Freelancers, have you checked your voice mail lately?

It's For You
Image by Imagine24 via Flickr

I’m not asking if you’ve looked to see if you’ve missed any calls recently. I’m asking if you’ve listened to your own voice mail recording recently. After all, with our habits of “set and forget,” remembering to refresh your voicemail recording is low on the priority list.

If you have a separate business line, managing your voice mail message is relatively straight-forward. You may have several options available – internal and external calls, in and out of office calls, etc – in which case I recommend checking out About.com’s guide to professional voicemail greetings. The basics remain the same I’ll cover in a moment.

However, if you’re a freelancer like myself, you may use the same phone for both personal and business. If you’re in the latter category, I would recommend you still invest in a separate phone (preferably a cell phone, so you can take it with you to events) at some point in time – but for many freelancers, our business needs on the phone take only a few hours or less of our phone time per month and don’t justify their own business expense. If your voicemail allows you to create and record messages for separate boxes, this is also recommended; that way you can sort your business and your personal life. Even if you use separate voicemail boxes, however, please be mindful that all of your recordings remain professional and polite sounding – don’t burp the alphabet backwards on your personal line, because your professional contacts may hear it.

Your voicemail needs to include:

  1. Your first and last name. As self evident as this is, many people simply use their first name on their voicemail, especially if it’s a multi-use phone.
  2. Your business name, title, or position. This can be tricky, especially for freelancers. You don’t need to list everything you do. If you have one major client that you use the phone for business, use this as your title. If you have many clients, consider a more general approach by calling yourself a specialist in the field you write in. If you write in many fields and have many clients, perhaps calling yourself a freelance writer is best!
  3. A simple explanation you are not available to take a call. This is just courtesy so someone realizes that you aren’t actually on the phone with them (don’t you hate those voicemail messages?).
  4. A polite promise to return a call if a message is left. It’s also a good idea to remind them to leave contact information or appropriate times to call. If you need other instructions from the client (like an invoice number, etc) then also ask for that here. Make sure you keep the message succinct.

This is all pretty basic stuff, but for freelancers, this may also be something missing currently from your voicemail (as I realized for my own today). Listen to your voicemail recording first, and see what you’re missing – as well as take note of anything you like about it. Then jot down a new recording before trying to record it. Remember, while it does need to be professional in tone, it can also be relaxed and friendly. For example:

Hi! You’ve reached the voicemail of Jaime Skelton, the National Examiner covering MMOs and Online Games. Unfortunately I’m unable to take your call at this time. Please leave a detailed message, and a phone number and time when I can reach you back, and I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you!

Your voicemail recording should also be short, simple, and clear. Don’t record a new message in Wal-mart, or while giving the kids a bath, or outside while taking a walk to the local convenience store. Find five very quiet minutes, shut the door, lock away the pets and the kids and spouse, and record and listen a few times until you’re satisfied.

While you may end up sharing a personal and business line for a while, it is better to have a business-like message than a personal one; this way your professional contacts know they have reached the right person (and are left with a good impression). Your personal contacts will probably already know your line of work, and not be terribly surprised by its inclusion in your message – in fact, they might take you a little more seriously as well!

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