Are Your Clients Really Getting Your Best?

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?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I think of phone calls like meetings and I figure out up front whether the purpose is rapport or results. If it’s rapport, then I focus on that.

    The rule of the road is always rapport before influence, but once you have the rapport, results get easier (so phone calls and meetings are really more of an exercise in rapport and moving from forming and storming to norming and performing.)
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Love Quotes =-.

  2. Thank you for expressing my sentiments exactly. After an initial phone consultation, I prefer e-mail communication, or text message/Twitter if it’s a brief Q & A.

  3. Honestly?

    Charge for phone calls.

    My wife is healing practitioner therapy something (dunno what’s it called in english), and had similar problems: clients calling by phone, but instead of making an appointment they tried to use the phone call as free session to solve their problems.

    Not nice. Not effective, too, since usually she is relying on more than talking (craniosacral therapy).

    Solution? Charge for phone sessions. If a call for appointment gets out of control, she now can ask if the client wants to change the call into a session which has to be paid for.

  4. The key to what you’re saying here is that everyone works differently. There is no one, perfect, correct system that is going to work for everyone.

    Sometimes a phone call is needed, but most of the time it becomes a bad use of time. You’re right about the tangents. No matter how hard to you try, the client and you will talk about unrelated topics. So what could be communicated in a 5 minute email, has now become as 30 minute conversation.

    I personally prefer email too. It’s a documentation of what needs to accomplished and I can refer back to it as many times as necessary.
    .-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..Weekend Reading: My fav’s from this week: 2/12/10 =-.

  5. Interesting discussion….

    I definately coach best on the phone. I tried email coaching last year and found it was ineffective for me. I thought too much about what I needed to say, there was too much time in between questions and answers, and I found clients were saying what they thought I wanted to hear, not their first response. I also missed the clues in thier tone of voise and ways of talking.

    I’ve since coached via GoogleChat and that was ok, somewhere in between the two. Definately not my preferred method though.

    When I’m not actually coaching a client I prefer email. Someone wants to know what I do, email. Want to discuss how I can help them? Email. Set up a time to meet? Email (with a link to my online calendar). Emails for those things are done and gone and I can cease thinking about them until I receive a reply.

    So while I’m not as anti-phone as James (and obviously not his friend since I don’t get to talk to him on the phone *sniff*) I’m also not as pro-email either. I find that a combination of the two work best for me, depending on the situation.
    .-= Melinda | SuperWAHM´s last blog ..In Which Mel Talks About How She Lost an Entire Week =-.

  6. I prefer to work by email, as phone calls take up a lot of time. Emails also have the advantage of allowing you to have a record of what was decided. When people really want to speak to me, I go along, but I always offer email as an option first. The only exception is doing interviews for the magazine, which generally work better by phone. However, I only have to do a couple of those a month and they are very focused – max half an hour and I can use 90% of the information I get.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..The Evolution Of A Freelancer =-.

  7. I’ve worked with a few clients but none of them demanded that we talk on phone.
    Maybe if I have a new client everyday, some will demand talking on phone.
    .-= poch´s last blog ..Danica Patrick’s Debut in NASCAR a Crash =-.

  8. I think it all depends on what service you’re providing. I agree with J.D. and Melinda—things that require rapport, such as coaching, are best done over the phone. If it’s planning the design for a website or getting all the info needed to write copy then email is the most efficient.

    The thing is, some people are uncomfortable doing business exclusively via email. They want to be reassured somehow that you’re a real person.

    Or maybe they have a hard time expressing themselves in writing. I know of some brilliant musicians that can barely write their own names, let alone clearly write what they want in a website!

    In those cases, you could either just pass up the business, set a strict time limit for the call, like 15 minutes, charge an outrageous amount of money for phone calls as Sam suggested, or let them speak to one of your colleagues (such as Taylor) that does good phone.

    It may help if you post a policy about phone calls somewhere potential clients can clearly see it before they hire you so people know what’s what up front.

  9. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    James, great examples of how people on both ends of a communication need to “listen” and respect the other person’s personal preferences.

    Personally I like email for business and in-person meetings for social. I try to get people to email first (especially interviews) and then follow up with a phone call. The phone call is about trust. Some people, (especially those who want a second call) I tell them I can only give them 5 minutes. I like Melinda’s idea of charging if you can pull that off.

    In twenty years, the sociologists and psychologists are going to have a field day talking about communication trends in the early 2000s. Some trends remind me of Asimov’s stories about robots who never leave their computers, ever! and then there are the people who go to Starbucks to do their email. Strange creatures are we.

