There was an error in this gadget

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Success Stories: From Downsized Corporate Mom to Successful Consultant

I like to post stories on here about other freelancers who find success after cold calling (so if you have one, please send it).

Piggy backing on today's earlier post, here's the story of Diana Schneidman who lost three corporate jobs after 40 -- and used a variety of techniques (cold calling included) to build a successful freelance writing and consulting biz.

Diana also posted recently about her own cold calling experiences, and she even Tweets. Could be another great resource for us all, and especially for the DMS refugees who are hoping to replace their lost income.

Demand Media Studios: Tips for Downsized Writers

Early in my freelance career, I wrote a few articles for Demand Media Studios (DMS), so I still have access to their forums. And what's going on there is really sad. Looks like Demand is using its new First Look program to effectively lay off about 85 percent of its writers.

Whether we're fans or foes of content mills, I'm sure any of us who have lost a major client can feel their pain. Some of those being downsized have worked there for years, and many of them earn the bulk of their income from the studio.

One thing seems clear from the forums -- the writers who are about to be downsized would love to diversify, but they're not sure how.

DMS writers, please believe me. If you play your cards right, getting cut lose from Demand could be one of the best thing that ever happened to your career. Once you pick up a few high-paying clients and leave behind the clueless CEs, the scorecard and the 412 pages of nitpicky, ever-changing style sheets, you'll wonder how you ever survived there.

It's not improbable for a solid freelance writer with basic clips and experience to work for $.50 to $1.00 per word, $50 to $75 per hour -- and even more. It just takes time to seek out and cultivate those high-paying clients.

Some thoughts for writers looking to thrive in a post-Demand world:


1. Stay away from cheapskates.

There's a lot of chat on the forums and members' blogs about jumping ship to other content farms. Job boards like CraigsList and eLance are frequently mentioned.

Why should you avoid these? Because each job posted on teh Interwebs attracts hundreds to thousands of applicants. That's why 99 percent of the time, freelance job boards pay third-world wages.


2. Approach clients directly.

To find clients that pay real wages, skip the job boards and reach out personally. Send query letters to paying magazine markets. Contact health systems, universities, marketing companies, web service providers and other businesses who work with writers.


3. If you've never queried before, it's time to learn.

Queries are one way to sell your work to magazines, websites and trade publications. A great book on the subject that really helped me out is Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer. And here's a link to Diane Benson Harrington, a great coach whose querying classes I'd recommend.

4. Business writing pays the bills.

When I started out in 2010, I thought I'd mostly write for magazines. However, a year later, I find I get the bulk of my income from business writing.

It takes a lot of time and effort to locate steady, high-paying business clients, but once you get a few, it's like it's your birthday every day. They hand you regular assignments, pay fast and on-time, and you get paid for the time you put in -- even if the project gets killed.

This entire blog is actually about my personal quest to seek out and win over those rare, high-paying business clients. I did it through cold calling, which worked fairly well (and fast). And yup, post number one is from cold-calling day one -- the most terrifying day of my freelance career. (Don't worry, after I made about ten calls, it got way easier.)

To plan my cold call campaign, I closely followed the advice from this book: The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman.

Cold calling isn't for everyone. Others prefer to network in person or send "Letters of Interest" to prospects. Here's a transcript on the subject from the International Freelance Academy.


5. Hang with the pros.

DMS has a great social writers' community, with forums (and now Meetups). However, it's pretty rare that I see anyone posting advice who seems to be a high-earning freelancer. That's not a slam on the DMS writers at all, and I'm sure there are exceptions. But in general, it's not a place where folks making $60,000, $75,000 and even $100,000 a year hang out.

If you want to make a real living freelancing, it helps to connect with people at the top of the business. In my experience, successful writers are super generous souls when it comes to helping each other up to the next level.

Where can you find these folks? Local writers' groups and classes are a good start. Also, you can Google around to locate freelancers near you. If you like the work they're doing, shoot them an email and take them out for coffee.

Another idea: check out Freelance Success (FLX). It's a pay site, but I've found it to be a great investment in my own career. You'll get access to forums, newsletters, job leads, career advice, etc. aimed at writers targeting high-paying markets. You can even get a free trial.

Another networking idea: If you've got the clips, consider joining ASJA.

