The anxious designer’s guide to talking to clients on the phone

Jan 30, 2019

Ten years ago, I’d have honestly preferred to wrangle a chicken* than get my anxious arse on a phone call with a client.
*And I’m crazy shit scared of chickens.

Me + speaking to an actual human = epic cosmic failure

You see, after a lifetime of red-faced, sweaty attempts at public speaking and just plain ol’ speaking, I had cultivated a spectacular talent for making even the most mundane of conversations awkward af.

It was a skill, yo. 

But make that awkward mess try to SELL her services to somebody? On the phone? It was practically an entrepreneurial apocalypse waiting to explode ( … or so I thought). 

So, naturally, when it came to run my own business, I decided I was Strictly Online. No in-person meets. No Facetime. No Skype. And absolutely no phone calls. Ever. 

Which meant…

  • I had to turn down clients that I would have LOVED working with. 
  • I missed out on awesome opportunities. 
  • I felt like a total fricken wimp.

One day, after writing, “Sorry, I’m a hot mess that doesn’t talk on the phone” to yet another dream client, I put my foot down. 

It was time to woman up. 
To boot this phone anxiety outta my damn business and take back control. 

So, I decided to work (very briefly) with a business coach that was all about getting potential new clients on a call and selling to them in a BIG way. 

… Which sounded great, until she handed me a script to follow and told me, “Anna, do not let them get off the phone without forcing them to make a decision there and then.”

My heart dropped. 

Was I really going to be THAT boss lady? The pushy, salesy, slimy one that FORCES people to work with her?

It just wasn’t me. It wasn’t how I did business. 

Needless to say, I dumped the coach and her 20k price tag. 

But I’m glad I hired her, because it led me to the first step on my journey to ditching my phone anxiety for good …

Lesson #1: Only communicate in a way that feels authentic to you. 

I’m not a super formal person. I’m also not really great at scripts and selling. Blend those three together and you have a recipe for communication disaster. Which was why my early attempts at phone conversations sucked. 

But once I ditched the sales-focused script, things started to feel less wrong. 

I can’t say it felt completely right either, because those social anxiety nerves were still keeping me sweaty and edgy, but like most things in life, once you do it once, it gets easier. 

So I accepted one phone call. Then another. Then another. Until finally, phone calls were part of my business – and a valuable part at that. 

Lesson #2: Make phone calls (short, free ones) a part of your process.  

As the years went on in my business and worked seem to stall, I decided it was time for something to change. 

To drum up business, I started offering a free 15-minute call to anybody who had downloaded my price list. 

Almost immediately, I noticed that people were more likely to proceed and book in work after a call with me. Before long, those 15 min calls had a 95% conversion rate into paid design work!

So how did I do it? How did I woo them into working with me?
Honestly? There was no trick. I was just me. 

But I know you want answers! 

So, this is how these calls usually went down (every detail just for you):

Step one: A prospective client would download my price list 
(you can get my price list template here) 

Step two: Two days later, an automated follow-up e-mail would be sent from me to them offering them an opportunity to book in a call. The automated e-mail would allow them to schedule in a call using Calendly (which updated automatically with bookings and which I updated with my available times). 

Step three: I’d send them a link to Zoom and let them know it was going to be a video call (yep, not just a call, but a VIDEO call) so that we were both dressed decently. 

Step four: I’d join the call at the scheduled time and wait for the client. Once everything tech was sorted, we’d dive into the real conversing, where:

  • I’d break the ice. Sometimes I’d ask them about a recent holiday, or comment on the weather or mention a painting or something behind them. It was basically just a minute or two of easing into the convo and getting comfortable with each other. 


  • Once I felt that they were feeling more relaxed, I’d ask them to tell me about their business. If they struggled, I’d ask them, “How long have you been doing your business for?” to give them somewhere to start. 


  • Typically, people who are passionate about their business love to talk about it, so I let them dive in and unload. When the conversation stalled, I’d ask them …


  • “How can we work together?” This invited them to share their vision for our partnership and gave me the opportunity to probe them a bit more and clarify what they needed from me. 


  • This was my cue to let my sparkle shine! I’d walk them through my vision for them and describe the feelings, emotions and results the visuals could provoke. By getting excited, this got them excited too. 


  • Once we were both grinning at each other, I shared a quick idea of how my process went down, saying something like, “So if we were to work together, this is what the next steps would be …”


  • Then I’d give them a chance to ask any questions. 


  • Finally, I’d finish off the call with something like, “Thanks for getting in touch. If you think of any other questions, just send me an e-mail. I’ll be in touch in the next days to follow up.”

That’s it. Not too scary, right? 

I wasn’t demanding that they hire me, then and there. I kept it loose, casual and friendly. NOT forced! And because the pressure was dialled down, I felt more relaxed too. 

Before long, I started to view the calls the same way as I viewed responding to e-mails. 

Sure, I won’t ever be that super extroverted entrepreneur who bubbles and beams over a video call. And sure, I’m always going to be more comfortable chilling with my little girls and hanging with my hubby than I am talking to potential clients. But that’s okay. ‘Cos what was better than being a perfect boss lady on these calls, was being ME. That was all I needed to do to sell my services … without feeling like I actually had to sell anything at all. 

Oh, and FYI, I don’t get dressed up for these calls either. I attempt to look neat and tidy, but I’m all about keeping it real and, as you will soon see, so is everyone else!

Lesson #3: Be you. But, like, the neater public version of you. 

Yes, wear your hot pink t-shirt with Thelma from Scooby Doo on the front. 
Yes, have your crazy cute stationery on display. 
Yes, grin like a mad woman if that’s how you roll. 
Yes, sip coffee/tea/hot chocolate/vodka (I won’t tell) from your novelty mug. 

Be you. 

But also make sure your hair is brushed (well kinda), you don’t have spinach in your teeth and that there isn’t rubbish on your desk or in view of the camera. 

It’s you. But tidy. 
You get me? 

This way, when you show up for your video call, you’ll feel authentic, real but also decidedly kick-ass. 

Follow these three simple lessons and I have no doubt you’ll be confidently accepting phone calls and winning new clients like a total pro in no time! 

And remember, the people you’re talking to are human, just like you. 

I have never experienced anyone be a total nightmare on this 15min call. 99% of people will make it easy for you. And heck, some of them are probably nervous about talking to you too! 

So your mission for 2019 is to implement the magical 15min free intro call. Monitor your conversion rate afterwards … I bet it will surprise you! And it’ll MORE than make up for the early weeks of sweaty-palmed, red-cheeked phone anxiety. 


All the love,
Anna xo 

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