Still can’t get through the day without being interrupted by the persistent yowling of the phone? Suffering during lengthy calls that could have been handled in seconds by e-mail? Do “5-minute” callbacks turn into 1-hour consulting nightmares?
This article will help you take back your time, take control of those increasingly chaotic gabfests, and convert the phone back to the advantageous and welcome business tool it was meant to be.
1. Make your time limit clear at the start of the call.
If you enter the conversation seemingly without limits, your listener is likely to take control of the situation, leaving you stuttering, vexed, and helpless. But, if you start the call by saying “I can talk for about 10 minutes. I still have  calls left to return!” your phone buddy will be more likely to try to make every minute count, and consequently, stay focused.
2. If you have other important tasks on your “to-do” list, make them known.
A reasonable professional realizes the hectic schedule of an entrepreneur, and won’t (intentionally) do anything to waste your valuable time.
If you have important deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise) hanging over your head, don’t be afraid to say, “Billy Bob, I hate having to cut you off, but I really have to finish [preparing my newsletter]”, midway through the call.
As long as you don’t make it seem like your “to-do’s” are more important than your caller, they’ll usually understand, and will let you go.
3. Be selective with the calls that you DO accept.
Becoming more popular and successful is fantastic… but hard. Because as you become more widely known, everybody and their mother wants to talk to you about your business, your life story, their pet armadillo, and their Aunt Gertrude’s gumbo recipe.
People love you. All the time.
And they want to talk to you “live.”
But don’t fret; there IS a feasible way out of this time trap.
First of all, consider not giving your company’s number out freely. Does your team really have time to (or even want to) answer calls all day when you’re working? If you don’t yet have a support person working regular business hours, but you work random and unusual hours like many startups or side hustles, that’s pretty much impossible. And do you really want to do endless callbacks to clear out a phat voicemail box dozens of times per week?
Instead of listing your phone number on each page of your site, you might only put it on your contact page. But if you get a lot of visitors and have a small team, even this can easily lead to more calls than you can comfortably handle.
In that case, you could only publicize it for specific reasons (for ordering problems, existing customer issues, etc.), and hope that people listen. (We’ve found that this only works well until your company surpasses a certain level of popularity. Ex: People call to see if we’re hiring at least weekly.)
You could also just refrain from making it public at all, and instead, only give it out in select circumstances. And even then, only for a specific purpose.
TIP: When you’re registering a domain name, DON’T give out your “live person” phone number. Instead, list a voicemail number or VoIP line. Or heck, just fudge it. Domain registrars don’t call you, so this shouldn’t cause you problems.
If you do buy into the hype that a phone number is absolutely necessary in a prominent location of your site, get a toll-free voicemail number. Just remember to check it daily.
4. Try to answer most questions on your website.
Does your website have a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page? No? No wonder you get so many time-consuming calls (and emails!).
This is one of the fastest, easiest ways to make your website save you time, increase your profit, and reduce your stress and workload.
Set up an FAQ page organized by category, and link to it from every page of your website … especially at the top of your contact page.
You’ll probably want to bold the notice asking visitors to check the FAQs before using your contact form, or calling your support line.
5. Pre-schedule calls and get the agenda for everything by e-mail.
When people e-mail you asking if they can call “about something,” let them know that you routinely schedule calls according to how long you estimate they’ll take, and to be at a time convenient for both of your time zones and work schedules.
Professional people who manage their time well will appreciate this.
With my first business, I started scheduling calls because they were nothing but pitches for business opportunities or other forms of equally as annoying advertising, or for questions that were answered somewhere on one of my many websites.
If it was a question answered on my website, all I had to do was send the visitor a link to the page with the answer. And I’d biz opp pitches in the bud by responding to requests for my number, with:
“I don’t give out my phone number any more, and I’m not interested in any type of business opportunity.”
Every single time I answered an anonymous number request this way, the biz opp “pusher” either didn’t respond, or said “never mind.”
No more need for a call.
6. Eliminate small talk, or at least reduce it to a minimum.
Whatever you do, don’t resort to small talk to fill silence. You’ll dig yourself into a hole deeper than the Grand Canyon.
And if your caller asks a question irrelevant to your planned agenda, politely (and very quickly) reply, but immediately steer the conversation back on track with an on-topic question (or point) of your own. (The reply doesn’t have to be an answer to the question itself; you could just let them know that you’ll need to schedule another call to go over ______ topic.)
7. Stay focused, and schedule another call for other irrelevant topics.
If your caller asks a question that could turn into a longer conversation, is it relevant to the agenda? If not, remind them that you have XYZ to do (see point #1, “time shortage”), but that you’d be happy to connect with them at a later date to address the other issue.
OR, if you’re one that really doesn’t find the phone to be an ally under any circumstances, suggest that they send questions by e-mail, and let them know that one of your team members will get to them faster than you’d be able to by phone.
8. Try to avoid lags and “uncomfortable silences” during the conversation.
This is the perfect opportunity for your listener to say, “Well, look, I wanted to ask YOU a question…” and for your call to turn into a lengthy, free consulting session.
If you can’t think of a way to get things back on track without being rude, you could say:
- “I have lots of work left for the day, so I really can’t afford to discuss this right now, but…”
- “Like I mentioned earlier, I have a ton of other calls to return, so we’ll have to…”
- “I don’t have a huge amount of time to spend on this [topic], so it’s best we…”
These sorts of deflectors can refocus your listener to wait for YOU to ask the next question or make the next point, allowing you to keep the call focused and moving.
9. Don’t be afraid to put your listener on hold (briefly).
Not the quickest spontaneous thinker? We feel your pain completely. You can always put your caller on a brief hold to collect your thoughts. You might even pull this article up (or print it out) before your call begins, for a few “easy outs” if you’re uncomfortable maintaining control of the call.
Even 60 seconds is nothing to the other party, but it allows you time to calm down and refocus your thinking… or even refer to this article for help conserving your time, politely ending the conversation, or getting things back on track.
10. If all else fails, conduct all business online.
Some people just completely despise the phone, or work only a few hours per week. And believe me… I get it. All is not lost.
Instead of offering to accept calls at all, let people know that you conduct all business online, instead offering a live chat consultation. Or, if you’re really fast with e-mail, let them know that, and encourage them to send you their concerns in an e-mail. Again, just remember to check it daily.
Whatever your reasons, it’s best to give at least a brief reason of why you’re declining a phone chat, so you don’t look like you’re being shady or evasive.
The phone can be a really useful tool that helps you convey complex info quickly… or it can be a complete time leech that sucks the life out of you and your team.
Print this article now, and tape it, staple it, or hang it next to your phone to refer to in a crunch. You never know when you may need it during a business (or personal!) call that’s getting out of hand.
Just remember: don’t be afraid to put your caller on hold. Just remember to press your “mute” or “hold” button while you collect your thoughts to avoid any embarrassing, unprofessional situations!