It’s 2:45 PM. An alarm on your phone goes off. It’s a reminder for your client call at 3:00.
You feel that familiar pang of “ugh” in your gut. A tinge of anxiety. An urge to find some excuse to reschedule, or better yet, just cancel!
At 2:59, your heart is racing. You start doubting yourself.
Will you be able to answer their questions? Will they hear that you’re nervous, or somehow uncover the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing? Will they hang up when you name your rate? What is your rate anyway?
Then, the phone rings.
This scenario might make you feel like the only writer in the world who can’t handle phone calls like a boss… but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many freelancers feel this way when they’re starting out (and beyond). The phone has a special way of prying at our worst fears of sounding like we don’t know what we’re talking about, freezing up, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment.
Younger generations, on the whole, prefer texting to speaking on the phone, so it’s not just you. It’s society! 😉
None the less, getting clients on the phone is as important as ever. It’s one of my most reliable strategies for securing a new project once you’ve begun the conversation online. Hearing someone’s voice can be a reassuring and trust-building experience that just doesn’t happen over email, no matter how much personality you pack into your email signature.
I used to feel nervous about getting clients on the phone myself, so now that I’ve overcome these fears and embraced the value of speaking in real-time, I wanted to share some tips.
Keep reading for my top 6 tips on how to feel more confident on the phone during client calls.
By the time you’re done with this blog post, you may actually be looking forward to your next call!
1. Don’t sit around waiting for the call
If client calls make you nervous, your brain is likely spinning in the moments leading up to one, as you wait for the client’s name to pop up on your phone screen.
Maybe you want to make a cup of coffee or just take a few breaths, but you’re worried you’ll be caught off guard by the phone ringing. So you sit there, mind unraveling.
Flip the switch on this scenario and offer to call the client so you’re the one initiating the conversation.
It doesn’t always have to be the freelancer sitting around waiting for the client to call. In fact, clients are typically wrapped up in a number of tasks throughout the day and may appreciate you offering to ring them instead!
Calling the client is the equivalent of ripping off the tension bandaid and just diving right into the interaction!
Here’s how it works:
Once your potential client has expressed an interest in working with you via email, you can say something like:
“Thank you for sending this information, Blanche. I’d be happy to give you a call to discuss further. I’m available Tuesday or Wednesday between 9:00 and 2:00. What’s the best number to reach you at?”
By offering to call the client, you’ll come across as proactive and professional while removing some of that pre-call stress.
As a bonus, doing this enough will help you reduce your call-related nerves over time.
2. Doing your homework = feeling prepared
It’s harder to feel nervous when you’ve got your bases covered. Simply be prepared for the call. In fact, be overly prepared.
This is especially helpful if your stress is rooted in feelings like “I’m too inexperienced for this to go well” or “I don’t want to say the wrong thing”.
Sometimes we rev ourselves up with nerves when all we need to do is execute on prep!
You can review the Linkedin profile of the person you’ll be speaking to. See if the client’s company has been in the news recently. Read their corporate history.
Know the mission statement of their brand and how long they’ve been around. Have they made any big moves or changes?
Check out their social channels. Notice any new campaigns or initiatives.
You don’t have to memorize and regurgitate this information. Just note a few talking points and questions to bring up during your conversation.
You may even find that you have something in common with the client or the company in terms of work history or interests, and it’ll be easy to seamlessly bring those points up during the call.
That can immediately switch your perspective from nervous and unprepared to empowered and even excited. And you can bet that energy comes through on the other line.
Additionally, if you’re able to seamlessly reference something relevant during the conversation, you’ll make a good impression
ie: “Absolutely, Dorothy—I saw yesterday’s tweet about the new store location and I agree that geo-targeted ads would create more buzz”).
And trust me, clients love this! They just want to know that the freelancer they randomly found on the internet is invested in their success and proactive enough to do their research.
Listen closely and you’ll hear them switch to a more colloquial tone when they realize they’re speaking to someone who’s done their homework.
3. Know what you’re bringing to the table
Your worst fear might be freezing up during a call when a client asks a question. You can eliminate that fear by being clear on what you’re offering them, and how.
Every call will be different, but here are a few things you should be intimately familiar with before the call to avoid the dreaded “umm…”:
☕️ Your services: Know exactly what you’re offering to do for them. If you’ve initiated the call thinking you’d be doing product descriptions and they start talking about blog content, you need to speak up. Don’t let simple misunderstandings about your services result in getting stuck with a project you have no interest in.