  10. I’m not a phone call person, either. They CAN be useful, sometimes, but mostly I just feel like they get in the way. Too inconvenient. You know, what you said.
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Kindle Revisited =-.

  11. I’ve found that most of the people wanting to talk to me on the phone aren’t sure what they want and want me to talk it out for them. I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for that. I started charging for calls to fix that.

    A “10 minute call” always turns into 20-25 minutes.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Podcast: 5 Year Plan (Part 2) =-.

  12. @Mary – Well, it’s not quite about trust. It’s about reassurance. “Oh, good, this person has a voice and is fairly well spoken and doesn’t sound insane and seems to know what he’s talking about. Okay, I can do business with him now.”

    But I can convey just as much of that via text as I can via voice – and in a fraction of the time, too.

    @Annabel – That is a downfall, having people who don’t write well or who can’t communicate in that method. Those potential customers are fairly easy to spot, and in those cases, I do bend the rules *when necessary*.

    @Poch – I have a lot of people demand a lot of things. Sadly.

    @Sharon – The factor of having a written record is one of the biggest advantages of email. SO MUCH gets completely glossed over or forgotten when it’s via phone, and those email docs prove valuable to both us and our clients – and clients often thank us for having insisted on email. Their ideas really clarify when they have to write stuff out.

    @Mel – Ahh, see? You’ve got the right of it. “Email coaching didn’t work FOR ME.” I know a psychologist who operates via email only, and strictly. Phone doesn’t work FOR HER.

    I really think finding what works best for each of us lets us provide top quality work to our customers. Because the results are well worth it.

    @Heather –

    The key to what you’re saying here is that everyone works differently. There is no one, perfect, correct system that is going to work for everyone.


    @Sam – No amount of money is going to improve my ability to think at my best and provide that advice to my customers. Yes, it’s nice to be paid for the time (and yes, we do charge for our time), but that doesn’t increase my cognitive skills on the phone, yeah?

    @Toni – You’re welcome!

    @JD – I think people can get plenty of rapport through my emails or from my blog. But I hear what you’re saying, that some people insist on phone because they feel it creates more of a bond between people.

    What freelancers need to remember is that bonding alone doesn’t really pay the bills.

  13. Oh what a friggin’ horrible looking blockquote in the comment section… hm. Must fix that.

  14. Great discussion here. As a former educator and a student of learning styles, I will just say that these situations are classic. I think that, for me, it boils down to working with the client’s learning/information processing style, whether it is visual (email), auditory (phone) or kinesthetic (in-person…you’ll recognize this guy because he wants you to come to his office, he paces and gestures when he talks and he says things like, “I feel” or “I’m sensing” or “Let’s just touch on this point.”)

    I, too, am more visual (as 60 percent of people are) and can work fairly well with auditory clients but have to take lots of notes. I usually try to wean them off phone calls after the first get-to-know-you one. But the kinesthetic client? Drives me absolutely crazy. And, living on this ferry-only island now, I’m not taking any more of them. : -)
    .-= Judy Dunn´s last blog ..What We Can Learn About Commenting on Blogs from a First Grader =-.

  15. @Judy – Uh. I think I might be one of those kinesthetic people, LOL. I HAVE to pace while I’m talking on the phone, I tend to point at things while talking (which is hilarious, considering the other party can’t see what I’m pointing at), and my hands have to be doing something while I’m talking.

    Sit still while on the phone? That’s pretty near impossible. (Though I have managed for a whole five seconds once…)

  16. I agree. I prefer being able to answer an email at my leisure – even though I provide a phone number and IM ways of contacting me. I don’t answer my phone often, since stopping in the middle of coding can be a pain sometimes and mess up my workflow. Unfortunately, some clients refuse to work by email or even IM.
    .-= Amber Weinberg´s last blog ..Get Your Clients To Stop Comparing Rates =-.

  17. Okay, James, sounds like you are a cross between visual and kinesthetic. Normally when people are a blend, they do have one style that is more prominent than the other, though. I would bet it’s visual with you.
    .-= Judy Dunn´s last blog ..What We Can Learn About Commenting on Blogs from a First Grader =-.

  18. Oh wow! I thought I was the only one that felt this way. I prefer emails over a phone conversation any day. I’m the same way when it comes to handling personal calls; I’d rather text than to talk, simply because I’m able to think much more clearly and efficiently than on the phone. If the situation calls for me to speak to a client or person over the phone, than that is fine. But when I’m being paid to do something and to be creative, I would rather receive an email or text, and respond at my leisure, which would give me a chance to think.

