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How to Prepare for Client Calls (and Avoid Nervous Rambling)

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We’ve all been there — you’re on the phone with a potential new freelance client. The conversation is going smoothly until they inevitably ask about cost and timeline. Suddenly, your anxiety kicks in (if it hasn’t already). Because you don’t know what to say, you either freeze or nervously ramble.

You were just collecting information. You weren’t prepared to estimate their project’s cost and timeline on the spot.

But you can’t avoid the question, so you have to say something, right?

If you tell them a cost that’s too high or a timeline that’s too long, you’ll risk losing the work. If you tell them a cost that’s too low or a timeline that’s too short, you’ll over-commit yourself and get underpaid. You’ll also set unrealistic expectations for the client before they’ve even hired you.

  • Freelancers who are extroverted and confident typically risk overpricing their services and losing the work.
  • Freelancers who are introverted and insecure typically risk over-committing themselves and undercharging the client.

For this article, I’ll focus primarily on the latter group, which I believe represents a majority of freelancers, including myself.

To this day phone calls and live meetings give me a small amount of anxiety. But when I first started freelancing, I was always nervous before phone calls. My heart raced, questions swirled around in my mind, and I imagined dozens of ways the conversation could unfold, none of which ever came true.

While most calls ultimately went well, I often said too much (usually regarding cost or timeline) simply because I was nervous. Sometimes I even answered questions the client didn’t ask just because I was nervous about the possibility of them asking.

The root of the issue? I wasn’t prepared for the meeting and, as a result, I didn’t communicate with confidence.

Understanding Clients

The first thing you need to understand about clients is that they are not your enemy. I’ve had my fair share of bad client experiences and most of them happened early on in my freelancing career when I wasn’t charging much money.

Some were rude and inconsiderate while others were simply intimidating. Others went as far as to hold my payments hostage or make legal threats against me. While there are toxic clients out there, over time you can learn to avoid them.

Those experiences can cause you to develop a negative perspective of clients, which can cause you to frame every interaction as a confrontation (it’s me vs. them). However, almost every bad client story can be traced back to a moment when the freelancer failed to set clear expectations with the client.

That’s why one of the most powerful skills you can develop as a freelancer is the ability to communicate clearly and see things from the client’s perspective. Many clients can seem intimidating when you don’t really understand where they’re coming from.

It’s not wrong for clients to ask about rates, costs, or timelines prematurely. It’s not wrong for them to ask about your experience or inquire about your skills. It’s not wrong for them to be nervous about hiring a freelancer. You just need to be prepared to answer these questions so they don’t throw you off!

Most of the time, clients just want to be reassured that they can trust you to do the work and that they’re making a smart investment by hiring you.

Prepare for the Call

The best way to instantly boost your confidence and avoid nervous rambling is to actually prepare for the phone call. It might sound obvious, but this is why freelancers prefer to avoid phone calls altogether. They simply aren’t prepared to answer questions on the spot and email is the perfect alternative.

This is most problematic during the initial discovery phase where you’re just meeting the client and learning about their project. You’ll have a lot of questions for them, but they’ll also have a lot of questions for you. Hiding behind your inbox can be inefficient and impersonal, so phone calls are often necessary.

First, remember that you’re in control. It’s easy to be intimidated by freelance clients, especially when you really need the work. They often have lots of business experience, speak with authority, and ask questions you’ve never been asked before.

If you don’t have much experience discussing business or negotiating prices, there’s a good chance you’ll say something that will make you appear inexperienced. So the situation feels unbalanced before the call even begins. Here’s what to do until you gain more experience:

Before each phone call, give yourself 15-30 minutes of quiet time to think about a few things:

  1. Consider the goal of the meeting or phone call and what a successful outcome 
  2. Identify what you need to know and what questions will get you the best answers
  3. Anticipate the questions they might ask you and how you’ll respond to each

I like to write down these questions and my potential responses in a notepad before each call. That way, I’m effectively doing a dry run of the entire conversation. Even if the conversation doesn’t unfold exactly the way I expect, I should still be able to navigate it with confidence.

Let’s take a look at each of these points in more detail.

Getting Alignment

The main goal of most meetings and phone calls is simply to get alignment. Said another way, the goal is for both parties to become aligned in their thinking and approach to the project.

This could look different depending on the phase of the project.

The goal of your first meeting might be to ensure you’re a good fit to work together before you spend time writing a proposal. Your second meeting might be to negotiate pricing or other terms. Your third meeting might be a project kickoff, where you’ll get aligned on your approach.

After that, you might have a meeting to present your work for the first time and ensure you’re on the right track. At the end of a project, you might schedule a final review or handoff.

In all of these scenarios, the fundamental goal is to get alignment.

When you go into a meeting with that mindset, it positions you and the client as strategic partners, not enemies. Remember, clients just want to know they can trust you and that their money is being well spent.

If you client behaving in a contentious manner, there could be a few reasons why:

  • They feel like you aren’t aligned with each other (miscommunication)
  • They feel like they can’t fully trust you (inexperience)
  • They are under pressure from their superiors (fear/anxiety)
  • They are having a bad day (this happens to the best of us)
  • They are just unpleasant, difficult people (learn how to avoid them)

Clear, consistent, and confident communication can make all the difference!

