By now, freelancing and “remote” work has become, for the most part, a mainstream concept in the business world. Still, even as communication via email, Skype, and online project management applications trickles down into the small business world, I still regularly come across business owners who, for whatever reason, “expect” to have phone calls with me or whoever else they are working with remotely, often demanding that it’s a “requirement” for them.
While I respect the research that shows phone (voice) calls are often a highly converting sales method, the truth is that I’m not in the business of sales. As a long-term web consultant, I am neither a one-call-and-done type of sales product, nor can I afford to behave like a coddling “phone support” department for the duration of my (months-long) client relationships! Here is a complete breakdown of the reasons why I avoid having phone calls with my web consulting clients:
1. Ego assertion. Firstly, potential clients who begin a business relationship by trying to assert their power over me (or any other professional consultant) by forcing me into a lengthy phone conversation is an immediate red flag (and should be for any “expert” service provider out there). But beyond issues of the ego or red flags in business relationships, there are several other concerning things to me about clients who “expect” regular voice contact as part of my consulting.
2. Trust issues. Sometimes, I come across a potential client who says something like he “wants to be sure” that I am who I say I am, or that I’m not outsourcing my work to a third party in India who is using my Skype account (etc). Frankly, if the dozens of positive reviews about my services on the web are not enough to convince you that I offer quality work, and the case studies and examples I’ve provided don’t prove that I know what I’m talking about, then the business relationship probably isn’t going to work out regardless. If you don’t trust me, better you just move on from the start, yes?
3. You came to me!? One of the mistakes that many small business owners make is treating “expert” consultants like they are some unemployed person walking in off the street for a job interview. Every once in a while I will be contacted by a potential client on Skype or otherwise, who then “informs” me that one of their other staff members will be conducting “the interview”… lol… um, excuse me? I didn’t realize that I had applied to a job! Ultimately, the reason you need help from a consultant is because your team is utterly clueless on the subject… once again, the phone calls in this situation are not only ego assertion, but also a clear sign of misunderstanding when it comes to the client-consultant relationship. Perhaps this attitude perpetuates because too many business owners are outsourcing work to third world countries i.e. non-expert workers…
Note: I fully understand that “third world” or any other type of freelancer can still be an expert, regardless of their language, culture, or income. Still, its the condescending nature of many “rich” small business owners from highly developed countries to “boss around” the submissive “poor” Indian worker, etc… unfortunately.
4. Scheduling. It’s a globalized world, and only becoming more so each day. Over the past decade I’ve had clients from every continent, and dozens of different countries. Add into this mix that either they or I are often traveling or in transit, and the ability to schedule a voice call at a convenient time for both parties becomes nearly impossible. In most cases, the phone call will be re-scheduled at least once, and/or a half dozen emails will be required to finalize the call. But since we are already emailing each other, why the heck do we need the phone call? It makes absolutely no sense, and is mostly just ego-stroking and posturing being performed by wantrepreneurs who read Four Hour Work Week a few too many times.
5. Auditory (A.D.D.) learners. It is widely concluded among psychologists that there are 3 main learning styles among humans: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. At the end of the day, most people are a mix of the three by the time they grow up (especially due to schooling), although they usually have a preference in the way they learn certain things. For the most part, web consultants and their clients are rarely kinesthetic (physical) learners, which is why they’re running a web business in the first place. However, I come across LOTS of both visual and auditory learner types as a consultant; the auditory learners are usually the uber-talkative “sales” type of guys, who’ve often built a very successful business based completely on their high energy personalities and ability to network with others (no thanks to their poor organizational skills!). Despite being a heavily introverted visual learner, I’ve learned over the years how to “handle” these auditory (A.D.D.) types of clients, who often become some of my best (and highest-paying) relationships, ironically enough. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say they are very frustrating to work with sometimes (at least with my personality type), because of their constant requests for explanation and total incomprehension of many email communications. By creating a “hurdle” in our relationship — avoiding phone calls — I’ve largely been able to ensure that the auditory learner clients I take on are able to survive a truly “remote” freelancing arrangement.
6. Organization, efficiency. Returning to the auditory client example, one thing that has become abundantly clear to me after several years of freelancing is that phone calls not only don’t improve clarity, efficiency, or organization whatsoever, but they in fact greatly hurt all of these things. As social beings, humans usually crave the company of others, even if that is just a voice on the other end of the phone. The problem with phone calls, especially in the web business, is that you can’t reference them later! In most cases, they create more questions than they answer, and despite offering temporary “comfort”, the calls are generally a waste of time especially when trying to explain complex ideas that require graphics, links, or other resources.
7. Setting the stage. By nature, web-related consulting services are remote relationships that will require tons of non-phone communication. By refusing phone calls during the initial part of the business relationship, I aim to clarify to my clients that this will NOT be a phone-reliant relationship. In other words, their trust in me, their communication with me, and their entire interaction with me, will be “on the web” which, after all, is my specialty. This not only tests potential clients’ willingness and ability to work within my policies, but also proves to them that I’m much more efficient when they do.
In conclusion, I do understand that phone calls can be a powerful sales tool. However, over the years I’ve found that they largely serve as a “comfort blanket” to auditory learner types of clients more than anything else, and even in those situations do not result in better organization or efficiency in the freelance relationship. While the occasional conference call (etc) can surely be useful in some situations, I ultimately feel that refusing phone calls not only helps match me with more serious (and flexible) clients, but also greatly improves my ability to provide quality work to those clients.