  19. Archan Mehta says:

    Well, James, let me thank you for writing this post. Interesting points of view here.

    As a writer, I am afraid I really got tired of receiving phone-calls. Especially from tele-marketers and pushy salespeople trying to sell me products/services which I did not need anyway. These days, it is possible to receive such calls even at odd hours.

    Plus, I had people trying to tell me about the story of their lives over the phone. Sorry, but no thanks. I need my privacy and I don’t have the luxury of endless time.

    So, I decided to get rid of the phone. End of conversation. And whenever I need new ideas, I hit the outdoors. I learn best when I am physically active in the lap of nature. Again, this is just me. It may not work for everybody. But a little fresh air and sunshine really can help to clear your mind like sun shining through foggy mist.

  20. Michael Martine says:

    I’m definitely a phone person. Easiest thing in the world for me to sit and blab and somehow provide great help for people.

    It’s writing that takes too much time for me.

    Interesting how everyone’s different with different strengths.

  21. I prefer to answer emails as well rather than answer phone calls. However, in the tourism industry where people are often in transit or need information quickly, phone calls are a better form of communication. If I was a writer, I would definitely prefer to email rather than answer a phone call and perhaps upset my momentum.

  22. @Brad – I fully agree that sometimes, a phone is far faster. When you need a bit of info and can call to ask exactly what you want and get it within seconds, that’s awesome. Buuuut realistically that’s not quite how it happens, as people need to greet each other and ease into the convo and then thank each other and all that.

    Heh. Maybe I’m just being a stickler for minutes, this week 😉

    @Michael – For sure, everyone does things differently and by no means should this be a “one-size-fits-all” model. And the times I’ve spoken to people who have strengths on the phone, I completely respect that they think really well off the cuff – Naomi from Ittybiz is one of those.

    But the problem for me as a client then becomes that I can’t take notes 🙂 Too busy listening!

    @Archan – Not the first time I’ve written on the “no-phone rule”. And, each time I do, I hesitate a touch because it’s a little controversial to the rules of accessibility – but I *always* have a lot of freelancers saying thanks for reminding them they don’t *have* to do what they’re told they should do. (Like taking calls…)

    @Patrice – I’ve also found that email helps me explore more than just one option or train of thought. On phones, people tend to start at the top of the funnel and drill down to a singular idea they discuss. (Or at least, that’s what I’ve observed). In email, I find that I tend to start with responding to one question or looking at one issue and coming up with multiple solutions. Good for clients, that!

    @Judy – You remind me of when I used to trail guide. There was a map of the trails posted to the walls, and from time to time, they’d blaze a new one and add it on. Another guide wouldn’t look at the map – she’d have the boss tell her the directions. He’s say it once and she was good.

    I’d look and look… and then I’d start asking for mental visuals. “Is it before the old fence? Okay… and you turn left at the white birch?… right. And then how far down the straight stretch – about where those raspberry canes are?” If I didn’t have landmarks in my mind, I couldn’t “see” the trail.

    The boss quickly caught on and began adding little drawings to his map 🙂

  23. I think I am with you on this point James. I’ve been asked to take phone calls about client work and nearly 100% of the time, I forget something that they either have to remind me about or I remember it at 3:00 in the morning.

    It is so much faster, easier, and clearer when I can go back and refer to what has been written (typed) than having to try to read little notes I’ve jotted down during calls (where I am supposed to be listening).

    Thanks for clarifying this issue. I’ve never really followed it all the through to see why it is I prefer email. Now I have a good case and can tell them why I would rather they email me.

    .-= Kathleen Sullivan´s last blog ..A Testimonial, or Why I love my clients =-.

  24. By the way, luv the rockin new site!
    .-= Kathleen Sullivan´s last blog ..A Testimonial, or Why I love my clients =-.

  25. I think getting the business deal in person is still the best way top go. It might not be very convenient, but the flow will be better and you will see their reactions when you interact.