Establishing Trust

Many freelance clients will hire you without fully trusting you. There’s always some small doubt or hesitation in their mind that they ultimately decide to overcome the moment they hire you. I think that’s normal. Think about the last time you needed to hire someone you’ve never worked with before:

  • A mechanic: “I hope they don’t mess up my car or try to scam me”
  • A plumber: “I hope they don’t overcharge me”
  • A dentist: “I hope they don’t hurt me while they work on my teeth”
  • A vet: “I hope they treat my pet well and are kind and respectful to me”

My point is that we all have doubts and hesitations in our minds that we ultimately overcome when we decide to hire someone. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we fully trust them yet. Every interaction with the client is an opportunity for you to reassure them that:

  1. You care about them (“did I make a good decision when hiring this person?”)
  2. You care about their project (“can this person do what they say they will do”)
  3. You’ll do your best work on time and on budget (“what if they don’t do good work and I have to start all over again?”)

That’s why clear, transparent communication is so vital, especially in the early stages of a freelance project.

Asking the Right Questions

During every phone call or virtual meeting, someone will end up setting the agenda and taking control. If you don’t, the client will. Whoever is in control will have the most influence over the agenda, the questions asked, and the information provided.

Make sure that person is you. You’ll always be more confident when you’re in control, but you have to take the initiative!

It’s important that you have strategic questions prepared that are designed to get you the information you need. You can prepare these questions ahead of time and use them to create an agenda. Then, you can send it to the client before the meeting. That will help frame the conversation before you ever get on the phone.

When you ask intentional questions to gather specific information, you’ll feel more prepared and confident. There’s no room for nervous rambling if you’ve got a plan!

Anticipating Client Questions

Perhaps the most effective way to prepare for a client call is to anticipate what questions they might ask and think about how you’ll answer them.

That way, you’ll be less likely to be caught off guard in the moment, which is ultimately how you can avoid nervous rambling.

Start by thinking about which client questions will make you nervous:

  • What if they ask about the project price or your hourly rates?
  • What if they ask about your experience?
  • What if they ask you to lower your rates?
  • What if they ask you to do something faster than you’re comfortable with?
  • What if they ask you for testimonials and you don’t have any?
  • What if they ask about your recent projects, but it’s been a few months since your last project?

Think carefully about these questions. You’re essentially identifying your own areas of insecurity before you have to address them with a client. Freelancers often feel the need to over-explain themselves. This just isn’t necessary. Write down both the questions and your answers before the call!

Own Your Insecurities

But how exactly do you prepare your answers? What do you actually say?

If the client asks you about something you’re insecure about, the best response is just to own it (and pivot):

  • Client: “Why do you need a 50% down payment? We aren’t comfortable with that.”
  • You: “Policy. That’s what I require to start work on your project. What’s making you feel uncomfortable about this?”

  • Client: “Do you really need us to sign a contract?”
  • You: “Yes. This is in the best interest of everyone and is intended to protect both parties. What’s contributing to your hesitation here?”

  • Client: “Why do you charge $50/hr? That seems high.”
  • You: “That’s what I’m worth based on my skills, experience, and the value I provide to my clients. What’s making you think my rates are too high?”

  • Client: “Why don’t you have any testimonials from other clients?”
  • You: “I’m still new to freelancing, but I can assure you that I care about my clients and always work hard on their behalf. Would it help if I provided 1-2 references?”

  • Client: “We need the project done sooner, can you do that?”
  • You: “I can be flexible with the timeline if you can be flexible with the scope of work or the project cost. Can you tell me more about what’s driving the speed of this project?”

  • Client: “Can you be flexible with your rate? We want to work with you, but you’re too expensive.”
  • You: “My rate isn’t negotiable, but if the cost is too high, we can adjust the scope of work. Is there anything we can omit to reduce the scope?”

You should tailor these answers to fit your own personality, but the idea here is to prepare short and direct responses that will prevent you from being caught off guard or nervously rambling. You can also write down your answers and reference them during the call. With that level of preparation, the call is just an open-book test!

Sometimes I’m surprised by what freelance clients are willing to ask. It can be quite rude. Nowhere else in society is it acceptable to ask a service provider to lower their rate or why they don’t have more experience, but for some reason, freelance clients feel it’s acceptable to ask these questions.

Note: It’s more common for clients with lower budgets to ask these types of questions. Clients with higher budgets tend to be more trusting, respectful, and professional.

Again, that’s why it’s best to prepare ahead of time, then respond succinctly and confidently.

Don’t Fill Quiet Moments

It’s tempting to fill an empty void when you’re nervous. But if you can resist this temptation, you’ll be surprised at how it elevates your level of confidence.

Exercise restraint.

If you ask the client a question, give them time to think and respond. This is to your benefit whether you’re talking on the phone or meeting in person.

If the client asks you a question and you’re not comfortable answering it in the moment, simply tell them you’ll need to think about it and get back to them. There’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, a good client will appreciate this because it signals that you care about them and want to provide the best possible answer.

Wrapping Up

Now that you’re more prepared, future calls with freelance clients should feel less intimidating. You’ll be able to navigate conversations with more confidence, which ultimately sets better expectations which will lead to better experiences.

Next time your anxiety kicks in during a call, remember that you can always follow up afterward. You don’t need to feel obligated to respond in the moment. If the client asks you a question that you’re insecure about, just own it and pivot rather than trying to justify or explain.

Don’t fill in the quiet moments. Give the client a few seconds to think and respond. Remember, clients ultimately just want to know that they’re making a good investment by hiring you. The more you can do to reassure them, the more likely they will be to hire you.

Last updated on February 28th, 2023

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through my personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.