6. Learn new skills.

If you want to survive and thrive as a freelancer, it's good to invest in your career. Successful writers teach classes in copyediting, book proposals, magazine queries, grant writing, green writing, blogging, social media, and you name it. The more kinds of writing you're trained in, the more assignments you'll generally land -- and the more financially secure you'll feel.

Just a few writing classes that have worked for myself or folks I know:

Crafting the Query/Kickbutt Queries -- Diane Benson Harrington (link above)
Grant Writing -- Diane Silver
Book Proposals (nonfiction) -- Jennifer Lawler

Back when I was a newbie, I also took a nonfiction course from Writer's Digest University that was very helpful.

A caveat: Before you sign up for a class, it's a good idea to check out the instructor's credentials and talk to former students. Because frankly, any dumbass out there can get online and offer a class.You want to be taught by the best, someone who's had success in the kind of writing you hope to break into.

Well, dear DMS writers, I hope that's been helpful, and sorry again that it's turned out this way. I'm hardly the most seasoned writer on teh Interwebs, but having spent awhile in the studio, I really feel your pain. So if you need marketing help or advice (for what it's worth), hit me at sarah (at) zipline agency (dot) com.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lessons Learned: Get It in Writing

It's 7 o'clock and I'm rewarding myself with wine and McDonalds (hey, stop looking at me like that). For what you might ask? For having an awesome writing day and making lots of money? Oh, don't I wish! Nope, it's for forcing myself to address a thorny payment issue that's cropped up.

Now I can't exactly give case studies on here (I maintain a strict no-client-talk policy), but what I can do is share what I've learned over the past few months about the importance of contracts.

Reflection #2: Don't write/edit until you've agreed to terms and signed a contract.

Yup, I'm going to be a stickler about this one going forward. Sure, it might rub some new clients the wrong way (what, you don't trust me?) but in the end, I'm really doing us both a favor. Because a good contract protects the interests of both parties.

My (shiny, new) rules:

1. CYA.

When you get a bonanza of new clients through cold calling, it's all very exciting. You may even think some of them are really great people that you'd love to drink a beer with.

But this isn't a love fest -- this is business. And in business, a little paranoia is healthy. Especially when you're relying on new, untested clients for your livelihood (and they're likewise relying on you).

Ask questions, clarify, negotiate, and above all, work with the client to create a strong contract that protects you both.

2. Know your deal-breakers.

Here's a little gem I learned in counseling school -- every healthy relationship has deal breakers. In other words, if there's nothing your child/partner/client could do that would make you turn your back on him/her/it, you're both in trouble.

So if you receive a contract that has confusing or unfavorable terms, it's healthy and necessary to say so and ask for what you need.

During the negotiation phase, it's helpful to break down your desires into "must haves" and "would likes." No, negotiation doesn't mean you get everything you want. But don't back down when it comes to your deal-breakers (which will vary from person to person).

Here's a breakdown of my own personal must-haves when working with brand new commercial clients (these vary a bit based on the situation). Keep in mind, I am not a lawyer, and this is by no means legalese:

* Copyright clause -- copyright transfers only upon full payment.

* Acceptance clause -- if client makes no reply within 30 days of submission, the work is deemed accepted and the client can be billed, with additional work performed on an hourly basis.

* Detailed description of the work -- Scope and length of the piece, number of meetings, number of interviews, photos, captions, research to be conducted, reimbursement of expenses, number of rounds of revisions included. For editing, specify the number of passes included, the style manual to be followed, internal style sheets to be consulted, and fact-checking requirements.

* Detailed description of client's responsibilities -- what support the client will provide and when (setting up interviews, researching keywords, submitting work for editing, etc).

* Scope clause -- all work outside the scope of this agreement will be billed at your hourly rate.

* Termination clause -- if either party terminates the agreement, the writer will still be paid for all work completed.

* No implied warranty clause -- client is responsible for proofreading and fact checking the finished product.

* Indemnity clause -- client holds writer harmless for any legal action resulting from use of the work.

* Down-payment clause -- 30 to 50 percent is the industry standard.

* Project time line -- with relevant deadlines specified.

Standing up for yourself in contract negotiations doesn't make you pushy or difficult. While some clients may not love the process, especially if writers past have signed quickly and quietly, they'll ultimately respect you for it, especially if you show them that contracting is in their best interests as well. If they resist after you've made your case, acknowledge the red flag.

