Ink-Dipped Advice: Bill For Phone Time — Why Everyone Wins

 

I loathe the phone. I have a rare condition called hyperacussis, which means I am hyper-sensitive to certain sounds. Some sounds (like leaf blowers) can trigger a heart arrhythmia, and, in the right circumstances, a heart attack. Other sounds make bruises appear. No matter how upscale, there are certain sounds involved with phone technology that feel like someone jabs knitting needles through my ears. It can take a couple of hours to recover from a five minute call.

There are more reasons I loathe the phone. People deny what they said in a phone conversation. “That’s not what I said” or, even more irritating, “That’s not what I meant.” Words matter. Use the right ones. Understand what you’re saying and say what you mean.

Which is why I write a memo after any forced phone conversation going over what was discussed. And stating that if I do not hear to the contrary within two business days, I will move forward on what we discussed, as written in the follow-up memo AND contract.

Most of all, I resent the time phone calls take. There is no “good time” for me to be on the phone. Any phone time interferes with my writing time and creative process. By “my” writing time, I don’t just mean working on novels or plays. I mean the uninterrupted creative writing time I need in order to deliver my best work for the client. That best work that the client DESERVES.

A “quick” phone call (and they never are) can derail creativity for the rest of the day. I only accept phone calls by appointment. So, when I am forced to schedule phone time, I do it during my least creative times of the day. And I have to build the recovery time into the day (that is not billed). Also, I’ve yet to have a business-related call of more than 90 seconds that wasn’t a waste of MY time, or that couldn’t be handled more efficiently in an email. It’s the caller liking the sound of his own voice and wanting someone to applaud as he works out whatever he wants to work out.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for brainstorming. But I’d rather do it in person. Or via email. Body language, tone, and environment are important to a successful brainstorming session. It’s not an effective use of time to brainstorm on the phone while typing a letter on the computer and interrupting as people wander in and out of the office. It’s wasteful of time and energy for everyone involved.

Both in-person and on-the-phone brainstorming sessions are billable hours, as far as I am concerned. It is time out of my workday that is devoted to the client and the client’s needs. Which is fine. That’s why I work with clients. To meet their needs. But that time needs to be scheduled, respected, AND PAID.

When it is, and when the uninterrupted time I need to create excellent material for my clients is respected, the client is the one who wins.

I can’t tell you how often I hear from my fellow freelancers about how frustrated they are by constant phone interruptions. How it makes it impossible for them to get the work done on time, how it negatively affects the quality of the work, and how much time they lose from their workday.

I tell them to bill for the time. Or to schedule specific times for phone consultations.

“Oh, I can’t do that! My clients expect to reach me by phone!”

Why?

Because you’ve allowed that expectation.

A lot of freelancers offer an initial free half hour phone consultation to generate new business. I’ve never found that resulted in booking more paid business. In fact, I’ve attended conferences where participants boast on how many free phone consults they do, and all the free information they gather, never having to pay anyone for their time. I also no longer do coaching sessions via phone. I do them either in person or via email. Occasionally, I’ll use Skype, but under specific conditions. Too often, the person on the other end of the phone is invested in the Myth of Multi-Tasking and is doing six other things while on the phone. None of them are being done well, and the consultation is a waste of everyone’s time.

Set it out in the contract. If you want to give them X amount of free phone time, go ahead. But otherwise, state in the contract that you charge X dollars for X minutes of phone time.

I charge in 15-minute increments, like a lawyer, and state that appointments for calls must be made in advance. I send an invoice immediately after the conversation, and expect payment by the end of that business day via PayPal. Anything else, send an email. During business hours, I’m quick to respond.

Clients don’t believe I will actually adhere to the policy and hold the boundary. But I do.

That is why a thorough contract is so important.

It has cut down on unnecessary phone time, because they don’t want to pay for it, and they learn pretty fast that yammering on about nothing costs them money. The result is more focused time when we are on the phone, and my clients get a faster turnaround time with higher quality work. So it benefits THEM in the long run, even though it’s a different process than the way they’re used to working.

Some people adore doing the bulk of their business dealings on the phone. If so, good for you. Unless that time is built into your project or hourly rate, though, I suggest billing separately for phone time.

I found it makes a huge positive difference in both productivity and quality.

Which means my clients are happy.

And we all win.

2 thoughts on “Ink-Dipped Advice: Bill For Phone Time — Why Everyone Wins”

  1. In too many instances, I’ve had to limit clients to 30 minutes (and in one case, 15 minutes). If you cannot get to your main point in under 20 minutes, there’s a problem. My interviews for magazines are allotted 20 minutes, and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish with a focused list of questions and a client/interview subject who respects your time.

    1. I was up for a big writing gig — union scale + royalties. 22 week audio series. The guy kept putting off the start date and insisting on 2-hour long telephone conversations where he talked about himself. I finally had my agent tell him that there would be NO more conversations until the contract was signed and I received my first payment. Never heard from him again.

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