When a new client calls you, don’t freak out. Do this:

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone, especially when it comes to new clients.

In fact, I used to be so bad that my boyfriend would listen to my end of the conversation so that he could give me a list of improvements to make once the call was over!

Thankfully Sheila, a longtime Millo reader and fellow designer, let me know I’m not alone. Preston shared with me this note from her recently:

“…with established clients or in person, I’m great with getting my message across and closing the sale, so to speak, but when a new client gets a hold of me out of the blue I’m tongue-tied…Any type of direction, tips, or insight into the secret script you follow would be amazing!”

I still prefer email or face-to-face conversations, but through practice, critiques (thanks, dear!), and trial-and-error, I’ve made significant progress in my new client phone skills and compiled the following tips to help you become masters of the new client phone call.

Be Prepared – Make a Cheat Sheet

Make an outline of the information you want to cover with a new client and following during your phone call. This helps keep you focused and reduces any freelancing fear that may creep in.

My cheat sheet includes:

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  • My 15-second business pitch
  • Questions I commonly ask new clients
    • Project scope
    • Time frame
    • Budget
    • Contact information
    • Previous experience with freelance designers
  • Locations and types of recent clients
  • My work flow and process
  • My general pricing and availability

If you really get tongue-tied, make sure to note even the obvious things like your web address, portfolio URL, and phone number as well as reminders that help you relax. Just be sure you’re not reading a script…you should sound natural when talking!

Start Off on the Right Foot

Answer the phone with a professional, positive voice to make a great first impression. “Good morning! This is April Greer.” or “Greer Genius, April speaking. How may I help you?”

If you don’t have a dedicated line just for business, you may want to stick with just your name lest you confuse your personal contacts. Note that if I don’t specify my business name, I use my first and last name so that the client knows they’ve reached the right person. This is especially true if you have a common first name.

Write Down the Client’s Name and Company

Assuming the call is for you, the new client will mostly likely respond with something like, “Hi, my name is Jane Doe from Company XYZ.” Write this information down now.

Using the client’s name throughout the conversation makes the client more likely to feel comfortable with you and improves your chances of landing the contract. “Yes, Jane, I am taking on new clients right now.” or “Ms. Doe, may I ask you just a few questions regarding your project so that I might be able to understand your needs and expectations?”

Also, if you’re at a computer, Google the company name and glance over their website to familiarize yourself with their existing style. “Jane, I see on your website that your primary colors are blue and red. Will you be wanting to mirror this color scheme for this project as well?” Sounds professional, doesn’t it?


Based on your personality, be genuinely cheerful, pleasant, positive, and happy to hear from them. Smile – it will be reflected in your voice!

Ask Them About Money First

The hardest part of any conversation with a new client is always pricing, right? Get them to commit first. Ask them about their project, and then ask them about their budget. “Okay, Jane. Let me see if I understand you correctly. You’d like a tri-fold brochure highlighting the new reptiles at the zoo. What sort of budget do you have in mind for this project?”

Now of course, 9 times out of 10 they’re not going to give you a straight answer. However, their response will often provide clues as to how realistic (or misguided) they are, and I use this to determine how to tailor my quote if I’m interested in the project.

Don’t Let Them Put You on the Spot

I never, NEVER, provide an actual estimate over the phone. I’m happy to discuss general pricing, but I always ask for an email to send my design quote after the phone conversation (and I always provide a solid date when it will be provided.)

Why? A smooth talker will try to talk you down or make you feel embarrassed about your “high” prices. Phone calls aren’t recorded, so you have no proof of what you told them for future reference. Finally and personally, I need time to review my notes on the project, review my availability, and determine what price would make the project worth taking for me.

Final Words of Wisdom

Remember your client is a person, too. They’re calling you because they think you might be the solution to their problem. Be yourself and be proud of your business!

If you’re having trouble, practice!

Talk to your dog, your spouse, your best friend, your bathroom mirror, or your steering wheel.

Use your cheat sheet, reword tongue-twisters, and if possible, get feedback. Let someone listen to your end of the phone conversation (I know, it’s really awkward and uncomfortable!).

Finally, don’t forget that it’s just one phone call. It’s not going to make or break your career.

So let’s hear it – what did I miss? How do you nail that new client phone call? And Sheila, did I answer your question? Leave a comment on this post and let me know!

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  1. Thanks for sharing, April. I think too many of us are embarrassed to go through the awkward phase, not realizing EVERYBODY does.

  2. Hi and thanks – nice post. I just got off the phone with a new prospective client and realized I forgot to ask this or that so I hung up and then did a search and found your post – exactly what I needed. One thing that is interesting is the number of telemarketing calls I get (and assume all of us get) is that at first I’m on the defensive — is this really a new client or are they trying to sell me something – so it takes a bit to shift gears – this is particularly troublesome with the person’s name – because they often say their name at the very beginning, but I’m not really listening until I can figure out they actually want my services. And then I have to go back and ask their name at the end of the call. Anyway…thanks again.