Do I demand all of the above from every one of my corporate clients? To be honest, no. I've got several regulars that I've never even signed a contract with. (Mostly because in the beginning of my freelance career, I was much more timid about contracts, and it now seems strange to demand it of them after a year of doing business together.) Might I ever come to regret this? Possibly. But for now, I'm going to call it an acceptable risk.

But for new clients, and especially those I find through cold calling, contracts are now my rule.

3. When the scope begins to creep, it's time for a new contract.

Ever had a project that appeared to be simple, but turned out to be way bigger than either party anticipated? It happens all the time.

The moment you realize that the project you're working on is beyond the contracted scope, stop immediately, alert your client and either amend your current contract or draw up a new one.

Got that? Now hold up your iPhones and repeat after me:

I will be as courageous in contractual matters as I am in marketing.
I will be as courageous in contractual matters as I am in marketing.
I will be as courageous in contractual matters as I am in marketing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons Learned: Go For The $$$

Hey there, cold call aficionados. Sorry I haven't been posting much lately -- I'd like to say it's because I've been so busy with all the work my cold calls rustled up, but that's only part of it.

The good news: since about June 2011, I have only had a handful of days where I haven't hit my daily billing quota, which is a pretty good feeling. And when I start to run out of projects, I only need to email a couple of my "warm" prospects to refill the pipeline.

However, being busy with lots of new clients at once has definitely steepened my learning curve expo-freaking-nentially. I've found there's more to running a business than courageous marketing. And I've pinpointed a few of the flaws in my original approach that I'll be reflecting on in my next couple of posts.

So let's start with reflection #1: Quality, not quantity.

My little cold calling strategy, as outlined in this blog, is definitely designed to get you in front of a large number of prospects in a short time. In this respect, I think it works pretty well.

However ...

If I were to do it all over again, I'd be way more careful about the kinds of prospects I target -- and those I choose to work with.

When I started connecting with all of these new clients, it felt so good! Finally, I thought, I've crawled across the freelance desert. And so I said yes to just about any and every project -- even when the terms, fees and contracts offered weren't all that great.

Well, adieu to all that.

I soon found myself working for way less than my going rate. And resenting it like hell.

Generally, I was doing it for lovely, honest people who just didn't have much experience working with a writer. They were "newbies" as much as I was, and they really did not have a firm grasp of the time and money involved in producing a great piece of writing.

Then the payment issues started. Or rather the non-payment issues. One was worked out amicably. The other -- well, it's so touchy at this point I don't even dare discuss it in cyberspace.

Here's what I'd do differently -- and what I'll definitely do when I get around to making those other 550 cold calls:

* Invest in the Book of Lists. Contact only large companies that have a history of working with freelancers.

* Discuss fees early. When in doubt, quote high. Share examples of past projects you've worked on and the fees involved.

* If prospects balk at your fees, you can try some education. Remind them of the going rates for this type of work and that they're saving on payroll taxes, health insurance, benefits, etc.

* If the prospect is clearly never going to pay your fee, move on. Consider it a blessing that you've reached this sort of agreement.

Cold call pals, I know when you're a starving newbie, it can be really tempting to drop your rates. But I for one will be fighting that temptation tooth and nail from now on.

Charge what you're worth, period. That's a whole new aspect of courageous marketing for you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Worthless Products for Freelancers: MacFreelance

Okay, I know this is supposed to be a blog mostly about cold calls, but I'm noticing lately that there are a lot of horrific products and services out there being marketed to writers and other freelance professionals, so from time to time I'm going to diverge a bit and post about them.

Granted, these are my experiences and mine alone. That being said, I will not to post until I have been using a product for a reasonable amount a time (6 months to a year) -- unless its truly a scam of some sort that should be avoided at all costs.

Today, I'll talk about the product that inspired me to post reviews on occasion -- a quirky little piece of accounting software called MacFreelance.

A quick overview: MacFreelance is supposed to be a billing and accounts receivable-only software. One nice thing that it's supposed to do is time your projects (good info for us writers). It also supposedly produces some basic AR reports.

My one-star review, posted on Amazon today:

I'm a freelance writer and bought this software rather impulsively when I got tired of making my own invoices. I've had it about a year now. It has been nothing but an enormous headache that rarely does what it's supposed to do. If I could give it negative stars, I would.

Take the reports feature, for example. I have NEVER (not for lack of trying) been able to produce a report with date parameters. I set them, but MacFreelance ignores them and just shows all-time statistics, which are worthless.

