Your Business' Secret Weapon is Sitting Right on Your Desk

Sometimes, the scales just drop from your eyes and you realise you’re in possession of a device so powerful that you can’t believe you take it for granted. My Eureka moment happened last week. The skies were grey, the dog was chewing yet another notebook, and I was chatting to a very friendly client about his business, his family life and the problems faced by football referees.

Then he dropped a bombshell that made me think again about a seemingly innocuous device.

Andrew,” he said to me. “You’re not the first copywriter I approached. But you’re the first one to take the time to speak to me in the way we’re speaking now. And that’s why I’m looking forward to working with you for a long time to come.”

It turns out that in a world where marketers can’t wait to tell you how Facebook, Twitter, Google, email, SMS messaging and the next big technological advance will totally revolutionise the way you do business, the thing that was helping me to bring on more clients than my competitors was sitting right in front of me all this time…

Why The Telephone is Your Secret Weapon

I know that those of you who are a little bit older than I am have just rolled your eyes, muttered “no shit, Sherlock” under your breath and are about to click off and do something else. But there are now generations of people who just don’t make phone calls. I’m one of those people. In my personal life, my wife knows that if I call instead of texting I’m either injured, furious, or stranded and in need of a lift home. And in my professional life I managed to work for six years in an office full of telephones without ever picking up a call that hadn’t been routed specifically to me.

I’m not alone. Email makes it easy to take an enquiry, send a quote, finalise a contract, take a brief and deliver a completed project without ever hearing your client talk. They get what they need, you get paid, and the telephone gathers dust in the corner. But that’s the wrong way to do things. Because…

  1. Conversations Build Rapport. 

If you want to do a good job for someone, you need to know what sort of person they are. How they expect a business relationship to work. And it’s really hard to find that out by stalking their LinkedIn profile. You can like all of the Facebook statuses in the world, but you’re not going to build a connection unless you take the time to speak to someone. Once you’ve built that rapport, you’ll find it much easier to meet that client’s expectations.

2. Not Everyone Is A Great Writer.

I work with lots of clients who don’t write particularly well. That’s fine. They’re good at what they do, and they’re paying me to write copy for them. But if you rely solely on written communication, how are you going to do a great job for someone who sometimes struggle to get their point across in an email? A five minute conversation can save five hours’ editing and re-writing time, and ensures that you don’t get the wrong end of the stick after a hastily fired-off email.

3. Conversations Are Spontaneous.

Speaking of getting the wrong end of the stick – sometimes you won’t even get the stick at all. Even the most well-planned, tried and tested briefing document won’t cover every eventuality. Because sometimes your form won’t have asked the right question to get your client thinking. That’s not an insult, it’s a fact of life. Conversations though, they’ll get your client to open up. And it might just be that the spontaneous tangent you find yourselves following is the key to unlimited customer happiness.

4. It’s Hard(er) To Argue on the Phone.

Those of you who’ve worked in a call centre (I’ve done ten months in a Royal Mail complaints department) are doubled up with laughter here. But it’s true! The internet might make communicating easier, but it’s also shown that people are more likely to argue with text on a screen. A phonecall keeps things personal – and it’s much harder to abuse a person than some remote generator of emails.

Hopefully even the most ardent phonephobe amongst you is now reconsidering the wisdom of doing everything via email. But don’t delete Outlook just yet. Because email isn’t dead.

Even The Most Powerful Weapon Isn’t Perfect

This isn’t the sort of post that throws the baby out with the bathwater. I’m not that sort of writer. While it’s now abundantly clear that having an honest, old fashioned conversation with clients is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, that doesn’t mean sending emails is a sin. Believe me, I’ve worked for organisations where sending emails was almost taboo, and that was just as irritating as those businesses who only email you.

As a rule of thumb, here’s the times that you need to hang up and open your email client:

  1. Briefs: Yes, you need to have that conversation. But unless a project’s objectives are set in stone (or pixels), you’re running the risk of scope creep. And that’s a fast track to irritation and penury.
  2. Contracts: See above. Irritation and penury are clauses one and two in a verbal contract. Get a contract written. Get it signed. If you can’t afford a lawyer, John McGarvey’s plain English contract is a great place to start.
  3. Follow-Ups: I’m a great believer in following every call where something is agreed with a confirmation email. By creating a digital paper trail, you’re less likely to miss something important because your dog’s eaten your notebook. Again.

Beyond those three things, email should always be a secondary form of communication. Trust me. It’s the simplest change I could’ve made to my business’ processes, and it’s had a bigger change on the quality of my work than any decision I’ve made since I traded a tie and the 9-5 grind for the joys of working from my home office.

All that’s left to say is five little words…

Pick Up the Damn Phone.


(Note – that funky retro telephone up there? It’s the work of a client of mine, GPO Retro, and I’ve got one in my front room.)

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