Hello Doc: I’ve enjoyed reading your cold-calling tips for freelancers, but wonder if you would break it down even further for newbies like me. For example, who are you calling? No, I don’t want phone numbers, but what I mean is, how do you decide who to call? What do you say?—Trying to think outside the glossies but baffled about where to start
Dear TTTOTGBBAWTS (whew!): You’ve asked an essential strategic question that’s vital to cold calling and sales success. The good news is that a freelancer can construct a high-quality cold calling list with some old-fashioned sweat equity, a bit of sleuthing and minimal expense. But first things first—you need to decide, in a broad sense, what types of clients will provide the best success rate. So, that means:
- Which industries are the best match for my skills? A prospective client is going to want to know that a freelancer speaks their language. My corporate career included magazine stints in sports, healthcare, small business, banking, and hospitality/travel, so those were logical areas to target from the business side.
- Which types of creative firms use freelancers the most? Graphic designers (solo or agencies), web firms, ad agencies, printing companies, etc. The benefit here is that they already know the benefits of using a freelance writer, so you don’t have to sell them on the concept, just on your skills and experience.
- What are my favorite subjects to write about, including areas I’d like to “break into”? This is a matter of distilling the items from the first two bullets, plus adding some dream jobs. You can’t get lucky unless you give it a shot, right?
Once you’ve compiled a list of your best-bet markets, here are the two places I’d recommend starting for cultivating names:
- Yellow Pages and DexKnows directories. You can use the hard copy, but the online versions are more useful, since you can search by business type and location, and they even have links to websites for quick research. Keep in mind, you won’t have a contact name and you’ll still need to be resourceful about finding the right person at the company, such as a marketing director at a business or creative director at an ad agency. At a mom-and-pop graphic design firm, you’re talking to the owner.
- Your city’s “Book of Lists” or equivalent. BizJournals has a Book of Lists in nearly 70 metro areas across the country. (Here in Phoenix, it’s the Phoenix Business Journal Book of Lists.) You can save money by purchasing the hard copy, but I’d suggest spending the extra for a CD or electronic access. The benefit with these databases is that everything’s organized in a spreadsheet (for easy tracking of results and follow-up action) and you’ll have better contact information. (Warning: It’s not always current, so you need to be nimble as you negotiate the phone maze!)
That’s where I started, and that’s where I’d recommend you start. Don’t overthink it…you’ll get more confident as you make more calls. I see I’ve gone over my usual 500-word limit, so I’ll need to address “What to say on a cold call” in a future post!
Any other recommendations from cold-calling freelancers out there? Please share in the comments!