It's funny how calls automatically jump to the front of our "things to do line" when the phone rings, taking us out of whatever we are doing at the moment...I think we all struggle with that one.
You could get voicemail, create a nice message summarizing the services you have available, and asking people to leave their email address to receive more information...
Then leave the phone off the hook.
You need a Bat Phone. A second number given only to partners, clients, etc. Put a voicemail on your current number that provides some info on how they can get your current rates/availability. (I'd send them to a web page that requires them to provide a decent amount of info. You can then screen the email forms and pick out the ones you want to call back).
Once that's done, just stop answering your public number.
You have to stop giving people the impression that they have instant access to you. If you reply to a message, let it sit for a day or two or three. Don't reply to email for a couple of days [unless it's from me ;)]. If it's stupid, just don't reply at all. Don't give out phone numbers or snail mail addresses if you don't have to, and make it clear that email is the best way to get hold of you. I have two different business cards, one with email and web URL, another with that plus phone number and snail mail. Depends on who I'm talking to on which card they get. Don't carry a cell phone or pager. If you have a cell phone use it for outgoing calls and emergencies only, keep it off otherwise. If you do answer phone calls, do it at a specified time of day, say from 1 to 2 p.m.
Get Caller ID and set it so that you don't accept calls from blocked phone numbers. Don't answer the phone from anyone you don't know. Make your *work* number unlisted. Anyone who wants your services knows how to use email and the web.
I have a friend who regularly fires his clients when they start annoying him.
BTW, at $75, you are priced too low even for a good mood. Raise your prices.
>>I've started quoting prices per hour (good mood, $75, bad mood $500)
Having a message with a few options to choose from might help. The message could offer a choice of information from basic services information, where to go to fill out a form to submit their request, best way to contact you as mentioned above, or provide an email address so they can send you their request and detailed description of what services they seek.
Another phone option choice for information about search engines can then make a referral to Search Engine World/Webmaster World sites. Email requests asking SEO questions can receive the same answer, refer them to the sites. Make a distinct line between what you are willing to share via professional services.
Brett I used to have the same problem. Know how it is :) When is a call "sales work" and when is it consulting? I had way to many brain-suckers!
So I got a sales agent - one of my good old friends with a good sense of this. Now, if you want my time you book it with my agent. Clients can talk as long as you want with him for free but he don't know much about SEO (LOL). If they want to talk to me, then I charge them. I have no problem taking phonecalls at $200 an hour :)
WG, our members overseas may be scratching their heads over that one.... 'What the heck is a BAT phone??' Yes, a second, unlisted phone is the way to go -even if you follow some of the other suggestions. My businesses have been using them for years -we actually have 2 of them in one business, one very, very restricted. Cheap, and works great.
<====Hiding from feminists while answering. ;)
>Having a message with a few options to choose from might help.
That, like the menu system for Utilities companies. One choice leads to talking to a live person and the others to recorded information. And a part time live person - a secretary/sales assistant to answer. I include the word secretary because if someone doesn't mind that title, they won't object to the first two requirements:
1. Pick up donuts/bagels/McDonalds breakfast on the way in to work.
2. Make the coffee upon arrival.
3. Go through the messages (except personal ones) and send out information via mail or email, with a number of predetermined responses, and an opportunity for return follow-up if necessary, like filling out an online inquiry form. Or spot ones that need further personal follow-up.
4. Have a bent for sales, and the ability to qualify sales prospects thoroughly with the live calls, sending info to those who are luke-warm, and either giving you the call, if available, or indicating in a written message that it's a valid sales opportunity.
5. Someone who knows enough to understand the questions, and answer just a VERY few basics without actually telling anything, and be able to "hear" what's hot and what's not.
6. A rate sheet available to quote prices for phone consultations, and some set time scheduling system.
Add to that being around 30 and gorgeous, witty, charming and intelligent, able to cook, clean, raise children and play hostess for entertaining, make all doctor and dentist appointments, manage a budget and shop wisely, and you've got yourself a wife.
and you've got yourself a wife
What if your secretary is male? I think I'd rather have a houseboy/secretary than a wife/secretary...
I agree with Marcia that one of those automatic switchboard type things is excellent. There are plenty of software versions that do the job and are fully customisable - also able to supply fax-on-demand if required for total automation of commonly requested info that has to be in written format.
You can have all those FAQ type calls dealt with by pre-recorded messages and so happily let yourself work without having to worry that you're ignoring anyone's needs.
(There was a nice bit of free software for this with the old modem I had (56k US Robotics) called Super Terminal or something very similar - it worked great for me when I used it.)