  3. Ezgi,

    You’re welcome! What language is your mother tongue?

    Years ago I worked with a Mexican guy who would say “Hi” in the morning and “Bye” in the evening. When I started talking to him I realized he really struggled to have a conversation in English and it took him extra time to understand what was said and form his response. I persisted, and over the next three years he went from “shy” to funny, outspoken, and a favorite amongst coworkers. Now you can’t get him to shut up. 🙂

    Do you have a friend or family member (child maybe?) who speaks English? Practice, practice, practice, and ask them to correct you when you make mistakes. Read and speak as often as you can to understand what sounds right and what sounds unnatural.

    Good luck! English is a difficult language to master, but at least we don’t have to deal with masculine/feminine words! They are all the same! 🙂

  4. Great topic April !! Thanks a lot.

    Talking on the phone in English is a nightmare for me. As it is my second language and I work in UK. That lovely British accent :)) I will follow your advices and prepare a cheat sheet and practice more.

    Thanks again

  5. I sincerely thought I was the only one in the WORLD who dreaded receiving a call from a potential client. I actually felt a little bit ungrateful. It’s good to know that I am not alone….lol. This post has helped me tremendously! I received a call from a client today and stumbled from beginning to end – I have no idea how I still landed the contract.

    Thanks for the tips. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a script to write – and practice 🙂

    1. E. Wright,

      Glad you found us! Let us know if a specific tip stands out to you as particularly useful.

      Good luck, and thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi there,

    I would like to thank you for this absolute wonderful article, I just started my graphic design business and I’m facing the same difficulties you’ve been through. Now after I red this article it all seems fine, I will defo give it a try!

    I think you should do an article about how to gain new customers/client for new start-up businesses.

    Kind regards,

  7. Great post, very helpful. Like others here, I’m a designer, not a salesperson, so that initial client phone call can be a bit intimidating.

    Another problem I have along similar lines is the proper way to respond to ads from people looking for a web/graphic designer, i.e. Craigslist. I never know how much info to include in that initial email. Should I include my history, design process, typical time frame, ect. Or just keep it short, “Hi, I’m Jason, here’s my website, let me know if I can help.”????

    1. Jason,

      This sounds like a great future post for me. Would you mind a bit of patience so that I can answer it in a post for everyone to benefit from? it’d be a LONG comment otherwise!

      Thanks for sharing and asking your question! Some of the most useful posts start with an inquiring reader!

  8. Good afternoon, I had a question about taxes. I don’t have a corporation but I do have a registered fictitious name. I charge my clients taxes… do I need to fill out a 1099 form for each client? Or do I just fill out a w9 at the end of the year?

    Thank you for your help!

    1. Julieta,

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that question. 🙁 I can only suggest you talk to a professional accountant.

      It hadn’t occurred to me to charge clients taxes. Several of my clients have requested my W-9 form (I think it’s >$600/year – not certain) for their tax reporting. If I remember correctly, they send me 1099 forms, which I then pass onto my accountant for my taxes.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  9. I didn’t realize how many people HATE talking on the phone. I am one of them and now I know I’m not alone in this crazy phonaphobia!

  10. Great post I too always get a little nervous when speaking to new clients or even current clients with new projects. I found your cheat sheet suggestion with points of discussion was a great way to stay focused and ensure you get the information you need to make an educated decision on the project.

    1. Andy,

      Thanks for sharing – let us know if putting together your cheat sheet lands you your next new client!

  11. I have an online questionnaire that I ask every new prospect to fill out, it only takes 5 minute of their time and tells me a lot about who and what they want including if they have a budget or not. Most of the prospects that contact me do it via email, however the ones that phone, the first thing they ask is how much? At that time I tell them that since every project is custom made to the needs of the client, they would have to fill out the questionnaire. I guess after 6 years of answering the phone, it has become natural for me to sell my services, but an online questionnaire really helps filter out price shoppers from serious ones. Also when I give out quotes, It always becomes more extensive only if the prospect has done their best to answer my questions in the questionnaire.

    1. Hi DesignFacet,

      Sounds like you have a nice system worked out to find out if clients are really interested. I like how you minimize the time you risk on briefs that may never come to fruition.

      Thanks for sharing!

  12. HOORAY!! I’m so glad Preston had you write this, April, thank you guys! 😀

    This really does help a lot, I love practical advice. I think like most designers, I have a hard time asserting myself with people when it comes to prices. Your tips definitely gave me some more confidence in that area!

    One thing I’m still wondering…do you personally go over your entire design brief on the first phone conversation, or do you set up a consultation appointment, or try and gauge their budget first? Because before I can provide an accurate quote, I like to have my brief done first (which is a good 4 pages) but which also takes 30 minutes to an hour. Not sure I want to waste time putting that all together for someone who’s just kicking tires or expecting a bargain! What’s your solution?

