So you sent the perfect query letter to your ideal client — the one whose blog you practically dream about writing for (that doesn’t make you a loser, right? Right.) — and you’re so freakin’ excited because they want to hire you!
But… not until they’ve spoken to you on the phone first.
Knowing you’re actually going to have to talk to somebody, using your own voice and your own brain full of your own thoughts, is terrifying. What if you ramble on, or stutter, or say something completely moronic that ruins your chances of ever being hired by anyone EVER AGAIN?
Fact is, some people simply will not hire you without talking to you first, either on the phone or via Skype. [Skype? Video calls? Double aargh!]
They want to hear your voice, know you’re trustworthy —professional— and that you are who you say you are. Basically, they want to get a feel for you (minds out of the gutter, please). More importantly, they want to know you’re going to be able to do the job justice. That you know the subject, can write about it in an informed manner, and have your own insightful comments to add.
And the worst part is, you know you can do it… you’re just not sure you can convince somebody of that over the phone. After all, you’re a writer, not a speaker. Shouldn’t your written words be enough, damn it?
Sadly not, mon petit pois. But fortunately, there are a few things you can do to up your on-the-phone game. Here are 11 tips to boost your chances of being hired to write for your dream blog (or, you know, any blog) over the phone:
1. Talk them out of it
Although some prospects may ask to speak to you on the phone, there’s a strong chance you can talk them out of it. And by talk, I of course mean type. I almost never talk to my clients on the phone, simply because I make a good case for email.
Try explaining that email works better, because you can easily reference it and make sure you’ve got your facts straight, and because you like to have a record of your conversation so you can ensure you’re both on the same page.
Sound advice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Even so, there will inevitably be a few who want to have a natter. Read on for how to deal with those assholes. (Kidding. Sort of.)
2. Write down your rates and stick to them
Chances are, the part that makes you feel most nervous about getting on the phone with a prospect is the whole “umm, so this is how much money you need to pay me to do this for you” bit. But suck it up, sunshine, because this is something you need to learn to do.
No umming, no ahhing, no “my rates are negotiable.” Your rates are your rates. They are NOT negotiable. If people want to hire you, they need to pay your rates. DO NOT WAVER. Ashley Ambirge wrote a fantastic post about this.
3. Jot down a few notes before you begin
But do NOT follow a script. If you follow a script, particularly one you haven’t practised, it will sound awful and forced and will not instil confidence. Instead, have a few talking points, know what you’re going to ask, and just glance down at your list when you need a reminder of what else you should talk about.
4. Strike a power pose
This probably sounds like a stupid idea, right?
But humour me. Just try it. Because when was the last time you looked at a sloucher and thought, “Man, that chick has got her shit together”?
Hands on hips, legs up on the desk, leaning forward with your hands on the table — whatever your chosen pose is, it should make you BIGGER. Even just sitting up straight will make a huge difference. Acting more confident will make you feel more confident. Amy Cuddy talks about this in her fantastic TED talk.
5. Ask questions
You don’t need to keep rambling on down the phone. In fact, you should avoid rambling at all costs. Get your client to do the talking instead by asking them questions.
Say things like, “Could you tell a little more about your goals?” and “How do you want people to feel when they read your blog?” Ask big, open-ended questions, and avoid questions that will just lead to yes or no answers.
Bonus points: asking questions makes you sound more like a pro.
I don’t know if there’s any official evidence to back this up, but it works for me. If you laugh at your client’s jokes, in a non-nervous, not-obviously-fake way, they will like you. And if they like you, they’ll talk more openly with you, which will help you relax.
More bonus points: if they like you, they’ll be more likely to want to work with you.
7. Let silence reign
This is probably the hardest to do. The need to fill that awkward silence is overwhelming, isn’t it?
But hey, you’re not the only one feeling it. Your prospect will feel that creeping uneasiness too, and eventually they will start talking again. It’s basically a stare-out competition, but with mouths instead of eyes. Sometimes I do this just for fun, because I like to watch people squirm.
8. Intentionally speak slowly
This is hard to do, too, actually. (Oh who am I kidding? IT’S ALL HARD.) You’ll feel like you’re speaking so slowly you might as well say it backwards, but that’s not how you will sound— and that’s the important bit (this is one of the very few things I actually remember from my journalism degree).
Making a conscious effort to speak slowly will help stop you rambling nervously. It’ll also give you more thinking time, which is always a plus when you’re not quite sure what to say next.
La la la. Aren’t you just sick of hearing this? One of the most common things my students ask me is how to get good at copywriting, or how to get good at writing with personality, or what they need to do to write better. And sometimes I feel bad, because I can’t offer them much other than “practice”.
I can point them to all the resources in the world, but if they don’t actually frickin’ practice, they will never get good. Same thing goes for talking on the phone.
Consider pitching a few lower-risk blogs — blogs you could easily write for, but aren’t head-over-heels in love with — and actively suggest hopping on the phone for a few minutes to talk things through. If you don’t get the job, no big. If you DO, your confidence will rocket and you’ll be that much better prepared when you finally do have to get on the phone with your dream client.
10. Listen back
So, those “practice” conversations you’re going to have? Record them and listen back to them. Then you’ll be able to see hear where you’re going wrong. If you’re still not sure, get someone else to listen back to them and give you feedback.
Do you speak too quickly, or jump to fill any pauses? Knowing the problem is half the battle. Or something. (That’s a saying, right?)
11. Have a beer
Am I kidding? Maybe. MAYBE NOT.
It could help you relax, and no one’s going to fire you for it. (YAY FOR FREELANCING.) Though, you know, they also might not hire you. If you’re the sort to challenge people to trial by combat after you’ve had a couple, maybe don’t do this.
The most important thing to remember
Talking over the phone is a common phobia, especially among writers, who are often shy, retiring types.
And even if you’re not one of those shy, retiring types, speaking on the phone to try to win a blogging gig is a whole different ballgame than phoning your grandma on a Sunday afternoon to thank her for the stale KitKat and the flat bottle of Coke that’s been in her cupboard for seventeen years.
This phone call could affect your entire working life.
It could be the gig that springboards your business to new heights.
It could make or break your whole freelance blogging career, for Christ’s sake. Or at least feel like it — because if your whole blogging career actually hinges on one gig, you’re doing it wrong.
In reality, if you don’t land the gig, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve just learned what not to do next time, putting you in a better position.
And for the love of banana/strawberry smoothies, whatever you do, do not dwell on it if you fuck it up. If that client absolutely insisted on a phone call — would never consider hiring someone without talking to them first — and you suck at talking on the phone, chances are you weren’t going to get that gig anyway. You couldn’t have done anything differently.
Do NOT let it stop you getting on the phone next time. After all, you’ll be better next time. And you might just land a better blogging gig, too.