Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What message are you unwittingly communicating to your clients/readers?

For the past couple of days, I've been thinking about the information that we unwittingly communicate to our clients and readers. As an individual, friend, sister, writer, publisher, blogger, there are things that I communicate/have communicated directly.

For example, most people who are in my life for any length of time know I don't like the phone and if you are a friend/family member calling me during the day and I'm writing/editing, there's every chance that I won't pick up. It startles me, disturbs my train of thought. Yeah, I know I should be smart enough to entertain two distinct thoughts at the same time, but it doesn't happen. So I live with it. But I digress: this not information that you learn because I didn't call or didn't pick up the phone when you called during working hours (though sometimes that happens quite a bit, especially for persistent friends/family members who believe they should be the exception. For the record, the only exception is my mother). It's something that I TELL people directly.

When a client hires me, I do state that my preferred method of communication is email. It's less intrusive for me - a message flashes on my screen when the email comes, along with who sent it and I can decide to look at it immediately, or finish the sentence/paragraph/page/document that I'm working on before I look at it, which makes work for me easier.

Most clients I end up doing business with also prefer email - our communication is documented, reducing opportunities for misunderstanding and we can both respond when we have time. A lot of them would rather I was in a quiet room, working on their project and giving them their product on time, with little hassle, than on the phone, trying to clarify one more thing. And as long as I deliver and give them progress reports and dash off quick emails to ask questions when I need something clarified, we’re all happy.

That said, I know my phone phobia offends some people, including friends. I used to apologise for it, trying to justify myself when other people asked me how I plan to succeed at business if I don't even answer the phone. I know I have lost potential business and will continue to do so because a phone is an integral business tool and some people prefer it to communicate.

I am available to talk to clients during working hours when we have an emergency or the issue needs us to communicate verbally. But I also know that a client who phones in assignments instead of sending me written briefs and who does not document his/her input to me when we're in the middle of a project is not a client who is compatible with me. I'm never quite sure I heard everything when we talk on the phone and completely despise "he said/she said" when there are problems on a project. And writing as fast as a client talks, or even recording the conversation electronically makes the production chain longer. Chances are, I will later have to transcribe those notes in their project file so that there is a written record, mayve even email them to put our conversation on record and clarify some points. Written down the first time, I know we both captured what needed to be said and our communication is official. And there's no funny noise to make me jump just when my teeny brain starts functioning enough to get some work done.

And now that I've rambled (and probably told you more than I intended about myself), I want to go back to the original topic, which is the messages we unwittingly communicate to clients and our readers. In particular, I want to focus on negative messages we communicate. Reading this post, I'm know there are people who disagree with me on telephone vs email communication, and who read all sorts of negative things about me or even the way I do business. Which is fine by me, because I chose that very behaviour to highlight the point.

The issue started bugging me because of something a friend of mine unwittingly told me. She's job-hunting and the response has been uninspiring due to a depressed job market and the big December/January company shut down in South Africa. I can't help with the job hunting,but I know potential clients are out there looking for skilled people like her. I've suggested freelancing to tide her over while she looks for the fulltime employment she prefers. I even bought her Lori Widmer's very useful The Worthy Writer ebook, which I believe is a perfect resource for freelance writers (I know for a fact she hasn't read the book). I've suggested sites where she can learn from other veterans (no she didn't read them; doesn't follow them) and pitch her article ideas to magazines (she pitched just one). I’ve sent her links to job ads she qualifies for (she has answered most of them) and suggested she start cold-calling companies she wants to work for (not happening), using LinkedIn to connect with potential employers (not happening), start a blog to showcase her work (no).

So while we were talking about her job prospects, I heard what she was telling me verbally. She’s worried about money and about finding a job that uses her skills and experience. She is so worried that she is even considering lower-level jobs.

But that message was overshadowed by the loud noise/alternative message she unwittingly communicated to me through her actions/lack of them. And once I understood what I was hearing versus what she was saying verbally, I began to understand that my interaction with her was biased. Instead of just listening to her with the care and understanding that she was asking for, I was also making judgements.

That led me to the realisation of why clients sometimes don't hire us/don't bring repeat business and readers don't stay on with us. They hear what we say in our marketing material or even what we say in person, but our unintended communication interferes with the message.

So I decided that I want to be more careful in the future. Not self-censor, exactly, but to make sure that I communicate my message more clearly. I will still tell people more and less than I intended, and some of it will be negative. That can't be helped when you're out there on the Internet, blogging everyday, writing and publishing articles in various publications, commenting on forums  and posting on various social media. But, I can also be conscious of this, make sure that the unintended message does not drown out what I wanted to communicate.

Anyhoo, while we’re on that, I guess I should take the opportunity to categorically state to current and potential clients: I value your business. Whether your project is big or small, you are important to me. To fellow-bloggers and my readers (including those who stumbled on this post): thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read my ramblings. I wouldn’t have a writing/blogging career without you. And to friends and family members, yes, I do love you and want to spend time with you. Even when I don't answer the phone and you know caller ID is telling me it's you on the line. Even when you email me in capitals to shout “Answer the damn phone!!” or “Have you even charged the phone??" and I respond with “Let me finish writing this article first, then we can talk,” I do love you. And thank you for your patience.

So. Share your thoughts. Leave a comment.


Lori said...

First, I think it's a wonderful surprise to get a nice recommendation on my e-book from a pro like you. Thank you. :)

I'm totally with you on the phone phobia. I cannot - will not - answer when I'm working. Even the ring throws me off my rhythm.

You're right - the non-verbal messages your friend is sending are saying everything about her commitment to the freelance life. She's either afraid of it or not wanting it. Her words back up that she's afraid of being broke, of having to "sing for her supper" so to speak. Maybe a 9-to-5 is her life instead?

Rebecca A Emrich said...

I agree-- there are so many things you can do-- and not do-- that gives off some sort of message. I can't stand the phone for that reason. I can appear too growly-- especially like you-- if I am interrupted.

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