The Telephone Trap: Build or Destroy your Business for Just Pennies a Day

CPC Business Development


How much do local calls cost your business?

a)     4.3 cents

b)     5.8 cents

c)     7.1 cents

d)     Your entire operation

No, that’s not a trick question. Seven of my former competitors failed this test over the last eight years. Granted, they all did different things wrong, but one thread of feedback I got from clients was consistent: none of those former professional résumé writers used their phone to build their business. In fact, their inability to put the phone to work drove their callers to me.

We live and die by the phone. It doesn’t matter if you are home based, office based, or virtually based: with rare exceptions, we talk with every client on the phone, even those who visit our websites or email us. And every client has strong opinions about the phones they, too, rely upon. This article outlines how you can meet and exceed client expectations using your business phone. I’ll touch on specific complaints our clients have and offer suggestions to eliminate those frustrations, starting with the very next time you speak with a potential client.

When you pick up the phone, are you listening? Many who call give their names. If you’re not paying attention, you find yourself in the embarrassing position of having to ask for information the caller just gave you. And it’s not just any information, it’s the sweetest words our callers hear: their name.

How can you train yourself to listen? Try a phone log. That’s nothing more than a Word document that’s always open on your computer. When the phone rings, you switch to that document and then you answer the phone. If you’ll type the name when you hear it, you’ll be miles ahead. Here’s what my phone log looks like:

Phone Log


17 July, 10:30, Mark Smith. Looking for pharmaceutical sales. 905.555.4444. Has his own résumé. Career explorer.

17 July, 11:15, Jane Worth: Caller left message on our voice mail. Requires call back. 613.555.6666 Career hunter

17 July, 13:30, Harry Downs: get a package off to: Jack Morgan, President and CEO, Topline, Inc. 12345 Main Street Vancouver, BC V1V 1V1

My phone log is a lot more than just a handy place to take down return phone numbers. It helps me close the sale. Because I’m listening, I get a sense for what the caller really needs. That’s what the words in italics are all about.

I’m indebted to Susan Britton Whitcomb, President of Career Coach U, for helping classify callers. The “explorer” isn’t sure which career is best. The “hunter” knows they’re in the right career, but may not be certain where to apply his or her talents. The “conqueror” knows precisely where she wants to go. There are other classifications as well, but here’s the point: If I make a quick note about what the client needs, I can communicate best right from the start.

You can really put your phone log to work for you if you’ll use the AutoCorrect feature of Word. Type a sentence you use often, and then assign a “code” to it in the AutoCorrect dialog box. (Find AutoCorrect Options under the Tools menu.) So, for example, I assigned the letters “clm” to this sentence: “Caller left message on our voice mail.” Whenever I need to enter those words, I just type “clm” and Word places the sentence right where I need it.

I’ve given you a few practical tips because I want to make an important point. When you are speaking with a client, he or she deserves your undivided attention. The previous sentence is meant to be read twice; it can dramatically increase your sales. Follow these suggestions rigorously and your concern for your caller will come across in “capital letters.”

Never put anyone on hold. Think of the negative impact of having a caller wait. You’ve answered the phone, ready with your most pleasant voice (more about that later) to engage the caller. You know most callers are pre-sold. They wouldn’t have contacted you if they didn’t want help. Just as they feel they have someone on their side, you use call waiting or put them on hold. How would you feel if the positions were reversed?

Let’s start with “call waiting.” At the risk of offending the phone company, there is no excuse for call waiting. Stopping a conversation to take another call is the equivalent of letting someone else “cut in line.” The same reasoning holds true when you have clients in the office. They were there first. If you interrupt your meeting to take a phone call, you are telling the client he or she isn’t important. How, then, do you handle the inevitable interruptions?

Start with your phone message. Let people know your clients always have your undivided attention and callers will be impressed. Here’s an excerpt from one of my outgoing message scripts:

“Hello, you have reached Don Orlando, your personal career coach, at the McLean Group. I return every call received promptly, but I can’t come to the phone right now. When I am with my clients, they get my full attention and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that I am their advocate—they will be successful, even in the tightest job market…”

The order of the ideas you’ve just read is important. Kendall SummerHawk, a professional business coach and a trainer in the art of communication, puts it well when she speaks of offering our clients benefits right up front. The “benefit” is that I respond to callers in need promptly. Telling callers I’m tied up doesn’t interest them in the least. But even there, I am planting the seed about something they need and want—my full attention to help them be successful.

Capitalize on that positive impact by keeping your word. If you promise that you will return every call promptly, that means you will return calls after normal business hours, on the weekends, even on holidays. I did not just say that you would work during off-hours (unless you want to, and charge appropriately for that service). I mean you will always find time a few minutes to return every call. If your practice is like mine, you’ll make about three follow up calls after hours daily. Each takes only a few minutes. The goal is to arrange for uninterrupted time to lay out a plan for the caller (and to make the sale). The same advice applies to your dealings with established clients. Always return the call—even if it’s only to say you are tied up and will call back later. Yes, you may certainly use email when you need to, but nothing beats the personal attention that comes with a human voice.

There’s even a tip to capture that “personal attention.” Smile when you speak on the phone. (No, you won’t look silly at all—after all, there shouldn’t be any clients in your office when you’re on the phone.) When you smile, you put yourself in a good mood and it “shows” in your voice.

If I’ve been successful with this brief article, you’re already thinking about how you can use what you’ve read. If these ideas increase your sales, the question that opened this article will then look like this:

How much do local calls cost my business?

a)     4.3 cents

b)     5.8 cents

c)     7.1 cents

d)     Local calls don’t cost me; they contribute to my profits

Don Orlando, MBA, CPRW, JCTC, CCM, CCMC, was a career coach long before that field had an established name. He wrote CMI’s Code of Ethics and PARW/CC’s CPRW examination. He writes, speaks, and researches in the field of career coaching and résumé writing and has served as a mentor for many in this field. He has run his own company, the McLean Group, since 1992. You may email him at, call him at 334.264.2020 (Central time), or fax him at 334.264.9227.

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It’s interesting to read this ten years later. More people have more phones (home, office, personal cell, work cell) but they answer them less and less. And that may be because people are using the phone less frequently to initiate contact, so incoming calls tend to be more likely to be charities, politicians, or telemarketers – who’s got time for that?

This brought to mind a post I wrote, nearly as long ago: