How I learned that, sometimes, the efficiency of the Internet is overrated.
When I was growing up, we had a wall phone in the kitchen. That was it. One phone, 6 people. I was the oldest of 4 kids and I was a talker. I would wrap that phone cord around the kitchen and into the living room — effectively creating a trip wire for my unsuspecting family members — and stretch out on the floor to talk with with school friends for hours.
In a pre-Internet era, it was how we stayed connected.
My gift of gab served me well when I graduated from college and started a career in sales and marketing. It was the era of Nokia brick phones and Palm Pilots. No texting. No email away from the office. No wifi or bluetooth. We were like cavemen. With phones (See Exhibit A: Primitive Phone. Virtually indestructible.)
Blackberries, then the iPhone, came along. I traveled more for work. And I was always on the phone. I talked for 10 years straight.
When I launched my business a few years ago, I was tired. Exhausted from the demands of a decade with a receiver stuck to my ear. And I was a new mom.
My sole focus became quiet efficiency. I craved long hours of uninterrupted work. Home with a baby, I knew that I would be working unusual hours so my goal was to work as much as I could and as well as I could without spending a lot of time with clients in person or on the phone.
Somewhere along the way I bought into the idea that email was the best way to do business — it replaced nearly all of my phone calls.
I worked this way for several months until I was drowning in my Inbox. (Instead of Inbox Zero, I was adding zeros.)
Even worse, I felt completely disconnected from my clients. When I took a hard look at how I was working, I realized I was spending hours in isolation — doing the actual work, then summarizing it for clients, then emailing back and forth with clients.
Besides my husband, who would peak into my office to see if I was still alive, my only regular conversation was with a toddler whose vocabulary largely consisted of “I need snack, please?” and “More Thomas the Train!”
So I did something crazy. I picked up the phone again. I scheduled calls with all my new prospects. I incorporated regular calls with existing clients.
I started to hear this from people:
“After talking to you more and hearing your story, I’m convinced we were meant to work together.”
“You know, I was a little undecided on what I wanted to do but after talking to you, I really trust you to get the job done.”
“I feel so much better about where this project is headed now that we’ve talked.”
I had to laugh at the irony of this. I had spent over 10 years talking to people, either in person or on the phone. It’s how I built a client list that carried me throughout my career. It’s how I got new jobs. It’s how I got work done every day. Email was often the introduction or the in-between. But it was never the replacement.
Humans are hardwired for connection. Email doesn’t fully fulfill that need.
Dan Palotta, writing for the Harvard Business Journal, states it eloquently:
“As we strive relentlessly for efficiency, we leave no room for life — for the little things that balance out our day and put our business into a larger perspective of existence. There’s no room for other human beings who have color in their voices and nuanced thoughts that typography cannot convey.”
There are just some things that the Internet can’t replace. It’s a message I believe in and one that’s at the center of how I’m building an online business.
And when I started to talk to people more, I realized that I’d been a hypocrite who needed to live up to my own ideals.
Running an online business does not have to mean that you have to automate everything or remove the humanity from the equation.
Pick up the phone.
The Internet is not the end game. It’s a catalyst to go deeper with people. It connects us but the connection doesn’t end there. It’s just the beginning.
Vintage phone image by Grant Hutchinson
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