Do you dread talking to potential clients on the phone or on Skype? Most freelance writers have some anxiety about it — and that’s natural.
But you can definitely improve the odds of landing the freelance writing project by following the advice below. You’ll be better prepared and that will make you less nervous.
Here’s what you need to do before that all-important phone or Skype call with your potential client — when you’ve already had previous contact (likely through email) and need to talk about specific work.
Be Clear: Writer Calling Client, or Client Calling Writer?
Either person can initiate the call. I usually let the client call me, just in case their day is a little hectic and they need a couple of extra minutes.
Also, be sure to send an email reminder the day before if it’s a morning call, or that morning if it’s an afternoon call.
Phone vs Skype/Zoom/Other Video
I personally prefer the phone, but Skype can allow for a more personal connection, especially if you have a strong Internet connection. If you do use the phone, use a good headset or make sure that the speaker phone function works well.
Note: Skype can be a problem if you don’t have a fast and reliable Internet connection. I’ve heard horror stories from other freelance writers.
Get As Much Info As Possible About the Client’s Project
“The devil is in the details.” Yes, but in this case, details are your friend. The more you know about what type of freelance writing your potential client wants and exactly what her company does, the better off you will be.
Check out the client’s website and any other materials you can find online that will help you understand the specifics of their business.
Get As Much Info As Possible About the Potential Client
Before a call I spend substantial time investigating the client’s website, looking particularly for info that’s potentially pertinent to the call.
I also research the person, usually on LinkedIn. Not only do I look at education and work experience, but I also try to find something that we can both relate to personally. You can also frequently find a person on Facebook or other social networks where you can gather key information about their lives. (Just be careful, though, that you don’t seem like a stalker.)
For example, I recently landed a freelance writing project with an editor who went to UC Davis, my alma mater. The very first thing I said to her was “Congratulations on getting your degree from such a great university!” I quickly followed that up by telling her that I had gone to UC Davis for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She hired me.
I got another job with an editor who went to Cal State Chico; I taught at the local community college there, and I lived in Chico for several years, so I brought it up at the beginning of the conversation.
Or it could be that you both have a common interest or know someone in common. Whatever it is, just briefly mention it at the beginning of the call in a lighthearted way. Often it helps develop rapport from the start. Just be prepared to move on quickly if that’s what they want to do. Some people are all business.
Develop a Set of Questions for the Client and Selling Points for Your Freelance Writing Services
The questions relate to the details of the freelance writing project. They need to be pertinent — you don’t want to look ill-prepared or like you’ve done no research — but they also need to give you all the info you need to assess the project so you can develop an accurate bid, or walk away if need be.
The selling points address my strengths and why I’m a good person for the project. You want to work these in to the call, but only when it’s natural, and only without overselling yourself and making it sound forced. It’s quite likely that you won’t get to mention all your selling points.
What I Do Just Before the Call With the Client
Here are the three things I do:
- Take a slow, deep breath right before I dial, or as the phone first rings if they’re calling me.
- Smile right before the conversation begins.
- Detach from the outcome, meaning I don’t focus on or obsess about getting the writing project. I tell myself that I only want the project if it’s both good for me and good for the client, and if I don’t get it, I’ll get something better soon.
What I Do During the Call With the Client
Generally I let the client take the lead, at least initially. I do make sure I get all of my questions answered.
Just in case, you need to be prepared to take over some or all of the leadership of the call, just in case. Sometimes the client isn’t clear on what she wants, and you’ll need to guide the conversation.
I also have a Word document open with all my questions. It’s a good idea to print out the questions so you can jot a few notes during the call. However, I usually just type into the document during the call. If necessary, I tell the person that I’m typing up notes; usually that impresses them.
You’ll also likely come up with new questions during the call. You may want to type these into your document, or you can write them on a notepad.
Note: if you’re using the phone, make sure you have a good headset so both hands are free for typing.
The End of the Call
Make sure that there is clarity for the next step. Do you need to send in a bid? Does the client need to send you more information first? Who is doing what, and when?
After the Call
Send a follow-up email thanking the person for their time and restate who is responsible for the next step, what the next step is, and when it will be completed.
Also, right after you hang up, look through your Word document and any hand-written notes and make sure you have clearly captured all the pertinent information.
How do you handle phone calls and Skype calls with potential clients? Any advice or stories to share?
Allen Taylor says
Great suggestions, John. I like using Skype as it frees my hands for taking notes. Especially for long interviews and info gathering sessions. You certainly gave me some new ideas to incorporate. Thanks!
