Client Video Calls: How to Decline the Worst & Enjoy the Rest

In a world where more people are working from home than ever, avoiding video calls with clients who want to “hop on a quick Zoom” is getting harder and harder.

Not only that, but if you work with clients on a regular basis, you’ve probably had to learn how to excel in video calls formats with clients whether you’ve wanted to or not.

But there’s some good news: you’re not alone. Early reports show people and companies of all kinds experience what researchers are calling “Zoom fatigue.”

And some even better news: There are ways to overcome the stress, fatigue, and added pressure that comes from a video call format with a client.

In this article, we’ll cover two things: 

  1. The best video call format for clients
  2. How to avoid video calls from clients in the first place

By the end of this article, you’ll have an arsenal of tools, tips, and ideas for either avoiding a video call from a client or excelling when you have no other choice.

Video Call Formats for Clients

First, let’s explore a few ways to make the video call format for clients a bit less painful. The following advice should be followed in addition to these tips for in-person client meetings.

Psst...We're building a group of smart, talented freelancers to support each other on LinkedIn. Wanna join us?

Here are some tips for making the most of your client video call:

Own the meeting (use your own account)

If you’re just not able to avoid a video call from a client, then at least make sure you take control of the call itself. 

Owning the meeting (asking a client to use your video call link) will ensure you can control who attends, how long the meeting runs, and what technology is used.

If you let your client own the call, they can invite unwanted guests (surprise!) or use some random technology you have to download an app and create an account for.

Set an agenda for the video call

If you’re going to take the time to jump on a video call with a client, make it worthwhile by having an agenda. 

In the business world, a video call should be treated like a meeting. There should be a strict expectation of what will be covered and accomplished by the end of the call.

If your client wants to quickly chat about something (no agenda) then a phone call, Slack message, or email is better. (More on how to encourage your clients to use different formats and avoid a client video call altogether below.)

Timebox your client video calls

In addition to a clear agenda, you should timebox your call. Unless you’re offering some kind of open office hours for your clients (which I do NOT recommend), your time is valuable and you should encourage your clients to respect it.

Start off the meeting by saying something like “I have a hard-stop at 12:30” or “I’ve got another commitment at 2pm” which will clarify that you’ve only got a certain amount of time for this client video call.

If your clients are really insistent about taking up a lot of your time, you might consider billing them for the hours they spend on a call with you. This is particularly true if you’re providing consultation during the video call.

Tie Up Loose Ends over Email

If a conversation over video call is beginning to go way too long, try saying something like “I think this is headed in the right direction. For time’s sake, let’s wrap up the final details over email.”

This will move the agenda forward without curtailing any important points or making your client feel like you’re cutting them off.

How to Avoid Video Calls from Clients

If, even after reviewing the video call format for clients above you still find you’re very nervous about calling clients, that’s totally fine. 

Being nervous is normal.

And there’s nothing wrong with figuring out how to avoid video calls from clients in the first place. Just because we CAN video call each other doesn’t mean a video call format is always the best option.

Here’s how to avoid a video call from a client:

Ask “is a video call really needed here?”

Start off by asking yourself (and maybe even your client) is a video call really needed here? 

To reiterate, a video call is much like a business meeting. It’s meant to tackle big issues and lengthy agendas that can’t be handled with a quick conversation.

In  many instances, a (non-video) phone call, email thread or Slack message will do the trick.

You might even want to ask the client:

Client: Can we just hop on a quick video call?

You: I’d love to chat with you, but wondering if a quick email thread would make more sense?

Give a valid reason for not turning on your video

Most clients tend to be pretty reasonable and will understand if you’re in a situation where you can’t (or don’t want to) turn on your video during a call.

In situations where the absolute truth isn’t the best option:

“I’m still in my pajamas and my toddler is running around naked behind me.”

try something a bit more professional to avoid a video call with a client:

“I’m not really in a place where I can turn my video right now, but my audio is on and I’m listening.”

Here are a few other valid reasons you could give to avoid a video call with a client:

  • I’d prefer to keep a paper trail so we don’t miss any details. Are you okay to continue via email?
  • My internet is a bit spotty right now; would a phone call be okay with you?
  • I’ll be on the road during our call and can give you my full attention on the phone. Will that work?

Offer alternatives to a client video call

Since you can’t just flat-out refuse a client who’s asking for a video call, be prepared with a few alternatives such as a phone call, text thread, or email.

You might try something like:

“A video call would be difficult for me right now, but I’m happy to jump on the phone.”

This tells your client you’re still invested in talking to them and helping them, but can’t commit to a full impromptu meeting at the moment.

You can also try something like this:

“I’d love to get an idea of what you’d like to talk about here via email and if we both think a video call is still the right way to go, we can definitely schedule one.”

This leaves the door open to a video call in the future but also gives you the opportunity to solve their concerns and answer their questions over email instead.

Putting it all together

Now that we’ve reviewed a few formats for client video calls AND ways to avoid client video calls in the first place, let’s put it all together. A client exchange might go something like this:

Client: Hey, can we jump on a quick video call to sort this out?

You: I’d be happy to, although, I’m not in a place I can get on video right away. Should we keep chatting over email for a bit and see if a video call makes sense a bit later? (Asking if Video Makes Sense; Offering Alternatives)

Client: I just think it’d be quicker to jump on a Zoom call…

You: I see what you mean. I can’t do video right now, but I’d be happy to jump on the phone for 5 minutes to sort this one thing out. Will that work for you? (Offering Alternatives; Timeboxing; Setting Agenda)

Client: I actually have a few other things I want to chat about while we’re on the call too.

You: I’m excited to hear them. I’ve only got about 5 minutes now, but let’s schedule a time to have a 30-minute video call and get this all moving forward. (Timeboxing, Setting Agenda)

Client: Sounds great. Thanks!

You: My pleasure.

Of course, not all conversations will go perfectly and you most likely can’t avoid every single client video call that comes your way, but these methods can help you avoid some of the worst ones, excel at the rest, and keep client video calls from taking over your life and business.

A few more FAQs about client video calls

To wrap things up, I want to make sure we address some frequent concerns about client video calls. Here we go:

How do I stop client video calling?

While you may not be able to 100% stop client video calling, you can dramatically reduce the number of client video calls you get by asking if a video call is really needed, offering alternatives to a video call, or giving a valid reason for not turning on your video.

How do I politely refuse call requests from customers and instead ask them to send an email?

If you don’t want to offer phone support to customers or clients, start by not making your phone number or Zoom number available to customers where possible. To make up for the lack of phone or video calls, use customer support apps to improve your customer support experience. Most of these apps will send an email to your customer once they reach out, encouraging an email-only conversation.

How do you tell a client to stop calling?

If you want to keep the relationship with the client, identify why they feel the need to call you frequently and address that need another way (weekly meetings, faster email responses, etc). If you’re fine to lose the client relationship, tell them you’ll no longer be answering their calls and block their number.

How can I politely refuse a phone call?

There are plenty of ways to politely refuse a call. Try offering another communication method such as email, Slack, Messenger, or texting. You can also blame a busy schedule, poor internet/reception, or a need for a paper trail.


Keep the conversation going...

Nearly 10,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

  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!
    Karen

    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!