  26. My problem is that I hate to talk on the phone anytime. It’s a total waste of time. Friends, family, and others no that, so when I get a phone call, someone has died. I realize in this tech world we live in that may not be the way. I agree with you, lay it out in an email and let’s get it on. There can be too many distractions during phone calls. I don’t ever want to have to say, “Oh, damn, I thought you said…” When it is in writing(email), everyone wins. Thanks for the post, James…

  27. Hi James,

    I read your post on copyblogger “Is Reading Blog Posts Worth Your Time?” and came to this website I found you are really helping people. This blog is also looking good just like Copyblogger. I used to read Copyblogger which is one the best blog I found reading and learning. People like you inspire me to move ahead in this filed. I do have my personal blog where I use to write about SEO solutions. But I don’t post regularly 🙁

    On this topic I would say yes Email is better that Phone call. Because in email we can have a detail information about all requirements and we can save them, in case on phone calls we will forgot things, I have faced this problem many times, last year I worked for a client on which I was doing daily bases updates on his affiliate realted site, and the client always called me on phone for every changes so for remembering all those thing I used to write all his requirements on a copy. I don’t like phone calls 🙂

  28. I prefer not to spend all my time on the phone HOWEVER, I also think the phone is essential for good business. There are things that get lots in email and are better clarified over the phone. I can also get a better feel for how my client likes something by the tone of his voice.

    With that said, the phone can be a total time suck. I don’t want to get into the whole work at home mom thing because I don’t like to always play that card, but I only have a certain amount of time to work each day – in peace. The phone takes up that time. Therefore, I have certain phone hours. When I need to speak with my clients it’s during the allotted time and that’s it.
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..b5Media Layoffs Are a Good Reminder to Spread Those Freelance Writing Eggs Around =-.

  29. I meant “there are things that get lost in email” not “lots.”
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..b5Media Layoffs Are a Good Reminder to Spread Those Freelance Writing Eggs Around =-.

  30. I’m glad it’s not just me.

    I’m not very good on phonecalls either. I like quiet and I like to focus on my work and the job at hand. I often work with earplugs even if it’s completely silent because it never seems to be quiet enough for me.

    So phone calls throw me off kilter. I’m methodical and focused when it comes to my work and have built up good relationships via email, but I know I come across poorly over the phone. I forget details because I’m trying to hard to take it all in, I find it difficult to negotiate and though I do take calls and am polite and friendly, I do my best work with my earplugs in!

    I can vouch for James’s style of working. Recently exchanging emails about my website re-design with James has been simple, straight forward and the perfect working style for me.
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..6 Fantastic and Free Productivity Resources =-.

  31. You know, you just outlined the exact same reasons I don’t like talking on the phone either.

    I feel put on the spot to answer quickly and I prefer to give more thoughtful answers once I have the time to think through things a little more. Also, I need the reference that email has so that I can go back through again and pick out the points I need, like you say.

    Also in agreement with you about the waste of time. For me, it’s not just the time on the phone. It’s the 15 minutes before the call preparing for it and the 15 minutes after it that I spend trying to get back into whatever I was doing before the call.

    Huge time suck all around. Some people can work through communication faster by phone. Not I.
    .-= Naomi Niles´s last blog ..Introducing Intuitive Designs Version 7 =-.

  32. I am totally with you. I don’t like talking on the phone, stumbling over words, talking over my yelling kids so the client knows I’m out shopping. I have one client who always calls me on a Friday. Friday is my day off. I’m out having lunch with a friend and my 2 year old is pulling on my sleeve, yet I feel I need to complete the call or he’ll fire me. I think it’s time to change tack.

  33. Interesting. I just wrote a post that took a different approach. Basically, I talked about adjusting my communication style to my client’s. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child of seven snd I’ll do anything to be heard. 🙂

    I do shut off my phone when I am in my high productivity mode. I am too easily distracted. But, there are times I really prefer the phone. For one thing, it’s easy to misinterpret emails. And when it comes to writing white papers,live interviews, for me, are so much better.

    But, that’s what makes the world go round. Love your blog, James!
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Health Care Tuesday Throws Out the Salt =-.

  34. Love this post. I personally hate receiving and making calls to clients.

  35. You know, I’ve been struggling with this and am glad I followed my curiosity and read this article.
    I spend about 5% of my day turning down 80% of the people who ask me to bid on their projects. Lately the phone call idea has become overwhelming. In fact, its down right annoying.
    I have the perfect excuse–or so I thought. “I have a new baby”.
    Client responds, “Can I just speak to you for a few minutes, right now?”
    This went on for a few emails.
    Finally I relented.

    The bottom line now–I don’t do interviews. I don’t need to spend time building rapport. Yet I still struggle to say no to the occassional call!

    Occassional! Wait…
    Today I had FOUR.
    Last month I had four. What’s going on here?

    Time spent on the phone is wasted because it is not time spent writing.



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