As a general rule, I don’t like talking to clients on the phone. I don’t think well on calls. I like to have all the facts laid out in front of me at once – the way they are in an email – so that I can take it all in, assess the situation and decide the best strategy to help my clients achieve their goals.
Then this little post on Copyblogger changed things, and suddenly I had to talk to people – lots of people. Most of them wanted to talk on the phone. Some days, calls were back to back for hours on end.
Somehow, that new habit of taking calls carried over to my working after the smoke cleared. I had clients insisting on talking to me personally. I said yes, because I didn’t want to come off as arrogant. I want people to think of me as a nice person who’s willing to do them a favor, and I’d been conditioned for a few weeks to automatically say yes to any call.
But you know what? After just a few days of accepting clients calls, I realized that it wasn’t working. Not at all. Wanting people to think I’m a great person is a really silly reason to say yes to all these calls I don’t want to take. Especially when I have very good reasons why phone calls don’t work for me.
Phone Calls Take a Long Time
No matter how quickly you talk, I can read a transcript of our conversation in about a third of the time it takes you to say the same aloud. Probably faster. I’m not distracted by the side tangent you go on or the story you’re telling me about how this happened, because I can skip that and just jump to the parts that are relevant to me doing my job.
Sure, I’ll read every word the first time. But if I want to review what’s essential here, I don’t want to have to call you up and waste twenty minutes passing the time just to get that information. I want to be able to open that email, scan until I get to the relevant part, read it, and close the email up again – which takes a few seconds.
Many people believe that businesses and freelancers should be as accessible as possible and in every medium that any client could ever want. I don’t agree, especially when that accessibility takes away from what really matters: getting results for those clients.
Men with Pens is a big business and I’m at the helm. If I spent a half hour talking to every client who called me up about his job, I’d have no time to do the job. Then all my clients would be unhappy – even though I was being a nice guy by accepting the phone call.
I’d rather be the guy who’s still nice, but who insists on email and who gets your job done faster. That’s just me.
Phone Calls Require a Certain Kind of Brain
Lots of people think best when they talk out loud. It helps them clarify their thoughts and get down to what’s really important or going on. They like to talk about peripheral stuff because sometimes a few nuggets of useful information come out of those side stories and tangents. They can weave those nuggets back into their overall point.
That’s great for those people, and those people should definitely do business via the phone, because that’s how they get those brilliant ideas that make them good at their job. If your brain happens to work best when you’re talking aloud, then by all means, do as many of your business affairs via phone as you possibly can.
I don’t happen to be one of these people. I’m more visual. My brain works best when I can see what I’m doing or read an email. The phone is just me wasting time. My clients’ time.
“But James,” you say. “What about your clients whose brains work best on the phone?”
Good question. The short answer is that my clients’ brains are not the ones we’re worried about at this particular moment in time. If the client is running their business, then we’re absolutely worried about their brain working at optimal capacity. They need to do a kick-ass job for their business.
When they hire me, though, what they’re essentially saying is, “Look, I need someone else – someone who is not me – to kick ass at this. I’m too busy or I don’t have the necessary skills. I want to hire you so you can be smart at this while I go about being smart at whatever it is I do.”
That’s how hiring a freelancer works. You’re hiring me to put my brain to work for you at a job that you don’t want to do. That means we need to operate the way my brain works best, because my brain is the one that’s going to produce the end products that get results.
Which means that if you want me to produce an awesome end product, my brain is useless on the phone. A half-hour call is a half hour wasted when I could have been putting that time to great use getting a fantastic job done. There’s no client out there who doesn’t want me to do a quicker, better job.
Phone Calls are for Friends
Taylor is one of those people who thinks best when speaking aloud on the phone. She sometimes calls me up just to hear herself talk so she can sort through some problem she’s having. That’s okay with me. I’ll happily be the person on the other end of the line that says, “Mmhm,” and tosses out random thoughts or a joke, and she can yammer on for an hour.
She doesn’t need my brain. She just needs to talk to a person instead of an empty room.
And, she’s my friend. I’m taking her call as a friend and as a favor, not as a colleague or a boss or a freelancer.
This is the problem when people ask me to discuss their projects on phone meetings. I say yes because it sounds like they really need it, even though I know it’s not a good idea for their project or the work I’ll do for them overall. I’m trying to be a friend to clients, and I shouldn’t be.
What I should be doing is sticking to what I always thought was important: being a really good businessperson and giving clients my best expertise. That means telling them that their project gets done faster, more efficiently and better if it’s done via email.
I wouldn’t let this client walk away with lousy copy, so why would I accept to do something equally detrimental to getting what they want?
If I really want to be a friend to my clients – and yeah, I do, because I like my clients and the people who work with me – then I should let them know how to get the best possible results out of me.
And no, sorry – it isn’t on the phone.
But like I said – that’s just me: How do you work with your clients? And why do you work with them that way?