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How to stop struggling with your first potential client call

This is your first client call

Ah, the first client call. I know this feeling well. It’s sort of like Christmas1 mixed with your first speaking engagement. Meaning, you know it’s going to lead to presents, but first you might vomit all over yourself.

Be honest. You're scared shitless.

It’s totally normal to have some gut-wrenching fear right now. There’s a lot at stake, and if you’re anything like me, you worry about sounding like a total doofus on the phone.2

You’re probably nervous about fumbling over your words, not making sense, laughing because you’re nervous, or not having any control in the conversation.

And you know what? If you don’t prepare, this has a good chance of actually happening. And when it does, you won’t get the project.

It's okay. Harness that fear.

So we’ve got to take that fear and figure out what to do with it. Make it more productive, and turn it into something that works for you.

It might sound a little over the top, but you should make a script. Trust me on this one.

I used to work in HR, and when I interviewed people, I used a script to help me stay on topic and ask all the questions I needed answers to. The same idea works when you’re getting on a client call.

What to Say

There are some general guidelines that you can follow to make sure that you’re getting all the info that you need.

Make sure you understand the main goal of the project

You’re going to have a hard time doing this project if you don’t know for sure what you’re supposed to be doing. Clarify the main points of the project with them before you get started.

This means asking questions like:

What are your top goals do you have for the project?

What would you like the main outcome of the project to be?

Get more details to see if it's something you can and want to do

You’ll want to ask more in-depth questions that help you determine if this is a project you’re interested in. We would all like to make money, but not all projects are created equal. Make sure that this is something you’ll be excited to work on.

You also need to ask the right questions to make sure you have the skill set to complete the project. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out my 10% rule for projects. Projects can look great on paper, but the more you talk about them, they can become an exciting way to expand your skill set or totally out of your reach right now. It’s important to know what you’re working with.

Ask questions that will help you decide if you want to work with this person

It’s easy to forget that, as freelancers, we’re also interviewing the client. They don’t want to work with a dickbag and neither do you.

So how do you figure this out?

Since it’s the first call, you need to ask some low-barrier questions that will get the person to open up enough that you can get an idea of their personality, without probing so much that you’re off-putting.

What Not to Say

And just like any interview, there are some questions you just want to avoid entirely.

Don't be pushy

It’s easy to fall over the edge of really helpful into downright pushy. You should be talking about all of the possibilities you see for your client’s project, generating excitement over the solutions you can provide, but not dictating exactly what they should and shouldn’t do.

It’s a fine line to walk, but there’s a difference between saying, “I think it would be amazing to add this” and “No, you’re wrong, it will only work if you do this”. Even if that’s true, delivery is important.

Reading it, it seems simple, but when you’re on the phone, things that you would delete in an email spill out of your mouth and you can’t take them back. You also can’t make a second first impression, so be sure that you’re aware of what you’re saying.

Don't give answers that you're not sure about

If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t panic and give a false answer out of fear. It takes a lot of courage to say that you don’t know.

The only thing that provides as much relief to a client other than, “Sure, I can do that.” is, “I’m not sure, but I will figure it out for you.” That makes your client say to themselves, What’s that you say? You won’t make me think any more than I have to? Yes please.

Don't overshare

As you’re creating rapport with a client, you can go from friendly professional to oversharing nutcase in just one or two sentences. It’s not that this person doesn’t want to get to know you, it’s just that they want to invest their time in learning what you can do to help them, and feel sure that you are reliable.

A good rule of thumb is, if they share a story about themselves you can reply with a short story about yourself that is similar to what they shared. For example, if they tell you about how they spent their holidays with family and something crazy happened, you can share a funny (non-offensive) family story with them.[note] Like the time someone who shall remain nameless lit our table on fire at Christmas Eve dinner.[/note]

A Script to Help You Break the Ice

Since I know this is a lot to take in, and you’re probably thinking, I just want to set up this damn call, Marisa! I’ve gone ahead and included a script that I use myself for potential client calls.

Go ahead and get it now

Don’t worry, it’s free!


Or Hannukah, Kwanza, Vesakha, or whatever your favorite holiday is. I only know Christmas, so that’s what I’m sticking with.

Being a doofus is really fun, but it doesn’t scream, “I’m a professional!” Which is really what you’re going for here.

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