The email invoice feature also screws up -- if I try to email an invoice directly from the invoice book, it sends it to the LAST client I emailed, not the client who's name is on the invoice. (Very embarrassing).

It inexplicably "loses" time, which means you have to watch it like a hawk, because if you accidentally close the wrong window, or even switch to another client while it's timing something, the timer will stop and the accumulated time will be wiped out.

It's pointless for tracking overdue invoices -- deadlines are supposed to go on the iCal, but I'd say it's about 50/50 that they actually show up.

The makers -- and some reviewers -- giggle coyly and say, well, it's quirky, you have to have the settings exactly right. I would posit that it's so quirky as to be functionally worthless, unless you have hours of free time to wrestle with it, try new settings and make it perfectly happy.

I could go on and on.

There are never any updates, so the problems never get fixed and it never gets more user friendly.

BESIDES --

It's also pointless, in my opinion, to have software specifically for accounts receivable. For accounting purposes, I'll be upgrading to Quicken next month, which does everything this software does and much, much more. I wish I would have skipped MacFreelance and gone straight to Quicken to begin with.

IN SUMMARY --

If I could give MacFreelance negative stars, I would. If I sold a product this worthless to a client at any price, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Seriously thinking about trying to get my money back from the merchant.

Monday, September 12, 2011

@ColdCallWriter on Freelance Writers' Den - Weds. Sept. 14

Hello writers! I'll be participating in a cold calling webinar with Carol Tice at Freelance Writer's Den. If you're a member, or considering it, please definitely check it out!





Please note that FWD is a member's only site. If you're not a member and really dying to hear the webinar, please give me a shout through my business website at sarah@ziplineagency.com.

Sorry I have been really bad about posting here lately. Hopefully this appearance will jumpstart me into a more regular routine.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Swamped

If you're a regular reader, you've probably noticed the little meter to the right has been hanging tough at 461 calls for a couple of months. So where has cold call writer been?

Well, not to bore you with the details, but basically swamped with work. Since I started my cold call campaign in April (when I literally had no work and was chewing my fingernails down to the quick), I've been working with six new clients and am in negotiations with two more. One of those looks like it will turn into a year-long contract, and another is talking about forming a long-term relationship.

Things have just started to slow down a bit (phew), so hopefully I'll be resuming this blog in the next week of so. But for today, I'm going to go hiking and see if I can enjoy what's left of the summer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why selling freelance writing is easier than selling aluminum siding

Okay, so I got an email today from a law firm in California (they are one of @ColdCallWriter's Twitter followers). They sell mediation services to companies.

They asked if I would like to be a freelance cold caller for them.

I thought it was a joke. Then the guy actually called today from California to repeat the offer.

Now what can one glean from this?

First, I think it shows how hard it is to convince most people to pick up the phone and sell something. If they're willing to give me, a complete stranger, a chance just because I write a blog ... psh. There you go.

Anyway, I politely declined their offer.

Why? As I explained to the mediation guy in an email, anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can sell freelance writing (or related freelance services).

Because if you find the right client, your stuff sells itself.

When I've got an interested prospect on the phone, I don't have to tell him or her my unique selling proposition or list features and benefits.

Honestly, until they see what I've written, they don't give a rat's.

My job is to answer their initial questions (usually few) and direct them to my online portfolio and resume.

Simple. A middle school kid could do it.

Now if I were selling mediation services (or aluminum siding or life insurance) through cold calls, it would be a different story.

That would require actual sales skills.

That would require a polished presentation.

That would require extreme motivation that withstands hang-ups, take-me-off-your-lists and stop-wasting-my-times.

I have so much admiration for people who have all of the above. But believe me, @ColdCallWriter is not one of them. The one time in 460 calls I had a guy get mad at me and tell me never to call again, I put down the phone and cried.

But I can sell freelance services. Because cold calling freelance services is a completely different (and gentler) process than what we usually think of when we think of phone sales.

When you're calling your ass off -- and no one's buying

Okay, so after two months of patiently calling 25 people a day with absolutely not a penny to show for it, the worm has turned.

First, permit me to rant for a moment about how crazy and insecure those two months of silence made me. I had plenty of nibbles (people who loved the portfolio, loved the idea, needed a writer, etc.), no one actually coughed up the cash.

