Recently, a coaching client asked me about dealing with prospective clients over the phone.
This copywriter understood the importance of communicating with prospects and answering their pre-sale questions. However, like me, he preferred to avoid the telephone and asked me if his strategy was sound.
Free consultations are often a necessary step in securing clients in your early days as a copywriter before you've established your expertise and developed a reputation.
It's natural that potential clients want to get a feel for your style and standards with a “getting to know you session.” Quite often, they will want to do this via a phone consultation with you.
I'm a big believer in opening the lines of communication, and I also like to pick up the phone to speak with a client when writing copy.
But before a client hires me, I prefer to remain off the phone. Why? Because the telephone can be counterproductive and even hurt your business.
As much as you can, give your prospects what they want without giving in by restricting these pre-contract consults to email.
No matter how green you are to the copywriting field, you do not want to open the Pandora's Box that phone consultations represent. Phone calls should remain a privilege open to paying clients alone.
While this policy may deter a handful of potential clients from engaging your services, they will undoubtedly be clients that would have represented major hassle and headaches down the road.
Allowing phone consultations before your client has committed to your services can do more than eat up your time, it can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Potential clients who insist on phone consults tend to ask a bazillion questions and often abuse the privilege as an opportunity to use the calls as a free critique of their copy.
In general, most clients won't use the phone for the purpose of extracting free information from you — at least, not at first.
But in many cases, if you're trying to land a copywriting project you will have the inclination to give more on the call than the norm.
It's only natural. You want to strut your stuff and show your prospective client that you know what you're talking about. After all, you're trying to sell yourself.
However, clients will often see this as a gift, not as a marketing gesture. Many will tend to take advantage of your “good nature.” Albeit without any ill-intent, they may do so in subtle and involuntary ways.
If you succumb to their inquiries, you may end up talking yourself out of a client by giving them all the information they need to complete the assignment on their own.
I believe that phone consults are, more often than not, simply an excuse for not taking action. They are typically requested by people who aren't ready to buy.
In fact, people who insist on a free phone consultation can generally be lumped into two categories:
- The first is those that are techno-challenged, uncomfortable with using email.
- The second category consists of abusers, freeloaders, and tire-kickers.
To eliminate the first group, you may want to have your prospect fill out a questionnaire beforehand (which they can fax, if need be), or hire a third person to screen and handle your pre-sales calls for you.
Aside from the ability to qualify your prospects for you, a third person will always sell you better than you can sell yourself. These gatekeepers will also increase your perceived value, too.
You can quickly and effectively eliminate the second group from the equation by charging for pre-contract consultations. You may, as I do, offer a discount equivalent to the fee as a credit towards future service if they decide to move forward.
While a prospect insisting on a phone call may be innocently asking for more information, in my experience phone consultations are indicative of a high-maintenance client.
Asking for a phone consultation sends up immediate red flags for me, and it should for you too. More often than not, they are trying to squeeze information from you — whether they intended it or not.
If they abuse your time with long or repetitious phone calls, and they get past the phone without the information they sought and still choose to hire you, you will find many of them will tend to be of the scarcity mindset.
They will be the type of client who will nitpick you and nickel-and-dime you as well.
Alternatively, you may find that they are very insecure. If so, they will continue to be insecure during your time working with them.
This means you have to take two to five times more time to explain and educate them throughout the entire project. It's not often worth the extra hand-holding and reassurances that go into satisfying the needs of a client like this.
So protect yourself, your business and your sanity by eliminating the option to begin with. The few clients who cannot be deterred from a phone consultation should be willing to pay for this premium service.
Those who don't are likely not worth your time or bother. For every potential client that has an issue with this policy, there will be ten more willing to honor and respect your no-phone policies.
Placing strong and clearly defined limits from the start of the relationship by not taking phone calls will attract better, more qualified clients.
The clients gained through this simple screening process will be more inclined to value your time and respect your talents. You'll find that you will be able to work on more satisfying projects for more appreciative clients.
Plus, refusing to work over the phone increases your perceived value — the value of your services and your time, and, above all, the value you place on your clients.
You are positioning yourself not only as a copywriter who values her time, but also as one who respects and values your client's time, too.
This concept is no different than any other relationship in which a “hard-to-get” strategy is used. By not being available over the phone you increase the perception of your credibility, authority and higher demand on your time.
The mature client will assume that, if you value your time that much, then you will value the time you will spend working with them, too. They will appreciate it more.
Bottom line, having a no-phone policy with non-clients increases your worth through the concept of scarcity and the odds of landing the client who truly wants to work with you on your terms.
After all, you're a copywriter, not a telemarketer.
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.