    1. Sheila,

      So glad to be helpful!

      As far as providing a brief goes, in the first conversation I talk general pricing. I ask first and they beat around the bush, and once I feel I have a decent grasp of the project I give them a ballpark range to gauge their reaction. I always stipulate that a true estimate will be provided in a design brief.

      You’re right, though, that you’re investing time you may not get paid for. It’s a risk you must take, and it’s an art to learn how to categorize clients into serious or bargain-hunters based on one conversation.

      I may have yet another blog post to investigate this matter further!

      Thanks for commenting!

  13. Hi April, Thanks so much for your very insightful articles! I am a great website designer but terrible salesman, even when the client calls me. I suffer from dry mouth and blank brain in these situations regularly. Your tips are great and I shall refer to them next time my phone rings!

    1. Karen,

      Make sure you have a glass of water or a water bottle handy for phone conversations. I always get a tickle in my throat about 2 sentences into a phone call.

      Remember, practice makes perfect and each client (and even each mistake) is an opportunity to learn and grow!

  14. April, what a great post & such good timing for me… I have often dreamed about freelancing, but not taken the steps to get going! I recently had email from an old work collegue asking me to do some freelance work, definitely a stp in te right direction… I am expecting a call from her any day now but was terrified of what to say!!! This post & your blog in general hav been a great help! So glad I discovered your site!!! 🙂

    1. Heather,

      Good luck in starting your business – having a client to kick things off is certainly a good start!

  15. Excellent points.

    I have a pretty good background in customer service positions in retail, and even worked for Hilton reservations at one point. I absolutely HATE talking on the phone, but I am certainly glad for that experience now. I have no problem talking naturally to a client over the phone.

    The problem that I have is clarity. I almost never manage to catch their first name right when I answer phone. I am hoping that using a decent headset might solve the issue.

    The other problem I have, that I am working on for next time, is forgetting what questions I needed to ask.

    1. Ricky,

      I love that I’m not alone…everybody has commented how much they hate the phone no matter how much experience they have using it.

      I struggle with clarity, too, especially over cell phones or scratchy connections, and I feel AWFUL saying this, but with accents in the afore-mentioned situations. Did they say Shelly? Shari? If you miss it, see if you can sneak in an “I’m sorry, can you repeat your name?” somewhere in the conversation, or just ask if they can spell it for your records.

      Go ahead and make that cheat sheet and let us know if it improves the amount of useful information you remember to collect from your conversations.

      Thanks for sharing!

  16. Great article April. I’ve just discovered this site and it has a wealth of information. I’m not a graphic designer, I’m a software engineer, but the problems are the same. I’ve been in business 10 years but most of my work has come word of mouth – I *still* dread that phone call.

    Most of the call I’m OK with (I think) but the stumbling block for me is always pricing. I do always ask about budget but as you say you seldom get a straight answer, I find the most common response to be that they have no idea what their project should cost and want you to tell them. Like you I never give a price on the phone – however I have found that peoples ‘requirements’ often are much grander than their purses. Having collected requirements and no budget I’ve wasted plenty an hour writing a proposal to cover said requirements only to find they go with someone charging a fraction of the price and delivering a fraction of the stated requirements. This is infuriating!

    I tend to spend a good deal of time now focussing on budget and requirements. Generally if someone has no idea of budget it’s usually a good bet that they don’t have one!

    It’s not easy – good luck to everyone!

    1. Peter,

      Thanks for sharing! We live in overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. I’m glad you can apply our wealth of information here at Millo to your realm, and we can learn from you, too.

      I agree – most people have grand schemes and don’t realize how expensive those plans are. Or they see someone else’s minimalistic website and don’t realize that simple != easy! (I have a degree in Computer Science.)

      I, too, spend a lot of time interpreting new clients’ budget. I’ll write out my numbers and then hmmm and haw over whether I think they’ll accept that number, and how much I think they’ll try to bargain down. But lowering the price means lowering their expectations…ahhh, it’s a vicious cycle!

      Maybe another blog post. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing!

  17. Great post! I definitely have this problem. I get serious anxiety any time I have to use the phone, let alone talking to new clients. I think your suggestions would help. Thanks

    1. Chris,

      I truly hope my tips help you get new clients – just remember to breathe and put a silly cartoon on your wall to help you relax. 🙂

  18. What a great post! I know I have trouble with phone calls, and having to make one can give me a minor anxiety attack! So I also learned to write out what I needed to say so I was prepared. When my office phone rings it makes me feel so professional and it would suck to ruin it by bumbling through the phone call. Thank you for the advice, it’s very helpful!

    1. Valerie,

      I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      Being prepared helps tenfold, even if from time to time you still stumble over your words. Just keep going, get back on track, and finish the sale!

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