I was talking with a group of freelancer’s recently and the question came up of when to charge for calls, and how much to charge for them. Some people always charged for calls, while some never did. Some people had a 30 minute consult for free and charged for the next call.

Some people did follow up calls on bigger projects and some moved from that 30 minute call in to a discovery phase which was paid before they provided a full proposal on the project.

There was no consensus so today I’m going to tell you when and how do I deal with prospect calls? How do I get those calls under control so that I don’t overwhelm myself. How do I make sure that I have new leads coming in so that I maintain a full pipeline?

Schedule Your Call Times

The first step to getting your call time under control is choosing when you’re going to take calls. Unless the only thing you have to do is take calls and make sales, then you can’t jump on the phone at a moments notice.

If you’re writing, designing, coding then you need large chunks of time to focus on those tasks. Schedule time where you don’t allow interruptions in and schedule the times you’re going to allow calls to happen.

I currently only take calls on Friday. This is when I’m doing coaching anyway so putting in some calls for prospects means I’m not breaking up good focus work time with another call.

You don’t have to dedicate a whole day to calls. Pick two afternoons a week or an afternoon and a morning. The point is to pick a time and stick to it. I use Acuity Scheduling to handle this for me so I don’t have to kill time emailing back and forth about availability.

One thing you need to remember about your call time is that you can’t schedule a bunch of extra work between calls. Don’t expect to build some feature for a client in that 30 minutes between a call. There just isn’t time and you’re going to frustrate yourself.

For a while I’d plan a bunch of writing or coding between calls. It would never get done. I’d feel like I had a terrible day, but only because my expectations were poorly set.

Now all I try to do an Friday’s between my calls is answer email and deal with my receipts from the week. There is no other plan so I don’t feel discouraged when I don’t get to some big task I could never have done anyway.

Make sure you plan your tasks appropriately as well. Choose things to fit between your calls that actually work for you. Don’t set up impossible expectations.

When you start to schedule your calls you’re going to have a full day and someone that wants to talk to you. It’s always going to be urgent. They need the next available slot, and they want you to have that call now.

Don’t do it. Stick to your schedule. The good prospects will wait and the rushed ones won’t. You’ve filtered your prospects.

You can see one client on my site labelled as Read Aloud Revival. She emailed me about a project and said she had already talked to other developers. I asked some questions and sent her a link to my schedule. She had to wait two weeks and said she needed my faster than that so could I change my schedule.

I said no, that she could wait and if she couldn’t that was fine. Maybe we could work together in the future. Right there I changed the expectations of who she was working with.

I came in much more expensive than the other developers and I couldn’t start for 2 months. Every other developer could start tomorrow. She says that after the first call she knew I was the expert she needed because of how I treated my schedule and her.

You will loose some people when you have a schedule, but you’ll also show many more that you’re the expert they need to talk to and work with. You’ll get so much more work done because you won’t be interrupting your work time with calls the rest of the week.

When to Charge for Calls?

Now, when do you charge for calls? Every single prospect I deal with gets at least one call. This is an introduction call and the whole purpose for me is to make sure that I want to pursue turning this prospect in to a client.

For my coaching business I do the same thing. I have a some time set aside to talk to possible coaching candidates at no charge. The goal of that call is to see if I can help them with their business and if they’re ready for it.

After those initial calls, I charge for my time. If that possible coaching client hasn’t been convinced by the call, then it’s unlikely they’re going to be convinced by a second call. If I didn’t build trust with a web development prospect so that they want to become a client, then a second call likely won’t change the matter.

I don’t let people come back and “pick my brain” over and over.

For large projects I still charge for my time in the form of a scoping project. The point of this type of project is to go over all the technical details and figure out if it’s all possible and what it will cost. That means I may write some code, I’ll certainly do a bunch of reading and research and take a bunch of notes.

At the end of a scope project the client will get my proposal to do the work and a nicely formatted document outlining how we’ll tackle the work. This includes all my notes on the project which means they could take that project to someone else and pay them to execute based on my research.

What to Charge for Calls?

What if you’ve got a Clarity profile and you’re trying to figure out how much to charge? My base hourly rate is $250 an hour. So starting from there my Clarity rate should be around $4 a minute, but I actually hate charging by the minute for a Clarity call.

The thing is that I could talk to someone for 10 minutes and yes I’d earn $40, but I’d still be out of an hour of productive time. I have to get ready for the call. Be familiar with any documentation they send me up front and then task switch after the call.

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That takes about an hour. Giving up an hour of time for $40 doesn’t seem like a great trade to me.

You should charge your full rates for an hour of time. The smaller the block of time the more you should charge. If I was going to charge by the minute then I’d really charge $17 per minute because then 15 minutes of time makes up for the hour of lost productivity.

While this may seem crazy to some, you’re most valuable asset is your ability to think critically and advise clients on their projects. You’re brain applied to their problem helping them make decisions is more valuable than you’re fingers typing code. Charge appropriately for it.

So, do you charge for calls? If not, you should, at least after an initial trust building call. By making sure that you have a time set aside for calls every week, you have a natural place to put any prospect call. This helps you to keep doing them because they have a natural spot in your schedule and don’t feel like they’re taking away from “regular” work.

When you’re charging for calls, make sure you charge your full rates because your brain is the most valuable thing to a prospect. Don’t shortchange your value.

Make sure that you only take calls when it’s not interrupting your work. You need lots of time to focus on deep creative work. If you don’t have that, you’re work will suffer. You’ll be doing your clients a disservice by giving them less than your best when they’re paying you.