ASK US WEDNESDAY: “What’s your advice for cold-calling potential clients?”

by Rachel Smith
29 October 2014

Ask Us Wednesday NEWCan you give me some advice on cold emailing potential clients? I feel like I’ve exhausted all my friends and known contacts for freelance writing work and now I should start approaching small businesses to write web content, newsletters etc. Any tips for doing this? Thanks. L

Great question. When I started freelancing I only knew one editor and I quickly realised, while she gave me a good amount of commissions, it wasn’t going to pay my rent. I had a few friends take pity on me and give me some copywriting work, but I needed other clients. I’d written quite a lot of website copy and advertorials while I was on staff on various mags and websites, so I decided to see if I could get some regular copywriting work. I made a spreadsheet (regular readers will know I love a good spreadsheet) and hit the phone.

I was operating under the optimistic belief that everyone, every company, generally needs good writing. Whether it’s web copy, a brochure or flyer, descriptions of dishes on a menu, back-of-pack copy on a cereal box, corporate case studies… all of this and more is available out there in the commercial/corporate marketplace, as long as you know who to talk to and how to close the deal. Where to start? Create a list of companies and brands you’d like to write for. You might want to pop them all into a spreadsheet with several tabs – one for each industry – and spend a day or so filling up each sheet with company names and phone numbers. Have an ‘action’ column where you note down what action you took and a ‘status’ column where you’ll note down where you stand with that particular company.

You can absolutely target small businesses but bear in mind while they may love the idea of hiring you, they just may not have the budget (which has unfortunately been my experience lately). My strategy back then was to go pie in the sky, even with companies I knew would probably have in-house marketing or comms teams or would be attached to agencies who handled their writing work. I figured they might prefer to pay a freelancer (and save some money) and often, even if a comms team had in-house writers or an agency who handled a lot of their writing work, they also had a budget to freelance a proportion of the work out. I would also regularly hear, ‘Oh, we would LOVE to use someone like you’ from overworked departments who hadn’t used freelancers before – but changed their tune when they realised it’d make their work day easier to farm out the writing work they didn’t have time to do.

Your approach? Generally I would look for a marketing or communications department contact on the company’s website and if I couldn’t find that, I’d go via the switch and ask to speak to someone in those departments who might use writers. Once through to that person, I’d simply explain who I was and what I did, and say I was calling to see if they ever outsourced their writing work. Simple.

I called a lot of companies – I’d do 10-15 a day when I was starting out, and invariably the response would be yes, no or maybe. I’d then record the response in the status column next to the company name in my spreadsheet, and depending on the response, I’d take action. Yes or maybe’s got a nice letter the next day with a couple of business cards and I’d set reminders to contact that person again in a month. If they said no, we have our writing covered – well I would gauge whether it was worth staying in touch with that contact.

I won’t lie to you; it’s laborious work. I might get one job for every 10-20 people I made contact with but at some point (maybe after a few years freelancing), I didn’t need to cold call quite so much. My name started getting passed around or clients moved companies and took me with them – or passed on my details to their contacts who suddenly, were cold-calling ME asking me to take on their projects (which is a nice position to be in).

Hope that helps and good luck!

As a freelancer, have you had much success with cold-calling? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Rachel Smith

2 responses on "ASK US WEDNESDAY: “What’s your advice for cold-calling potential clients?”"

  1. Lilani says:

    Thanks, this kind of practical advice is really helpful.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Pleasure Lilani, glad you enjoyed 🙂

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