10

Most times, clients ask me to talk in Skype. Since I do not like talking as I may say something unplanned, I always direct them to message rooms where they ask questions, and I reply after thinking about it. So far, this was a very good approach since I did not make any mistakes when setting the job terms, and the clients never complained.

In the past, I rejected a few clients because they insisted we talk. I am now wondering if more serious clients with multiple projects wish to talk to contractor, while single-project ones or unserious ones prefer messaging.

can I find long-term partners by avoiding Skype talks or will this limit me?

EDIT

Just wanted to say that in the past months, I have made dozens of Skype talks to my clients. And results were EXTRAORDINARY. It was so good that I got multiple jobs just after ONE skype call. Yes, it lasted 60 to 90 minutes, but it was worth it.

As of now, I am constantly pushing clients to skype talk. If they refuse, then it tells me they are not prospective clients. And what is better, I saved so much time.

So I personally strongly suggest anyone to use Skype of phone talk, even during the evaluation phase since I tried both ways and I witnessed all the good things from the real voice call with the client.

  • 2
    Many of the clients I've seen have used a phone non-stop for the last 10 years, so that could be part of the reason they insist. – Amelia Jul 16 '13 at 19:31
10

It is your freelance business, and if you prefer written communication to voice communication, it is okay to make that choice. I prefer email to phone conversations, and I have been freelancing for > 10 years. That being said, I do occasionally speak to my clients. Here are some observations:

  • 90% of my communication is via email with my clients. I have been working with several of them more than 5 years, so they are "serious" and "long-term".
  • Still, prospective clients who are not willing to communicate via email ever are not a good fit for me, and I do eliminate them early in the process. But early phone or in person conversations are inevitable. People need to feel comfortable w/ the person they are hiring.
  • With some clients, I have set up "phone hours" to limit the time I need to speak with them on the phone. Or I don't answer when my phone rings, and I force them to setup a time for a conversation.
  • Getting better with in personal communication is still important. Look for opportunities to practice! I joined my local chamber of commerce and a Toastmasters club. Gets me out of the house and meeting people, which means I'm better at "live" conversations and extemporaneous speaking. This will help your whole business.
12

As you go in for larger and higher-paying consulting projects, trust becomes increasingly more important. Larger projects often start out with a phone interview, and if you do well there, the next question is often, "how soon can we fly you out to meet our team?".

It's possible to land some large projects without in-person meetings, but rarely without some phone conversations.

If you plan to grow your practice to take on larger projects, it's definitely worthwhile to develop verbal communication skills. If you have a strong aversion to verbal or in-person communication, you might consider coaching or practice, or you might try to find a person to front for you as a client liaison or project manager.

  • 1
    The funny thing is that I am so good and persuasive in writing and somehow too "lazy" when talking via phone. I guess I have to change that. – Peter MV Jul 17 '13 at 7:47
5

In important meetings, I won't use chat. I personally have trouble taking people seriously who only want to communicate purely over chat. Sure, chat is great for collaborating. It allows introverted people to be able to focus and then address the other party when he/she gets to a stopping point. When I'm programming, chat is awesome and is my preferred communication method. But for extended back and forth discussions or negotiations, chat, at least in my experience, has a lot of negatives for things that involve giving the other party 100% of your attention.

To rely solely on chat for everything means you lose out on the ability to have a real conversation, one that may involve debate, body language, being aware of the emotional state of the other party, compromise, and the human factor. You also lose out in situations where there exists great complexity and where focusing on the person is extremely important.

People chatting also get distracted by people who are physically in the room and who also crave attention. I've spent way too many 10 minute periods of infuriating silence waiting for someone to respond to an important chat because that person refused to take a call yet also stepped away from our active conversation to answer another question. This sort of thing rarely happens to me on a video call as other people are less likely to interrupt. If you work by yourself this may not be an issue, but it may be an issue for the other party.

While there are people who say you can choose your clients, and that's true, there are also people who won't do business with you if they can't at least meet with you once a week, either face to face or on a video call. If I'm paying you to do something complicated, I want to see your face when I explain it -- or at least hear the tone of your voice -- so that I know if you're confused or not. If you don't get what I'm asking you to do, I don't want to find out after you've already done all the work. :)

The important thing to remember is that different forms of communication serve different purposes. While chat works well for semi-real time collaboration where focus on the task is important, phone calls and face-to-face meetings work better when debating or deciding how to approach a task or negotiating the terms of a contract. Email tends to work well for communications that aren't time-sensitive or that involve a lot of back and forth discussion. In short, use the communication tool that's appropriate for the task at hand and don't try to fit everything into one envelope.

Do you think that I can find long-term partners by avoiding skype talks?

You can. But you're limiting yourself. It may increase the chances of you making a mistake due to a misunderstanding, which means the client may no longer want to do business with you. It may create distrust, since knowledge work oftentimes involves building and maintaining relationships. It may mean you're more likely to be blamed for mistakes, since it's arguably easier to blame faceless entities for problems rather than the friendly colleagues who you eat lunch with. It's not impossible, and you certainly can do well just by chatting, but you'll do better if you expand your communication skills! Hope this helps!