☕️ Your workflow: This encompasses things like how you prefer to receive materials from the client, how many times you’ll check in during the project, how you’ll deliver the final work and how you’ll execute on revisions. Know precisely what you’ll reply when they exclaim: “Great, I’d love to work together! What’s the next step?”
☕️ Your rates: Money can be an uncomfortable topic for most people. Get comfortable talking about it directly and you’ll paint yourself as a confident freelancer. There’s no need to include disclaimers and explanations when you state your rate over the phone. Blog posts are X. Product descriptions are X. This fee for this project is X.
☕️ Your policies: Do you include additional client calls with your service package? How many revisions does your base rate include? What’s your minimum turnaround time for this kind of project? What happens if one of you has to cancel the contract? These are things you likely won’t discuss on the first call, but you need to know the answers.
☕️ Questions for the client: Don’t begin a call without knowing what you want to ask the client, too. After all, this is a business conversation, not a one-way interview. Here are some of the things I’ve asked clients in the past (but don’t make them arbitrary—only ask what’s relevant and what you actually need to know):
- Can you tell me more about your target customer?
- How many often do you launch new products?
- What’s your timeline for this project? (Or: When are you targeting to go live with the website?)
- Do you have keyword research completed for me to reference?
- Are you interested in having meta copy written for this site as well?
☕️ Your background & expertise: Even clients who know a little bit about you will usually open with this line: “I’ll tell you a bit about our company and the project, and then I’d like to hear about you.” Be sure not to ramble. Review your relevant background points in your head before the call, so you can let them know why you’re a good fit.
(Sidebar tip: Focus more on how you’ve helped brands like them in the past and don’t focus entirely on yourself.)
4. Be honest
Here’s the magical thing about client calls. You’re human, and so is the client!
If you’re confused about something, ask them to explain it. Backtracking to our previous example, if they mention the job requires a skill you don’t have—or a service you don’t offer—let them know!
There’s absolutely no shame in seeking clarity or being careful about ensuring everyone is on the same page. In fact, this is a good professional habit to develop.
Awkward phone calls happen when you feel like it’s do-or-die and that you need to win the client over before you hang up the phone. This is not the case, and you shouldn’t be approaching calls with this intense mentality.
What actually counts is that you calmly and competently exchange the information you need before the call ends. When you really pay attention and ask honest questions, you might even find that they’re not the right fit for you, freeing up time to seek clients who are.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, request more details, or speak up when you’re unsure about something.
Remember: you’re a professional collecting the details you need for a potential project. It’s not a personal failure if you say the wrong thing or need to regroup to get clarity later. Take the pressure off and allow yourself to be human.
5. Follow up via email
Whether or not you get nervous during calls, this tip ensures you have a moment to think over whether the project is a good fit.
You might be tempted to give a resounding “yes!” to client requests when you’re speaking in real-time—especially if you tend to be a people-pleaser or you’re just excited to begin the work.
Don’t let the frantic nature of being on the phone trick you into lowering your rates, agreeing to work you don’t want to do, or anything else.
Making snap judgments based on nerves is a real risk and could get you into some trouble (I can’t count the times I’ve seen freelance writers begging for advice in Facebook groups after agreeing to work they don’t know how to do).
Instead, take down notes and let them know you’ll follow up via email.
This tip makes sense for everyone! Nerves aside, you’ll probably end up discussing a lot of details during the call. It may not immediately be clear how they factor into your final rate or terms.
For example, if your client asks you to create a flat rate package for several kinds of deliverables, you might not be able to do the math on the fly without a long, awkward pause. And even then, can you budget the time to add a larger project to your schedule?
There’s nothing wrong with jotting things down and letting the client know you’ll follow up via email within 24 hours. This allows you to even out those adrenaline levels and make some sound decisions.
In the end, taking the time to review the details and following up after the initial call ensures an agreement is reached that works for both you and the client.
Also, you’ll notice a trend with these tips. Clients don’t resent this behavior. They appreciate it! It shows that you’re discerning and willing to take time to consider if a project is a good fit. That’s undoubtedly better for everyone involved.
Not sure what to say at the end of the call? You can say something like this:
“Thanks, Rose! It’s been great chatting with you and this sounds like it could be an exciting collaboration. I’ll look over my notes and I’ll let you know if I can move forward with this project by end of day tomorrow.”