This was maddening, as you might imagine. Especially when I was having trouble paying the bills and putting time into cold calling that could have been spent querying, networking and conducting other business building activities.

To keep doing it (with absolutely no reward) was a leap of faith of sorts.

I remember a story (I think I heard it at church camp) that would have made a great essay. Except it was from Middle-Ages Europe before they had O Mag or websites.

A monk was writing about his trip to a cathedral that was under construction. He admired how all the laborers, from men who were hauling giant stones to the women sweeping up the debris, were all working with great excitement and esprit de corps.

They knew they were building something worthwhile. The clincher? They also knew the cathedral would take 100 years to build.

They wouldn't live to see it finished.

Not a perfect example, but I really think when you're starting a business, you have to believe THAT MUCH in what you're doing. You have to be willing to bust ass through long periods with zero gratification.

What keeps a cold caller going?

For me, it was simple: Peter Bowerman said it would work. Other writer pals who have tried it said the same.

I was sure I was going to be the exception to the ironclad Law of Averages. Then last week, the phones started to ring.

Since May 23, I have either completed, quoted or am waiting on the green light for five new projects -- all from cold call clients.

Nothing huge, nothing earth shattering, but it's been months since I had a new client at all. And I have meetings with a number of promising prospects lined up when I get back from Vegas.

It's a huge change from business as usual, so I'll be slowing down the actual cold calls. But I will keep up the blog.

You see, the cold call process doesn't end when you hang up. There's the meeting, the quote, the dancing around fees, and all sorts of post-call fun to explore.

So stay tuned. And if you're currently busting ass with nothing to show for it, cheer up. Odds are your glory, when it comes, won't be posthumous.

Friday, May 27, 2011

@ColdCallWriter taking time off to write

So due to marathon cold calls, out-of-town visitors, a raptured cell phone and a heartbreaking dumping by a shallow dating prospect, I find myself buried under a mountain of neglected work this end-O'-May.

Rest assured, @ColdCallWriter will be back calling, Tweeting and posting next week. Just as soon as I dig myself out from under the unfinished blog posts, undone background research, unanswered emails and other debris.

Today was very productive. Just need four more like it. By tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dear Writer, Make Me Popular

Since I started my cold call project, I have spent A LOT of time messing around on social media.

This blog is only the tip of the iceberg.

There's Tweeting (under my regular handle @maurer_kg and my new @coldcallwriter alter ego).

And then there's chatting on writers' message boards (I do this anyway, but I'm doing it more faithfully now because I can link my posts to my blog, etc. to my sig).

I've been spending SO much time on social media, I'm starting to think, "There must be a way to get paid for this."

But how? I've been mulling it over during runs, hikes and hot showers, but haven't come up with the answer.

So.

Today a cold-call prospect who's been doing Web design in my area for over a decade took me out for Mexican food (bless him).

He was a talkative guy and eager to dish about the "next big thing" in Internet marketing. And that's when he handed me an idea that knocked me off my chair.

Web designer has a client that wants to utilize the social networking power of Facebook, but doesn't have the time to tend to all the little postings, replies, comments, etc. (I feel client's pain).

Client also doesn't really want their employees doing it, because it feels Facebook + office work = productivity black hole.

So.

Every month, this client writes a schedule of posts, including expert tips, exclusive offers, sneak previews and other little insider tidbits and hands it over to the Web designer. The Web designer than posts it per the schedule.

This particular client was savvy enough to do their own writing. But ...

"I have so many clients who would love to do this -- if someone would just write it all out for them," Web designer says. "Would you be interested in coming up with a service package for that?"

Cha-ching. Botta-boom.

I would be so interested that I've already named my spin-off social media company and am on my way over to reserve my domain name.

How am I going to actually price and package this? I have no idea.

But if you have experience with social media marketing, please feel free to dish, dish, dish away in the comments!

Success! In-person prospecting pays off for writer

Remember the story of the health writer who approached the hospital mar-com folks at a local street fair?

Today she reports:

Good news on this end. I met with the hospital marketing guy and his custom publisher. Basically, they need a writer for their new newsletter (which may lead to work in their consumer health pub). I gave him a quote (I thought he'd negotiate lower, so I upped the rate) and he accepted it. Should start working on it next week! Yay!

You can't see it, but I'm giving her my "mad props" hand signal.

This is a great example of how meeting prospects face-to-face can drastically increase your chances of getting hired.

