Discovery calls – those introductory conversations with prospective new clients where you size each other up and decide if you want to work together – are often seen as an essential part of securing new business. But for some freelancers, they're a major source of stress, wasted time and frustration.
Imagine if you could skip them altogether! In this episode, PR expert Kerri Watt shares how she sets up her processes to avoid time-consuming discovery calls and focus only on her most valuable leads:
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast, Louise Shanahan here. Here's a question: how do you feel about discovery calls? Do you like getting on zoom with a potential new client to talk about your services and see if you might want to work together? Or does the thought of having to sell yourself send you spiralling? If it's the latter, well what if you didn't have to do them at all? That's what we're going to talk about today, so keep listening if you like the idea of being able to secure new client projects without any of those awkward sales calls beforehand. I'm joined by PR expert Kerri Watt, who's going to tell us exactly how to do this. Hi Kerri, thank you so much for joining me today.
Kerri: Oh, gosh, thank you so much for having me, I'm honestly so excited. Just here listening that intro, I'm rubbing my hands, so let's do it.
L: I think it's a good conversation to have. So just for context, I noticed that Kerri posted something on LinkedIn recently about how she doesn't do discovery calls, and I was intrigued to find out more, because personally I quite like having the chance to talk to a prospective client before a project and get a feel for what they're like. You know, as long as we've done a bit of due diligence, and we know that our budgets and timeframes are aligned, and we'll limit it to 20 minutes or whatever. I've done episodes before where I've talked about this. But I know that a lot of people say they find these calls really nerve-wracking, or frustrating, or they get ghosted, or you know, all sorts of things, but they just aren't sure what the alternatives are. And I don't just want this podcast to be all about my way of doing things. So Kerri, when I saw your post I thought this is great, I would love to speak to you about this and see if you'd be up for sharing your approach. Let's dig in then. Is it really possible to build a service-based business without relying on discovery calls?
K: In my opinion, yes, because that is absolutely what I have done. That's the short version, everyone's different, we all work differently. But I guess, I found that people who were booking discovery calls with me just wanted to pick my brains, they just wanted some free PR advice. They weren't interested in a one-off session, they weren't interested in coaching programmes they weren't interested in actually, you know, hiring me to do their PR for them. It just didn't really feel like a good use of time. I think when we run our own businesses we get really passionate, we love what we do and we want to help people, we want to share with people and want to say, this is what you could do and perhaps this is how I can help you, or here's what you can do. It can be quite easy to get lost in that helping phase. I felt it was a bit soul-destroying to be honest, because I would give my heart to people in these, 15, 30, 60-minute calls, and then they wouldn't take any action afterwards. Not just to work with me, but just in general, like they just wouldn't do anything that I told them to do. I just found that really upsetting, I thought, you know what, I'm just not going to do that, I'm going to focus my time on the money-making activities and connecting with the right people. Also qualifying those leads, so we're not just getting on a call, that's not the first thing we do. I've asked them, you know, 10 questions, know that they've got the budget, and they've ticked all these boxes. So I pretty much know that we're a good fit and that the project is right, before we've even gotten on that call. That call is literally just, I just want to hear your voice before I send the invoice. Do you know what I mean?
L: Can you walk us through that process? When someone emails you or messages you to inquire about your services, how do you go from that initial inquiry to signing the contract and kicking off the project without any calls, or maybe just one call in-between?
K: I’m usually quite open online, like on social media with regards my packages, my offer, whatever it is I'm selling at that time, and the price as well. So when people land in my inbox, I always know what it's for, because it's about a post I put out that day or a couple of days ago. So we already know where we stand. I know what they want. I know that they've read it. They've got to know me because they followed me online. They know they want to work with me. They know the price. So I feel like that's kind of pre-qualified them a little bit already anyway, without me actually having that one-on-one input. Then if it's someone that I don't know, and they maybe are just a general inquiry, rather than can I buy that one thing you said you sell, I'll just ask really specific questions. If someone says, “hey, do you do PR?” or “hey, I'm looking for someone to help me?”. I find those questions are just copied and pasted to hundreds of people sometimes. I will ask straight back, are you looking for PR support? Or are you looking to book PR training? I'll just get that question straight in there, and I'll put a little emoji smiley face at the end, it's not like, who are you, why are you messaging me? I make it friendly, but I just get straight to it and just ask that question. You know, are you looking to hire someone? I’ve found that works really well, because the people who did just want a free call, they'll just not reply, or just say, oh, yeah, but we can't do it right now, or I'll ask my manager, and then they never get back to you.
