How to Take a Phone Message… The Abstract Way

I’m assuming some people reading this are going to be like “wtf? does he think I’m an idiot and don’t know how to take a phone message?” but you would be surprised how many people absolutely suck at taking phone messages. Coming from an industry where the phone is king it’s amazing how many people in my office couldn’t take a decent phone message…. And seriously, it’s not that hard but it’s such an important skill to have and an effective message can make or break a deal.

There are 3 elements to a message:

  • Name
  • Contact Information
  • Reason for call

These elements are non-negotiable. If you want to add additional elements to the message, feel free, but the BARE minimum should be the above 3 points.


The persons full name, with spelling. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE SPELLING of both names! To make sure you have spelt it correctly, repeat the spelling back to them or ask them to spell it for you then repeat the spelling to confirm it is correct. This is so important and there are few things more annoying than “please call Dave on 111-222-3333”.

Contact information:

Phone number and company (or relationship to the person they are calling, friend, sister etc..). Again, make sure you repeat the phone number. You could also consider taking a secondary number (land line) and an email address.

Reason for call:

This is the big one that people usually let slide. But it’s amazing how much of a difference it can make knowing why someone is calling. If someone has started working for me and one week later resigns, and I get a call from my client saying that the person I placed has just resigned, I sure as hell want to know about it before I pick up the phone and call them back. The reason for the call gives the person who has to return the call a chance to prepare before they pick up the phone. A chance to call other people first and find out what is happening so you are not walking into a bear trap!


There are a number of ways to deliver a message. In my experience, the two most common are hand written and email. But I can envision social media could be a pretty good way to take messages also. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn could all be used.

My messages are always taken in email. As soon as I pick up someone else’s call, I open a new email and make the subject line “message”.

I then structure it with the above 3 points. Below is an example.

There are a few of short cuts I use, but before you start using them make sure the people you are taking messages for know what they mean. I think these are made up, I’m not sure. But you can make short cuts for certain functions that relate to your job. Off the top of my head here are a few:

RYC = Returning your call

PCB = Please call back

JE = Job Enquiry

MC = Marketing Call

Inv = Invoice related

You get the picture…

The benefits of email (besides saving the environment) is that its highly visible, instant, doesn’t get lost and is traceable. If you write your message on a post-it note or loose piece of paper then 2 hours later the person you took the message for comes up and says – why didn’t you give me that message? There isn’t much you can say in your defense.

Sorry if I hurt anyone’s intelligence with this post.

What’s the most annoying message you have ever received?


4 Tips to Not Get Screwed on Elance

For those who don’t know, is a site where people can sell their services. Basically like an ebay for services instead of goods.

The way it works is you can post a job for anything from web design, data entry, marketing, ghost writing to virtual assistance and relevant service providers can pitch for your work. You then select the provider who you think best fits your request and they start working away.

Funds are placed in an escrow holding service and released once you mark the work as satisfactory.

Anything that can be done remotely can be organised over elance.

The key benefit of this system is the ability to take advantage of currency differences. You can pay someone market rates in India or Eastern Europe and have it come to a fraction of the cost in a western country.

But using this service to complete tasks does not come without complications.

I’ve done a few projects on elance now, some better than others.

Here are a few tips from my fails:


Seriously, this is important.

Treat your freelancer like your boss treats you – there is a job to do, no exceptions.

For people with no management experience, this can be tricky. I learned quickly as I saw a project expand from 2 weeks to 2 months! Setting rules is important as discussed below, but enforcing rules is equally if not more important.

Don’t listen to excuses like “the work was harder than we thought” or “you had too many change requests”. They shouldn’t have bid if the work was too hard. If they think your change requests are going to push out milestones, they need to request milestone changes. If they don’t, tough luck. You’re not the expert they are.

2. Make rules

Make rules for everything. How, when and in what format you want the work delivered.

Ask for periodic updates and set deliverable dates. Tell them if things are not up to your expectations you will pull the project or have them restart.

Be specific in your rules. If for example you’re having a website done, tell them if you want the site up and running on your host or if you just want the files sent. Tell them if you want social media integration, testing or support.

These should all be laid out before the job is accepted.

3. Punish rule breakers

Set penalties for rules being broken.

As an example a 5% penalty for every milestone not met.

That means, if they update you in 4 days instead of 3, hit them with a 5% penalty. Make sure you do this the FIRST time they miss a milestone. This will discontinue a pattern of abuse. Again, don’t be a pushover little bitch. Highlight punishments clearly in the rules before the project starts.

4. Don’t give feedback until you are completely happy.

This means that everything is up and running and you have tested everything. Don’t get conned into providing feedback after you see the site working well on their host, or you have a general brand theme without all items complete.

Elance workers like eBay sellers live for feedback. And once you leave feedback, you can’t change it. Many suppliers would prefer a 5 star review and 50% of the money over 100% cash and a 3 star review.

The verdict?

There is no doubt elance can provide quality work for cheap over a secure and reliable platform.

But if you let people screw you, they probably will.

The success of the project still rests on the project manager – you!