So, a potential client has found you. They’ve looked over your website and like what they see – enough, anyway, to think about getting in touch.
How will you enable them to make contact with you? Email, phone, text message, contact form?
Deciding what to offer is perhaps not as simple as it first seems.
It’s not just the ‘what’, but the potential consequences of that ‘what’ that need to be considered. If you offer a telephone number, will it increase the number of calls from people who are trying to sell you something, rather than trying to buy your service? If you offer a contact form, will delivery of your messages be impacted by a rare problem with your website host’s server?
It’s also about the ‘how’. If you publish a telephone number, will it be a landline or a mobile? If you use a contact form, what wording will you use?
All these issues need to be considered so that the ways in which you are contactable maximize your engagement with those you want to communicate with (potential clients) and minimize engagement with those who are possibly wasting your time (sellers of unwanted SEO services, double-glazing, solar panels … the list goes on).
John Espirian took a good look at telephone contact in his recent article on the Espirian blog ‘Call me – maybe’ (2016). Here, I’m going to consider the contact form.
I believe that having a contact form on my website is essential, though I think it should be only one of several options. Here in Part 1, I explain the benefits of the contact form and I provide a brief case study featuring data that I’ve collected over the past few months. In Part 2, I’ll consider some of the challenges that contact forms can present.
I know how my current clients want to contact me precisely because these are not new business relationships. All my regular publisher clients and independent authors hold my email address on file, and most use this method to get in touch. Because we’ve worked together before, all the parameters of our business together are, for the most part, well understood – from pricing to working hours, from editorial-service provision to the quality of writing. Additionally, they’ve learned that I check my emails regularly, and respond in a timely manner. They trust email to deliver their request directly to me.
For potential clients, the situation is different. Many of them are speculating, getting quotations from a number of different proofreaders. They’re sometimes getting in touch on the hop and on the fly. That means that being able to send a text message might be more convenient than sending an email. Some may not speak English as well as they write it. That means that sending an email or filling out a contact form may be more appealing than having a conversation on the phone.
We don’t know our potential clients’ preferences precisely because we don’t yet know our potential clients. The contact form is all about choice. To exclude it without testing it is to make assumptions about what those potential clients want that we have no business making.
Privacy and spam reduction
Some people like to include a contact form on their website because it provides a method of getting in touch that enables them to avoid displaying their email address. This is thought to reduce spamming.
Whether or not this is true is debatable. Some argue that spammers are far too sophisticated these days to be foiled by a contact form (see ‘Should I Display an Email Address on My Site or Use a Contact Form?’, Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com, 2014).
Nevertheless, the decision to not include a direct email address – for the purpose of protecting the editorial freelancer’s privacy and reducing exposure to spam – is not about the customer. Rather, it becomes a freelancer-centric decision. Do think carefully about whether you want your contactability to be about you or the client.
Many clients prefer them
This is the biggest issue for me. Putting concerns about email spamming and privacy aside, my potential clients seem to prefer the contact form over the other methods on offer.
Several months ago, I began to test a ballpark quick-quotation service. At that point in time, the customer had the following options for getting in touch with me:
The idea behind both the ballpark quote and the quick-quote service was to increase customer engagement. During the first two months (December/January) I was pleased to see that the text service appeared to be grabbing clients’ attention.
Then, two months ago, I added a contact form. This is where it became interesting. The lie of the land shifted. People started using the contact form instead, even though I was explicit about the fact that I couldn’t guarantee a within-1-hour response unless they used the text option.
What does this data tell me? It is just a snapshot over six months, but, nevertheless, several points can be made:
I will, however, need to bear in mind recent changes I’ve made to my website as these could skew the totals still further. For example, I recently (in April 2016) introduced a dedicated page for student proofreading (a service I’d taken the decision not to offer in previous years). Nevertheless, even if the ‘how many’ data is skewed, the ‘which method’ data will still be valid.
In Part 2, I consider some of the challenges of contact forms. Why don’t they always work, and what can we do to ameliorate the problems?
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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