Four Ways to Find Your Business Voice

What’s on the iPod: I’m Shakin’ by Jack White

Yesterday wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped. Too many phone conferences. I would love to bottle the time wasted in phoned meetings. While the ones I was part of yesterday were productive (and well run), most are a huge waste of time. I’ve actually worked with clients who’ve said at the end of the phone call “Let’s schedule another call to discuss” when I thought the call netted an actual game plan. That’s what I get for being optimistic.

As I was juggling client requests amid a visit from our Aussies, I realized the only way I was able to keep from freaking out was A) experience, B) lack of sleep and patience, and C) having a strong business voice. That combination allowed me to say no, I can’t instead of agreeing to do something I had little time for.

Finding that voice – ah, that’s the tough part. You have to start with confidence, but that’s not always ingrained in you from the start, is it? There’s that trepidation, that fear of a misstep, that terrifying realization that you actually have a business and people are starting to call.

That’s when you need to kick that voice into action. Here are a few things to try to gain your voice:

Know what you want. You want your weekends off, right? Or you’re about to take that holiday weekend off, aren’t you? Know exactly what you require to remain a happy, productive writer with a business that’s perceived as viable and professional.

Know what you won’t accept. You won’t work that Labor Day weekend without a higher fee attached, will you? Nor will you work for half what you normally charge. You’ll not accept any working conditions or demands that interfere with current client work or your own needs. Those parameters are the beginnings of these things called boundaries. Decide right now what it is that will be unacceptable to you. Write it down if you have to.

Know how you’ll handle the tough stuff. But didn’t that new client just ask you to give up a weekend? First, a new client should never make such strict demands on your time (that’s not your client — that’s a problem waiting to attach itself to you). Second, didn’t you just decide you weren’t working weekends unless it’s a dire emergency? To date, I’ve not seen one person die of comma overload or prepositional fever. In other words, there are very few real writing emergencies — only clients who have bad planning skills. So how will you respond to those tough situations? Practice your response now. Write it down. Memorize it. Repeat it until it no longer makes your heart race to say it to a client.

Stick with it. There’s no sense in developing a business voice if you’re going to cave every time you use it.  Set your boundaries, assert yourself, and don’t back down without a superior reason that makes sense to your own schedule and needs.

How do you establish and maintain a business voice? What else goes into it for you?

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  • Devon Ellington August 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I have a "no phone calls" clause in almost all my contracts. I do NOT to business by phone, except in rare circumstances. I'm actually putting in a "teleconference fee" into upcoming contracts, where I bill phone calls in 15 minute increments, the way lawyers do. I LOATHE the telephone — if I could get away with it and not have to worry about emergencies, I would get rid of both the landline and the cell phone.

    You want to contact me? Email. Letter.

    I want everything in writing.

    I made an exception with the current ghostwriting client, because she is dyslexic. She can talk the material, and then I rearrange it in her voice so it makes sense. We have parameters and are both organized, so it works for us — and we laugh a lot.

    But most phone conversations are simply a waste of time. If you insist on them, they'll be billed in 15-minute increments, separate from the project fee.

  • Cathy Miller August 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I build phone time into my project fees. The ones that kill you are the unexpected ones – changing the terms, a new vendor/hire they want you to talk strategy with. So, my Statement of Work has been changed to include any calls outside the scope of services has a minimum fee attached to it. It is going on EVERY Statement of Work.

  • Paula August 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Comma overload. Prepositional fever…'re lucky I wasn't sipping my tea when I read that line, Lori!

    I now have a fake commercial playing in my head:

    "Does comma overload have you down again? Suffering from prepositional fever? Then you need a professional writer. STAT!"

  • Wade Finnegan August 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Paula, I see a youtube video in your future. πŸ™‚

  • Cathy Miller August 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    LOL, Paula -classic! πŸ™‚

  • Lori August 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Oh, I agree, Devon. Every phone cal is charged time and part of the contract.

    Get yourself a cold compress, Paula. I think you're having a "spell." LOL

    That's a good policy, Cathy. I'd love to see your contract language for that, if you don't mind sharing.

    She'll be the next fifteen-minute star, Wade. πŸ™‚

  • Anne Wayman August 28, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Paula gets the gold star for sure.

    Could you also do an article on how to run a good phone meeting?

    I do a lot of work by phone… interviewing the folks I'm ghosting for and I have to work to keep them on track and down to 30-45 min sessions.

  • Paula August 28, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    A YouTube video? Remember, I'm our resident Luddite. Like I'd have a webcam or video camera.

    Further proof of my Ludditism (it's a word now): Sunday my 9-year old nephew came over and held out his new IPod Touch and said, "Which wireless one do you have?" His younger sister pointed to one of the three choices on the screen and said, "That one's locked – you need a password." He looked up as if to ask, "What's the password?" Me: "Sorry – I don't have wireless anything."

    To the kids' credit, they didn't even mention my old-as-dirt CRT TV with the wonky curved line going through it.

  • Lori August 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Anne, your request is fulfilled. Take a look at today's post. πŸ™‚

    Paula, I hear you. I know at least that much about wireless, but beyond that I'm lost.