What to Do When the Phone Rings

Saturday November 01, 2008 by Jenny Millar, ADBASE Inc.

Posted in: Finding and Keeping Clients

Professionalism is the key to getting and keeping your best clients. In September, I wrote about how to keep your clients satisfied and grow your business. This month, I want to get you thinking more about bringing a higher level of professionalism into your business. When the phone rings, do you have a plan for what you're going say, or do you end up "umming" and "ahing" your way through? How can potential clients contact you when you're out of the office? If you have a plan ahead of time, your confidence and professionalism will go a long way to helping you land a job.

If you are professional from the onset, you immediately start demonstrating your value to your potential client. Professionalism (and of course talent!) is what sets you apart from the amateurs trolling Craigslist for low-paying jobs. Show your client that you are a quality artist who can be relied on to get the job done properly because you understand exactly what it takes. Communicating this level of professionalism from the get-go goes miles to reinforcing your value (and fees).

Let's start in an area that many artists have difficultly with - inbound sales calls. The inspiration behind this article came from this year's Photo Plus Expo. I heard a lot of buyers talking about artists' lack of telephone presentation skills, so read on! You'll find some great suggestions that can help you impress your potential clients.

Be Prepared

In her June article, Maria Piscopo recommends preparing scripts for your outbound sales calls. I recommend doing the same for your inbound calls. Having prepared questions near your phone will help you remember to get all the information you need when that all-important call comes in. Additionally, it will bring consistency to the way you sell yourself. To start, why not put together some talking points about yourself? How do you describe your artistic vision in a way that communicates the unique point of view you bring to your assignments? Sales professionals also call this an "elevator pitch", a 30-second description of who you are, what benefits you bring, and what your product is. If you are interested in learning more about elevator pitches, here's an article I came across in my research:


Here's an example specific to our industry to help get you started:

"John Doe Photography specializes in realizing the vision of our agency clients through collaborative efforts with stakeholders. Driven by a desire to show the progressive nature of fashion through progressive photography, John Doe has produced some of fashion's most forward-thinking and impactful campaigns. With over 15 years experience, John brings his technical expertise and creative thinking to every job, helping you get the image you need for a stand-out advertising campaign."

The Vital Greeting

How do you answer your phone? Seems like a simple question, right? Do you have an established greeting for your company? If not, you should create one and pin it up by the phone so you never forget. You don't have to get that creative here, "Funkytown Illustrations, Mary speaking" will do. The purpose of this greeting is to identify yourself to the caller, and is a standard business and branding practice.

The Phone's Ringing, Now What?

Do you know what to do when someone calls you about a job? Do you know what questions to ask? Often what happens is adrenaline takes over and you forget to ask for all the information you need to properly estimate a job. And there's nothing more embarrassing than having to call back later for further details. Here's a list of questions you should remember:

  • How did you hear about me?
  • Why are you considering me for the job?
  • Who is the agency/client?
  • When do you need the estimate by?
  • Who else are you considering for the job?
  • What is the budget?
  • Who pays what and when?
  • When is the shoot?
  • Where is the shoot? Is it on location, or do you need to travel?
  • If it's a location shoot, who will be sourcing the location?
  • If you need to travel, who will be making those arrangements? Who will be paying for them?
  • Is there talent needed? Who will be casting and how?
  • What about extras like props, hair & makeup, wardrobe? Who will be coordinating these, and who will be paying for them?
  • What deliverables do you require and by when? Do they need a web gallery or DVD? How many selects will you provide?
  • Who is doing the retouching? Will you need your own digital tech on-set?
  • Where, how and how long will you be using the images?

A lot of these questions are covered in Jennifer Kilberg of FluidVision's September's Insight article, Bid Fair, Bid Smart: How to Win Jobs With Savvy Estimates. Once you get the answers to these vital questions, you are ready to put together your estimate.

Communication Is Key

When it comes to professionalism, nothing shows your commitment more than letting your potential clients know when and how they can get in contact with you. In fact, I heard a number of buyers complaining that artists can be difficult to reach and take a long time returning calls. What could be worse than missing out on a chance to bid on a job because you are completely out of contact? No one is expecting you to be available 24/7, everyone needs a break. But setting clear expectations will go a long way to show your client or potential client that they're important.

Use your voicemail or out of office function to let people know when they can expect you to return their call or email. If at all possible, include a contact for another person they can speak to, especially if they are requesting your portfolio. If you don't have a studio manager, perhaps considering getting a student intern who can field phone calls and send out portfolios when you are away from the office.

Talk to Yourself

When I was still in school, I paid the bills by working in call centres. I did this for almost 5 years, and by the end I was in charge of handling difficult calls, something that requires real focus and concentration. I learned a few great techniques for taking charge, sounding confident, and still being friendly and approachable. Here are some of the best:

  1. Stand up. This goes a long way to helping you feel more in control and more comfortable. You'll find yourself gesturing the way you would in a face-to-face conversation, and will sound more confident. Additionally, you also project your voice better when standing, and that goes miles to improving the feeling of confidence.
  2. Have a mirror on your desk. Use it to watch your face when you talk. If you are smiling when you talk, that friendliness will translate naturally down the phone. Having a mirror handy will help you keep on the friendly track and be approachable.
  3. Practice. The more you practice your "elevator speech", the more natural it will sound. So write your script, practice it, then throw it away. You don't want to sound like you're reading from a script. Keep only a mini checklist handy to help you stay on your talking points.
  4. Use short, simple sentences when you speak, as this will keep you from rambling. You want to make sure you give the caller enough information, but you don't want to go on and on. And don't give one-word answers, not enough detail is just as bad as too much.
  5. Pay attention to the end of your sentences. If you want to sound confident, your intonation should not go up, unless you are asking a question.

Now Answer That Phone!

Whether you are new to self-promotion and sales or a seasoned veteran, there are tips here for everyone. Even though most of today's business is done online, that doesn't mean that the phone is obsolete. Make it easy for buyers to get in touch with you and be professional in all interactions with them. Demonstrate what you can bring to jobs that no one else can and inspire confidence by dealing with all communications in a timely manner. This way, you are constantly reinforcing your value and justifying the fees you charge.