6. Do MORE calls
If you just cringed, stay with me. Like anything else in life, this gets easier with time. The more calls you make, the easier it will get!
If you really want to get over this fear and increase your confidence, make it a point to pick up the phone more often.
When I was entering the workforce, the advice that I saw flying around a lot was to interview as often as possible, even if you don’t intend to take the job. While practice makes perfect, I thought that sounded disrespectful to folks’ time, but perhaps ironically, I did end up interviewing a lot.
As a freelancer, I found myself having several interviews each week with clients and agencies. I remember one day where I packed two different outfits and changed in the dressing room of an Urban Outfitters in an effort to cater to two very company cultures.
I didn’t like interviewing when I started out, but you can bet my confidence level entering into those conversations increased along the way. So much so that I stopped thinking of them as interviews and started positioning them as business meetings in my mind (which they were).
One way to pull this off is to change your mindset around phone calls entirely.
Social anxiety is very real, but your brain will believe what you tell it. You can actually transform anxiety about a call into excitement about a call in only a few seconds.
Tell yourself something like, “I’m really looking forward to speaking with this client! I can’t wait to get to know them and find out if this will be an ideal project for me. I’ve done everything I can to prepare and I can already tell it’s going to go smoothly.”
You can also try mantras and smiling wide in the mirror before you hop on the phone. Smiling/laughing has a way to ease tension. Once you get yourself in the right headspace, book those calls! You’ll learn something about the process each time you experience it.
It’s worth mentioning that this advice applies to everything in life, from airplanes (I see you, nervous flyers!) to sewing invisible zippers into garments.
Bonus tip #1: Walk around the room
This is a bonus tip that I learned from Joanna at Copy Hackers, and I use it all the time.
Try to walk around the room while you’re on the phone—at least at the beginning of the call.
Walking around reduces nerves, livens up your voice to help you sound more engaged, and increases focus. It really works. Try it!
I usually kick off the call while walking around the room and then sit down when it’s time to jot down notes. I would also recommend using hand gestures and facial expressions like you would if you were having an in-person conversation.
Pep, personality and genuine expressions help to build trust when someone can’t actually see you.
Bonus tip #2: This is not an interview
I felt like this tip didn’t quite fit with the others, but it’s still a crucial point to make before we wrap this up.
When you get on the phone with a client, you’re not being “interviewed” by them, so you don’t need to slip into that concept of “I’m in the hot seat” and start sweating accordingly.
You’re a freelance business owner (and a provider of value) talking to another business owner (or a representative for that business).
You are equals!
You are not “a writer looking for a job”. You’re a problem solver, and they have a problem. That actually scoots you up one level higher on the ladder, doesn’t it?
Before you get on the phone, remind yourself of this: It’s not an interview. It’s a conversation.
Before I let you go, a few thoughts on this common problem.
Being able to speak naturally on the phone is a skill, and like any other, you’ll need to practice it to get better at it.
If you use these tips, I promise they will help you feel more confident over time—and maybe even the first time you use them. They helped me, and I have clinical panic disorder! I have had more than my share of shaky, nervous phone calls.
Comic via @shreyadoodles
And hey—don’t worry if you mess up a few times.
I’ve also said some truly awkward things during phone conferences over the years. I’ve gotten stuck without answers, accidentally put myself on mute, and rambled endlessly after losing my train of thought, internally screaming in horror all the way.
My phone even overheated and died in the middle of negotiating a $20,000 contract—and I was able to call back and pick back up where we left off.
And it’s not just us freelancers! Everyone goes through this. I’ve heard CEO’s say weird, awkward things on the phone, have their voices break, and even fumble their goodbyes.
We’re all human.
Finally, remember that phone calls are not just an annoyance. They’re a golden opportunity—a chance to make a real human connection with the client, establish trust, convey your expertise, and increase your chances of securing collaborations you care about.
And once in a while, you’ll even find that the person on the other line is actually quite friendly and pleasant to speak to. A client call can go from being the thing you’re dreading to something that actually brightens your day.
So until next time, fellow writers, hold your head high, dial that number, and land those gigs with confidence.
You’ve got this.
What was your last client call like? Which tip above are you planning to use during your next call? Drop a comment below and join the conversation at the Freelance Writing Cafe Facebook group!
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