L: What kind of information should we be putting out on our websites or sharing online to attract these qualified leads? I completely agree that you don't want tire kickers you want people who are reaching out to you who are going to be a good fit and getting that marketing right is crucial, so that you rule out the wrong people and rule in the right ones.
K: The biggest piece of advice I can give is just make it really easy for people to buy from you. You know, if someone wants your thing, put a buy button next to it. Whether it's a £100 thing or £1000 thing, some people will just see it on your website, know that it's what they want, you’re what they want, and they'll buy it. So just make it really easy for people to buy something, and make yourself accessible. I see so many websites where people just say, I do marketing, or I do this, it's just quite a broad subject. Then it's, email me with your project details or let me know. I just find it a bit like you kind of need to tell the customer what you can do and how you can work with them, how you can change their world. Obviously, everyone's different, and there's bespoke projects, but certainly you can give some examples. And I'm a big believer of sharing prices publicly, I know that it's like 50/50 I think, some people love it or hate it, but for me it works really well, and I own those prices because I've been doing this a long time and I don't mind sharing.
L: I think it makes a lot of sense, because I think one of the problems that people run into with discovery calls is that they have a chat with someone, maybe they get on really well, and they think they're going to have this great project working together. Then when it comes to talking about budget, if they managed to talk about budget on the call at all, it turns out they're miles apart. So personally, I agree, I think whether you put your exact prices, or you maybe have starting at prices, that's kind of what I have on my service pages, it's a great way for people to get a rough idea of what they should expect when it comes to budget, so hopefully, they won't be getting in touch with you if you're miles apart.
K: Yeah, and a lot of the time when people say about booking a call with me, I will literally just send them a link and a nice fluffy message with a link to my paid hour, you know, like a PR strategy session with me. Sometimes they do book it, sometimes they were genuinely inquiring to work with me and other people who just wanted the free advice will obviously just ignore it. That has been a game-changer for me, not only because it has converted people, but from a confidence point of view I feel like it's taken me up a level because I'm like, I'm gonna own this, you want to speak to me for an hour, sure, here's the link, this is what it costs.
L: It's signalling that your time has value to you and to them and it rules out people who are not going to be serious. I imagine there probably are some people who do just want to pick your brains, which is fine, and then they can pay for that.
K: Yeah, I mean in all transparency, I did get it wrong once. I remember someone they were talking about just some advice, I didn't realise they wanted an all singing all dancing PR campaign. By how they were answering my questions, it just sounded like they wanted this one-hour session with me, so they paid for that. We got on the phone and then actually that turned into a discovery call. They were like, no, we want all of this extra stuff, and I was like, oh my goodness, okay, right, well, let's just scrap this, I'll give you a little bit of info. Then obviously I took the price of that call off whatever the other invoice was, but it works really well, for me I really enjoy doing that now.
L: I imagine that some people might be listening to this and thinking, this sounds great, I would love to have this really nice, straightforward process, when people just click on a link, we have a few messages back and forth, and I don't need to get on these awkward calls. But I need to find out more about what the client wants before I put together a proposal and what if they don't share all the info that I need? How do I know that I want to work with them? Do you think that this approach maybe works best with a particular type of service, maybe a productised service where there's not so much variation by client?
K: If it is quite bespoke you obviously do need that one on one time to ask those questions with someone. But I think there is a lot of things you can do before you get to that point. So you're only at that end stage with much less people than you would have been if you’d just not shared in any information in the first place.
L: Then similarly, perhaps it works with a particular type of client. Some people might be thinking, I can't imagine saying to the kind of clients that I work with that we're not going to have a call, or you wouldn't necessarily be saying that but you would be directing them to some sort of form or payment page or something like that. For example, with some big corporate clients, there's often an expectation that you will have a call with one person and sometimes even another call with more members of the team. If it's a big project and a client that you really want to work with, then sometimes that makes sense, and we kind of just accept that we do this without getting paid, and it can be useful for us to get a sense of the wider team dynamics. But it sounds like what you're saying is we need to figure out a balance between meeting the client's expectations and the needs for the project, but also protecting our own boundaries, is that right?
K: Yeah, absolutely. I think over the last few years, honestly, I think I've only done two, what you would call a sales or discovery call. The reason I've only done those two is because they were, I think one was 6k and one was 8k. One of them was a worldwide name, you know, it was someone that I would have bitten their arm off, I would have done anything just to put their name on my website to say that I've worked with them, I was just so excited about the project. That was a really big process, like you said, you have to speak to the first person and then the team. Then your proposal goes to like five different people, and then it needs to get tweaked, and I think for the right project it's worth it because you know there is going to be that work at the end. I knew that I was the only person that company was talking to, I knew I wasn't completely wasting my time, because I knew they were going to work with me, it was literally just working out the deliverables each month, and what it would actually look like, how many meetings we'd have in between and all those kinds of things, it was just you know the niggly bits if you like at the end.
