Ink-Dipped Advice: Prospecting

One of the fun parts of freelancing, for me, is prospecting for clients. Because I write about a wide variety of things,  I often refer to myself as either a Renaissance Writer or the Anti-Niche. But I’m interested in most things, except for math and anchovies, and even anchovies have a place in a Caesar salad. And there are plenty of people who are excited by math, so I don’t need to be. I honor their excitement.

Curiosity & Interest. I think the world is an interesting place. Most people are interesting, too, if you give them a chance.  People who are passionate about their work and their lives are always interesting.

Those are the people who often need help communicating to a wider audience.

Remember the phrase “prospecting for gold?” I enjoy prospecting for clients.

No cold calling. I do not cold call. I know, I know, so many of those books that tell you how to make a zillion dollars in six months as a freelancer talk about cold calls. As someone who finds the phone the biggest obstacle to actual creative work, who charges for phone time, and who is rude to telemarketers and cold callers, I do not cold call.

No showing up without an appointment. I also don’t just show up in person, barging into someone’s office or knocking on their home office door, demanding they drop everything they’re trying to keep going and talk to me because I want it.

This twist on door-to-door salesmanship is prevalent on the Cape. In fact, in the so-called “career building workshops” they force you to take when you’re on unemployment (I was on unemployment when my job at the library was eliminated several years back), they encourage you to do just that.

I know, with the small business with whom I work, that is a quick way to get on the list of “No Way in Hell.” Small businesses are working as hard as they can to stay afloat. They might need your services. But if you barge in when they’re in the middle of something else, you are not a savior; you are an obstacle.

For local prospects, I find the most effective way to work with them is to meet them at Chamber events or other local networking events. I don’t march around going, “I’m a freelance writer. Hire me!”

Instead, I ask them about their business. What do they do? Why do they love it? What kind of direct mail campaigns do they use? What’s the website like? How’s their social media presence? If they admit they’re lacking in something, I might toss a general idea or two their way. I make sure that we exchange cards, but I don’t try to sell them in the moment. 

The business day following the event, I send them a quick email, reminding them of our conversation, and letting them know I’d be happy to talk to them in more detail about what we discussed, or if they have any other copywriting or marketing needs in the future.

Then, I put them on my postcard list. 2-4 times a year, I send post cards out via regular mail. Spring and fall always, on seasonally-appropriate card stock. It lists my most popular services, suggests I am happy to help create, consult, or handle overflow when their marketing team is overwhelmed. It has my email address and suggests contacting me for further discussion and/or a quote.

If I get an email requesting a phone consult, I let them know I charge for that. I do NOT put my phone number on the postcards. Phone calls, even preliminary ones, are only by appointment.

I write a lot of holiday cards. I write about this often. I believe they are important. I believe it is important to MAKE time for the cards. It lets people know that they matter enough so that you MADE the time to jot a few words and chose an image you thought they’d enjoy.

I use both postcards and regular cards. I send them out separately from the direct mail postcards. There is no pitch in the cards. It is ONLY a wish that they enjoy the holidays.

But what about prospects I want to reach that aren’t local? You’ve heard my anecdotes about the challenges of local businesses in the area where I live at the moment. I won’t re-hash them here.

I keep an eye on companies via social media and news reports. If a company is doing something interesting within the realm of what I call my “Areas of Specialized Knowledge” I dig a little deeper. I do some research on the programs and people involved in the company. If they are connected to something I disagree with, such as supporting candidates or legislation that restricts rights, healthcare, or supports concentration camps, I’m out. Not the place for me.

If they are genuinely trying to make the world a better place, with their product or service and beyond, I keep researching. I dig around on the website and the PR wires to find the person who heads the department I want to work with. I do a bit of research on the person.

Then, I craft an LOI about what I like about the company, what I do, how I think it would make the company’s life easier, and why my unique background makes me an unusual, but strong choice.

Off goes the letter (by email, whenever possible).

On they go to the postcard list, for the direct mail reminders. I’ll often do a follow-up two to four weeks later. Usually, I’ve heard back before then. The best companies always respond, even if it’s along the lines of they don’t need me at this time, or they handle it in-house. When a company doesn’t respond, it’s a red flag. They may not be all they’re trying to portray.

I do two versions of the postcard, as I believe I’ve mentioned before. One is for potential clients. One is for clients with whom I’ve worked.

I revisit the text before each mailing and tweak as needed.

The direct mail postcard usually gets a 25% response, which is high. People like getting mail. They also like it when it’s friendly and cheerful, instead of a negative hard sell.

Sometimes, it’s three or four years before a prospect becomes a client, but persistence, especially positive persistence, pays off.

What are some of your favorite ways to prospect clients?

2 thoughts on “Ink-Dipped Advice: Prospecting”

  1. In DC it is all about networking & who you know & where you’ve worked in the past. Capitol Hill experience is a must for most jobs. The postcard strategy would not work here. All unemployed professionals in DC become consultants. Everyone here is highly educated & competition is fierce, even in a good economy. You have to network, attend events, and wine & dine. As a freelancer, you know you are competing with PR firms. It is really difficult to survive as a PA, PR, media, communications, marketing freelancer here. Most, like me, do it part time. Even techies I know are having a tough time.

    1. DC has always been different. I was surprised that postcards worked as well as they did in NY, where competition for everything was so fierce. It’s less surprising they work well where I live now, although my mailing list has clients and/or prospects in all 50 states and internationally, but, yup, you’re right — none in DC.

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