4

I have over 10 years design freelancing experience.

I will not "chat" with clients, that includes Skype. I will use email, the phone, or in-person meetings.

Early in my freelancing career I would use IM or Skype for a few clients and very quickly determined it is not a viable form of communication to convey ideas or desires. It's simply too easy for users to abbreviate thoughts so they don't have to type as much. I found this to be a VERY common issue with "chatting".

When using "chat" clients often fail to fully explain a desire or they assume you understand what they mean in the fewest words possible. After several disastrous estimates due to failed scope perception I simply started refusing to allow chat for project assignment or initial contact. I simply explain I need a written reference in email so I can refer back to it... I need a phone call so inflection, tone, and attitude can be conveyed better.. or an in-person meeting for the same reasons.

In addition, clients who insist on "chatting" merely want immediate access to you assuming you are at their beckon call. I generally am not sitting around waiting for a client to tell me what to do next so I can't afford constant unnecessary interruptions.

I will allow clients to schedule a chat with me to go over minor revisions but that's as far as I let "chat" go.

If you want bigger, better clients, then chat is not something they even think about. Corporations don't have a "Chat" officer and if one of their employees is sitting around "chatting" they generally have an issue with it because it's too difficult to determine what is work related and what may not be. "Chat" is not a bigger business choice in communication and has never been.

Your milage may vary but, I have never acquired or maintained any client which insists on using "chat" as the primary form of communication. And I would never ask a client to "chat" with me, ever. Relying on "chat" is just not good business for either party in my opinion. My experience tells me, any serious client is not interested in "chat" or a "message board". It's email, phone, or in person every time. If I were to even suggest "chatting" with many of my clients, they would laugh at me.

  • 1
    Great post! You said many good things. To comment some things. In-person meeting is not possible if you're client is too far away from you, it only works when he's close to you. You mentioned phone calls. This is also expensive if it's long-distance call. You were referring to Skype, right?! – Peter MV Aug 17 '13 at 14:14
  • Another things, how do you keep track of things you decide in phone call? What is the purpose of phone calls for you? I guess, when you are just starting the project, you will have a phone call with the client, but later he will have to send all specs in written via email? – Peter MV Aug 17 '13 at 14:16
  • @PeterMV As I posted, I don't use Skype. :) I mean phone calls, long-distance or otherwise. Any costs is the cost of doing business. For me, long-distance is free. International may cost, but again... just the cost of doing business. All businesses have overhead. As for keeping track during calls, notes. I take notes. Then I write down my notes in a proposal or email and send it back to the client for verification and/or clarity. No work is started until written approval is recieved - either email or in person. – Scott Aug 17 '13 at 14:54
  • And, just for the record, 95% of my clients are too far away for in-person meetings so most things are done via email or phone. – Scott Aug 17 '13 at 14:54
  • I am surprised that you do international calls. Are we talking about calling your clients from your office phone to his office phone? Not cheap things like satellite calls, skype number, etc.? If you really call from your own phone, how do you keep up with costs? If not a secret, what is the average cost of your project? – Peter MV Aug 17 '13 at 15:09
3

When you do speak to people on the phone, remember you don't have to answer a client's questions then and there or immediately provide quotes, time estimates or agree to their suggestions - you're perfectly within your rights to tell them you will think about it, get back to them, or you need to check.

Doing this will hopefully help you feel more in control of the situation and less pressurised (which is one of the reasons I personally resist phone calls whenever possible).

  • The same is here. Do you have long-term clients? If yes, did you eventually have to talk to them? – Peter MV Jul 19 '13 at 16:31
  • While this is true, don't forget you are providing a service to the client - if they do feel you are not, or are not capable of, providing that service, you will not get the gig. – Andrew Jul 20 '13 at 7:06
  • 1
    @PeterMV Varies hugely, some long term clients I've never spoken to at all, others usually want to chat to me at the start of each project (even just to see if I'm available or interested). In all honesty I don't think there's a single rule for how to do this - it's very much down to your own personality, the client's and generally whether you get on with each other. – William Turrell Jul 20 '13 at 9:02
2

A lot of clients will want to chat because it helps them to understand what you are like as a person and can make them feel better about going with you - it also helps to show that you aren't a scammer that will run away with their money.

Personally, it's not my favourite thing to do but having that instant contact can be a great thing. If you are unsure of something when speaking to a client then just tell them you will email to confirm after doing some research etc.

2

The key is communication. Sure, you can have long term relationships -- with some personalities -- communicating only by text (e.g., email, text chat). The majority of people, however, I find feel that they get an insight through phone or in-person discussion which is essential. I think this partially comes down to introverts vs. extroverts. Generally speaking, any large budget project is going to require more human interaction. If you don't want to talk on the phone, for example, because English is not your native language -- you might consider mentioning that you feel you can express yourself more clearly in written language.

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