John Soares says
A good headset is essential if you use the phone. I’m adding this to the post now…
Anne Wayman says
Yeah, headsets are a must! Good points, John. And running through these occasionally will help when a good potential client calls out of the blue which happens to me fairly often. Listening is key and usually after taking a ton of notes, including double checking email, maybe with a test msg, and phone numbers I usually say something like I’ll get a proposal out (tomorrow, in a day or two, by the end of the week) and ask if that’s okay.
One of my favorite questions when we’re wrapping up is “What else should I ask? What else should I know.?”
John Soares says
Anne, I almost always end business-related phone calls with a variation of “Is there something I should have asked you, but didn’t, or something else important I need to know?”
And, except in rare cases, I don’t give a quote there on the phone. I say I need to research it further and that I’ll be in touch in a couple of days.
Jake Poinier says
This is fantastic stuff, John. The phone gives you far more flexibility and you can hear nuances that you won’t get in typed media.
One other tiny suggestion: If I initiate the call, the first thing I do is ask, “Is this still a good time for you?” It’s not just a courtesy, but a way of letting them know that I value their time (and psychologically, they’re committing to me).
John Soares says
That’s an excellent suggestion, Jake!
Sue-Ann Bubacz says
I don’t dread talking to clients on the phone, but I do agree that preparation makes the interaction more meaningful and useful. I also do what Jake says above and ask if they have time to talk now. Sometimes I will even email to set a talk time ahead—a combination of what you wrote and Jake said—and also as a way to respect each other’s time. I find your spin on checking out a person’s background to be an interesting rapport builder. I always research the company, product, website, but only touch on key players (or who I may be dealing with) probably via the about page or “who we are” which doesn’t usually touch on much, on a personal level. Nice idea:) I always take notes or type notes on calls but have never tried a phone headset…hmmm. Thanks for the nice phone rapping wrap up! Lol Sue-Ann
John Soares says
Thanks for sharing your tips, Sue-Ann. If it’s a cold call, I think it’s especially important to ask if they have time to talk, and I’d mention a specific length, like two minutes.
Cathy Miller says
Great suggestions, John. Like you, I generally have them call me because I know how hard it is in corporate life (my primary clients) to get to a call at the exact appointed time. Similar to what Jake mentioned, I use it as a way to show I respect their time. However, I have no problem sending a quick email with “Do we need to reschedule our call?” in the subject line if they are running too late. Respect for time is a two-way street. 😉
LinkedIn is a great resource but I also review their website. I know it will vary based on your target market but 99.9% of my prospects have a website. You can also check out press releases for company info.
I haven’t used Skype yet and admit I’ve heard some of the same horror stories. I’ve never been asked to use it but would if asked.
Maybe it’s because of my corporate past but I don’t have the problem using the phone that some freelancers appear to have. I prefer it for those nuances Jake mentioned. Jake, you keep stealing my line. 😀
I also have a standard questionnaire I use. It depends what went on before the call as to whether or not I send it before the call or use it as a guide during the call.
John Soares says
Cathy, thanks for pointing out the importance of checking the client website. It was in my outline for the post, but I forgot to include it. (Adding it now…)
I also have a standard questionnaire (Word doc) that I tailor to each potential client.
John, your third point in particular is golden advice. A great way to take the pressure off!
I don’t do phone calls unless I can’t get to them any other way. Even then, I weigh whether or not I want to go there. I just hate cold calls. I know if I tried it more often I’d be better at it than I think I am, but I just don’t. This year’s goal is to cold call. 🙂
I don’t do Skype but use Google Hangouts for one client’s conference calls. I have to remember to engage visually, smile a ton, look like I’m taking notes (when I’m actually recording, too), and stop sniffing, scratching, fidgeting…
It’s why I love email. 😉
John Soares says
Lori, I hear you about not wanting to do visual calls!
I made a change in the intro paragraphs to the post to make it clearer I’m not talking about cold calling potential clients. This post focuses on a call that’s been previously scheduled. That said, much of this also applies to cold calls.
I find that most calls improve the likelihood I’ll get work, but there is also the possibility of the opposite — that’s why many people prefer to do everything by email when possible.
Elizabeth Manneh says
Thanks for this very practical advice! I’ve used Skype video to speak with clients, but I also pay for a Skype phone number so I can make voice calls as well. It’s true that a dodgy connection can cause problems – I’m in Gambia, and at times the quality is not too good but so far I’ve never had an impossible situation. What’s your view on recording the call rather than trying to take notes?
John Soares says
You can definitely record it, but get permission first.
Amy Bell says
Great tips to follow. Also, in my downtime I force myself to cold call small business owners who website are in desperate need of a keyword consultation or various online marketing solutions. It’s a bit of a numbers game, but through general, friendly conversation you can land new clients in that old school way! Get in the right mindset and do it!