L: I suppose the key is knowing when we're going to be happy to do that and go that extra mile and have these calls and when we can skip that part of the process. It's interesting, because before we got on this call we were talking a little bit about protecting boundaries and I was saying it's interesting, even when you were talking just earlier about barriers and using emojis and things like that to kind of soften it. It's interesting that it feels like when we set a boundary, that's going to cause some sort of reaction in the other person and maybe we feel that too, if someone sets a boundary, we think, oh, have I done something wrong, have I offended them? Or who do they think they are, kind of thing? Where do you think that comes from, it's so interesting, isn't it?
K: I mean, it's just human nature, isn't it? We're all triggered by different things and I think when two people are on different pages, another one can get offended by something. I mean, that happens in any kind of communication though, right? Like, my grandmother could text me and I'll be like, what's with her, that's so rude. Then I'll ring her and say, what was that all about? She's like, oh, yeah, I just forgot to put the full stop in. Do you know what I mean? It was just her, you know, writing in a different way than I would have written. I think that difference is there with anyone, you know, friends, family, clients, anyone. I think it's just understanding that not everyone is really being rude and trying not to get triggered by every little thing and sort of using your energy a bit wiser. But yeah, I do put little smiley faces and things, because people have said in the past, you know I've got a reputation with local business owners, they were trying to get me to come into their communities and networking, and it's just not for me. Then I heard people were saying behind my back that I was really rude, and who do I think I am, they thought I was a bit stuck up. I was like, I literally have such a limited time at my desk, if I come and meet you for coffee, you're an hour away, that would take up a whole day and I can't do that. So when someone asks me for a call and says, hey, I'm new to the area I want to grab a coffee, I'm like, I can't I'm really busy at the moment, but maybe I'll see you at something soon, smiley face.
L: I wonder if those reactions come from the fact that maybe those people are feeling like they have to do these things that aren't necessarily things that they want to do. So it feels like a challenge to them because they're thinking, well, I have to do it, so how are you managing to not do these things, so sometimes it pays to challenge the way things are done. I wonder if you can think of any other business myths that we could debunk while we're at it?
K: I mean, I've just touched on it but maybe the networking events, and how people tell you that you have to be seen everywhere to get clients. I just don't enjoy going to networking events, they suck up a whole day, it's not just doing the event, you've got to travel there, I've got to actually get dressed and put makeup on, I'm exhausted before I've even walked out the door. I think the most important thing is just being where your ideal client is, and actually where you enjoy being as well, whether that's in person on the internet, on your phone, whatever it is, following your intuition and doing what feels right to you, rather than people telling you what you need to do.
L: Exactly, I think that's what underpins all of this networking and the way that you market yourself and whether you're using discovery calls or not. It's all about trying to find a process that works for you and your way of working, and the clients that you work with, and your family situation, and all of that, isn't it? It's about finding a process that works for you if we could sum it up into one sentence.
K: Absolutely, sometimes that's really blooming hard, because you're like, I don't know what works for me, I don't know what to do. I've been there, it's really, really hard to find your way sometimes. I think it all comes down to your self-worth, your self-confidence, and just trusting in the process and trusting that your decisions are the right ones, and you're doing it for specific reasons, and not getting down on yourself when something doesn't work. You know, we can change the rules at any point. Like if something doesn't sell, change it. If not doing sales calls, you didn't like it, do a couple, there's no rules is there. It's just kind of doing what is right for you.
L: That sounds like a good place to wrap up. We can write our own rules I like that. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today Kerri and share your insights. I'm very glad that you didn’t say no to this call. If people would like to follow up with any questions about this, about discovery calls, not doing discovery calls, or if they'd like to find out more about your PR services, where should they find you?
K: I'm usually hanging out on LinkedIn or I am also on Twitter, Instagram, all of the things. It’s @KerriLWatt you can find me everywhere. I also have a checklist to get your business media ready. This is really good for sole traders, freelancers, you know, micro-businesses, and how to do your own PR in 15 minutes. If anyone wants a copy of that, just go to my website.
L: That's great. We'll include a link to that in the show notes for this episode.
K: Thank you so much.
L: Thank you very much, Kerri, and thanks everybody for listening. I will see you next time. Bye.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing!