A friend of mine who is new to teleworking was complaining that her overseas prospects wanted to speak with her on the phone. Since she didn’t want to have to pay for international calls, she turned down these lucrative offers. “I don’t want my fees to be consumed by phone bills,” she said.
“You don’t need to use the phone, you can always use voice chat or VoIP,” I suggested.
It seems that not everyone who sets out to do web work knows how to establish their communication methods. There are many tools that allow us to sidestep more traditional — and usually more expensive — means of communicating with our clients, such as client visits and phone calls. For those who are just starting out, here are your options:
Sometimes I still see online contractors with casual email addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org.” While you can use any email address to communicate with friends and family, stick to something more formal for professional use. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of checking multiple inboxes and notifying personal contacts about your new email address, you can easily use multiple email accounts instead, and access all of them via one master inbox.
To avoid having your email addresses plastered all over the Internet (and attracting spam), set up a contact form on your web site. In my experience, potential clients often prefer a contact form they can fill out on your site, since they don’t have to open their email client to send you a message.
Instant messaging (IM) is real-time text chatting over the web. IM is useful for real-time client support and quick exchanges that are too short for email.
Some people have trouble expressing themselves via instant messaging, so don’t make this your only option for client support. Also, if you have clients that aren’t tech savvy, they rarely want to communicate this way. Still, many corporate remote workers I know stay in touch throughout the day via instant messaging. Here are some IM applications you can use:
If you need an IM app that allows you to handle multiple accounts using the same interface, you might want to look at Lifehacker’s roundup of the five best instant messengers.
Phone, VoIP and Voice Chat
Although it might seem simpler to have one phone line for both business and personal contacts, it’s wise to keep them separate. You don’t want to provide 24/7 phone support for colleagues and clients, and you don’t want your workday to be interrupted by a call from your mom, either.
But what if you’re working with people who are overseas, as in the case mentioned earlier? That’s where VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) comes in. Instead of using regular phone lines, VoIP transmits audio through the internet. We’ve covered VoIP here at WWD before, including how you can use it to cut business costs.
While I’ve never felt the need to purchase my own fax machine, there are still some situations that call for faxing. For those of us who primarily deal with local clients, a regular fax machine might be enough even if it’s a second-hand unit. But if you’re mostly working with people overseas, sending faxes back and forth can be costly. Online faxing solutions such as efax and MyFax can be much cheaper in the long run.
If you’re wary about giving your home address out to clients and business contacts, you can use a PO box or take advantage of online mailbox services such as Earth Class Mail or its European equivalent, Swiss Post Box. There’s also Private Box for those who want mailboxes in New Zealand.
Establishing multiple ways for clients to communicate with you isn’t that hard. When you’re starting out, it’s usually enough to have two different ways for clients to reach you (say, email and phone). Should you need more, the apps and services above give you plenty of options to choose from.
How do potential clients usually contact you? Which method do they use the least?