hacks the first item on his list being he hates the phone.
Lastly here is an example of am e-mail I got in response to a voicemail I received at 3am from someone I never met asking me to call them back: