I wrote articles, networked, and emailed prospects for years, targeting small to medium-sized businesses.
I was no stranger to marketing to find freelance clients.
Then my business coach matter-of-factly said this to me:
“Let’s get you started making cold calls.”
I never considered making live phone calls as a freelance marketing strategy. Cold calling terrified me.
My coach helped me bust through my marketing fears and become more productive.
With practice and a good script, I was able to reach out to four to five times the prospects I was connecting to before, in the same amount of time. And the results were stellar.
Here’s how I did it:
Write a simple script
Here’s what I said on the phone:
“Hi, my name is Stacey Morris, and I’m a freelance copywriter based in New York City. I was doing some research on your company, and I’m wondering if you ever hire freelance writers to help with ______.”
Don’t fill this with drama – it’s very short and straightforward. Their response will shape the remainder of the exchange (don’t think of this as a conversation – this is much briefer).
This is hard the first few times. In fact, I spent an entire session with my coach on speaker-phone while I called prospects on my landline. I figured once they yelled at me, I could say “I told you so” and be done with the whole mess.
But they never yelled. Not once. No one even expressed impatience.
Measure your results
Once I got into a groove, it became much easier. I’m able to reach out to many more prospects, and it feels much more real to speak with someone in person.
Most of my cold calls were directed toward creative agencies of fewer than 25 employees, but the initial results were similar regardless of the size of company.
The beauty of cold calling is you can target your prospect. Even though I was mostly researching medium-sized creative agencies, I also spent time calling speakers, designers, and other niche markets I wanted to work with.
I keep track of the results of my prospecting, and after about 200 calls, I compiled the following data:
Out of that first batch of prospects, 79 percent said they weren’t looking for a writer at that time. That’s to be expected — very rarely is anyone looking for a writer right when you call. So be prepared with a follow-up question:
“I understand. Would you mind if I followed up in the future?”
I’ve tried asking, “Can I send you some information?”, but I get a much more positive response when I leave it more open. Few people decline outright.
About 20 percent requested information. The key is sending the info to the right place. Make sure to get a name and email.
If you’re targeting larger companies, most of the time you’ll either be referred to a higher up, where you’ll repeat the script, or you’ll be asked to send a resume and portfolio. Before they mention the black hole of human resources, ask: “OK great–what’s the name of your marketing director?” Get that name before you get off the phone!
One to two percent of your prospects will say they do need someone right away, but I don’t consider these calls a win. Honestly, who chooses a freelancer from a cold call?
Think long term
Getting a client immediately is not the point of cold calling. The goal is to save a lot of time and energy targeting the wrong prospects, and to send the right information to the right person.
Before starting to cold call, I used to spend 3-4 hours a week attending networking events. Now, I can spend half that time, reach more prospects, and work directly from my office without getting dressed up!
My conversion rate from initial call to client work over the years has been about 3-4 percent, and the typical lead time from call to project is about 2-3 months. I get similar results through networking, but have found calling to be a huge time saver.
The rates I’ve gotten through cold calling varied depending on who I was targeting, but range from $45 to $150 per hour. (Those that paid $150 per hour didn’t know they were paying that much, as I almost always quote a project fee.) Agencies tend to pay on the lower end, but the payoff with them is more steady work.
Most prospects asked about my rates, and I chose to send them my rate sheet. Why? Because there is a minimum I won’t go under ($45/hour), it outlines a lot of services I provide, and it only offers ranges of prices. There’s no point in wasting time with a company that doesn’t pay my rate.
In fact, cold calling is the most efficient method of prospecting I’ve done. It immediately prunes the noes and provides a follow up plan for the maybes.
My tip? Welcome those who say “no”–they’re saving you a lot of wasted energy.
Keys to doing cold calls right
If you’re new to this process, here are my cold-calling tips:
- Do your homework. Know enough about the company that you can offer relevant services. You really won’t know if a company is hiring from their marketing materials–I’ve seen horrible websites from terrific companies, so don’t try to outguess yourself.
- Introduce yourself immediately. The recipient is already on the defensive by the time you say “My name is…”, so get to the point.
- Have your script and follow-up questions ready. Remember, your prospect is being caught off guard, so you’ll need to guide the conversation. You don’t have to get pushy, but you do need to make an impression.
- You’ll often get a secretary or receptionist. That’s fine. Often, they’ll patch you through to the right person, which saves you the time of figuring it out.
- Remember, you’re not selling anything. Don’t even think like that. You’re simple inquiring if they would ever consider hiring someone to help with their XYZ problem. Your goal is to get permission to send more information and keep in touch.
- Cold calls save you both time. If they absolutely have no need, you move on. But if they seem receptive to hiring a freelance writer, you’ve opened the door to sending them information.
- Follow up is easier — even fun. You’ve turned a prospect from cold to warm, and because you’ve had a brief exchange, they’ll remember you when you follow up. And you’ll feel more inspired to reconnect.
- Have your follow-up materials ready. You should send something immediately, and then send more, over time. Follow-up can be email, a call, or even a snail mail letter. Ideally, it should be all three, spaced out strategically.
- End the call gracefully. A simple “Thanks for your time” is sufficient.
Cold calling is scary at first, but it gets easier and can lead to some great jobs. It’s also a fast way to target prospects and get an overview of the marketplace. You get to talk to your prospect — immediately getting a sense of their need for you and possible problems for you to solve.
When you’re calling during the workday, it’s unlikely that you’re annoying anyone. In fact, in my first week of cold calling, one woman was so impressed that I was cold calling her, she referred me to a terrific prospect! Cold calling gets easier, and once you get into a groove, you can hit a dozen prospects in a day, including research and follow up.
Have you had success with cold calls? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Stacey Morris is a business copywriter and sales trainer based in New York City. She writes for Beyond The Pitch and runs FocusCopywriter.