How using the phone more could help your design business

Columnist John Scarrott discusses how moving from email communication to the phone could help designers build better client relationships and increase their confidence.


The phone has never been more a part of our lives. We use it to stay connected, find out information and communicate. But what about for speaking to people?

Are you missing an opportunity to connect with your clients by not speaking to them on the phone? Are you relying on emails or trying to get meetings and not really creating a dialogue with either?

There are some good reasons to consider a phone call as an effective way to build a relationship that sits between the email and the meeting. But what might prevent you using it and how do you get comfortable enough to get it working for you?

Why use the phone to speak to people?

A phone call sits nicely between an email and a meeting. A telephone conversation is richer and tells you much more than an email response from a client. And it’s more convenient than a meeting, saving you and your client time and money. If you want to add face-to-face contact, make it a Skype call. It’s more like a meeting, but still without the costs associated with a meeting.

A phone call creates a small focus and a small commitment. It requires both parties to make time and space for the conversation to happen. It asks for a commitment of time, but not as much as a meeting. It’s the same time for a client, but the energy required is less as there’s no hosting.

You get better information from a phone call than an email. A phone call is rich and interactive, it’s human. You can tell by the sound of someone’s voice what they think of an idea. It’s especially good for ironing out problems that can escalate over email. It contributes to clarity and can make the need for a meeting clearer. It is in the moment: you get feedback, and you get to ask a question about what you’ve heard. It enables you to build better relationships more quickly.

It’s a convenient way to make an impression, and to show your ability to think. When you ask a good question, you demonstrate your thinking. You have no props, no distractions, just words: there’s no pitch. You develop your spontaneity, you grow as a communicator.

Why might it not be playing that role?

Often, how we think about our relationships determines our actions. So if you think or say any of these things on a regular basis, you may be inadvertently screening the phone out of your options.

“The meeting is what matters. We want to get in front of our clients so we can tell them what we do, show them what we do, persuade them they need us.”

“I need props. I need to show our work. I can’t do that on the phone.”

“When my phone rings, it’s an interruption. I’ll send an email and they’ll have the luxury of reading it as and when they find the time to.”

Do any of these ring true for you? If so, and you’d like to shake them off or try something new, here’s how to get comfortable with the phone.

Of course, meetings and emails remain very useful tools of communication. What I’m suggesting is that if you’re not using the phone to speak to your clients you’re missing an opportunity to develop your client relationships and bring new work into your studio.

Tips to develop confidence on the phone:

  • Create your own props – a script. Write an intro that you can have on your desk. If you’re Skyping, just learn it.
  • Use email to set up the call – write a human email and explain the purpose of the conversation. A good test would be to read it out loud. If it doesn’t sound right aloud, have another go. Work at it until it sounds like natural speech.
  • Include an agenda: this should be something simple, the starting point for the conversation. Share this with your client beforehand. Practice: start with your current clients first.
  • Don’t make notes while you’re speaking, unless it’s dates and times. Trust yourself to remember what’s relevant. The minute you finish the call, grab a pad or open a document and write/type furiously, including everything you can remember about the call.
  • Get the team involved: it can be lonely if it’s just one person on their own. And have a weekly meeting where people can share what they’ve heard.

Finally, if you don’t do a lot of speaking on the phone, expect it to feel a bit uncomfortable to start with.

Expect there to be pauses, expect to feel a bit warm and expect to want to end the call as soon as possible. These are all things that happened to me when I started using the phone.

But the phone is a great place to sharpen your conversation, your listening and your relationship-building skills. And all without the need to leave your desk.

John Scarrott is former membership director of the Design Business Association (DBA) and now a trainer and coach working with design businesses on their skills of selling, presenting and networking. Find him at

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