Have you had success prospecting in person, especially in non-business venues? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cold Calling 101

Here's my reply (from another board) to the oft-asked question --

How do I get started cold calling? Explain in 100 words or less.

Here's my method in a nutshell. Anyone who has read Peter Bowerman's book will see I'm following his recommendations pretty closely.

I'm still working out the kinks and I'm sure other folks do it way better. If you have your own methods, please share in the comments!

1. Prospecting. Start by compiling a spreadsheet of potential prospects. I use Google and Chamber of Commerce directories to search my area. My favorites are universities, nonprofits, hospitals, graphic designers, marketing firms and Web designers. Briefly visit each prospect's website, try to identify the decision maker and get an email address if possible.

2. Script. Mine goes like this: "Hello. My name is Sarah Maurer and I'm a local freelance (copywriter, writer, health writer) checking in to see if you have any occasional or ongoing needs for a writer to help with (marketing materials, fundraising, publicity, Web content, etc.)."

If possible, group your prospects by type (graphic designers, event planners, nonprofits, etc.) and call them all on the same day. This allows you to adjust your script to the client type and refine your approach as you go. Also, it's easier to notice patterns -- e.g., what they're looking for, what types of project they're working on.

3. Call. If you're not sure who to ask for, read your script and say, "Who would be the best person to speak with?"

4. If you manage to reach a decision maker, read your script and wait.

5. If the prospect is THRILLED to hear from you (happens all the time), say you'll send a link to your online portfolio and resume (your website). Ask what types of clips/samples the prospect is most interested in seeing and if there are any questions.

6. If the prospect rarely use freelancers, or if the company already has a go-to writer, offer to send your info "just in case your regular freelancers are maxed out and you're looking for someone in a hurry." Prospects will almost always agree to this.

7. If the prospect has "no need now" or never uses writers, I personally just thank them and end the call. Peter Bowerman recommends asking if there are any colleagues or associates who might need a writer (can't hurt).

8. If the receptionist offers to put you to voice mail, ask for the decision maker's name and email address (sometimes you'll get it, sometimes you won't).

9. When leaving a voice mail (and you will leave many), read your script. If you have an email address for the prospect, say you'll send a link to your online portfolio and resume. If not, leave your website address.

10. Keep notes in your spreadsheet about who you talked to, who you left voice mail for, and any other details you can glean about the company.

11. After you do your daily round of calls, follow-up with a brief email and a link to your website. I have templates set up in Mail for:
- Really interested prospects
- Prospects who hire writers infrequently or already have a regular freelancer
- Voice mail / message follow-ups
- Prospects I couldn't reach of by phone (basically an LOI)

12. If you get a nibble, suggest a meeting (preferably in person) to discuss their writing needs.

And that's about it. Sounds complicated, but it all flows kind of naturally once you start doing it.

Regarding follow-up, that's a question I'm still figuring out myself. At this point, if they don't give me a nibble, I don't contact them again. After the initial 1,000 contacts are done, I do plan to follow-up with some prospects, but I haven't thought that far ahead.

Success!

After 1.5 months at this cold calling thing, I'm about to write my first invoice for a client I met through cold calling.

I spent today hanging around his marketing firm helping out with a rush editing job. Since I work in relative isolation most of the time, it was really fun to see creative-types teleconferencing, instant messaging, giving feedback and working as a cohesive team.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Wyoming to meet another prospect (who is very kindly taking me out to lunch), then rushing home to call yet another prospect who was referred to me by someone I cold called.

Believe. Cold calling works.

BLOOPERS: I cold called so much, my phone died.

Well, that's what I tell people. Actually, I have no idea what happened. One minute I'm taking my visiting friend on a bike tour of Fort Collins breweries and the next I'm having a massive panic attack because my phone's screen has gone blank.

It's not exactly dead. It still vibrates and chirps and plays Ozzy Ozborne's "Crazy Train" when someone calls. But the screen is shot.

I have two conflicting feelings.

The first is terror. I have 460 phone calls out! What if one calls back before I can get my phone situation sorted out? I've put so much work into this cold calling thing, it just breaks my heart to think of even one little prospect slipping through my fingers.

(Rationally, there's very little chance this will happen at beer o'clock on a Saturday, but still.)

The other emotion is jubilation. Now I have the perfect excuse not to cold call. Perhaps my phone situation will be tied up for a whole week and I can have a break from reading the same script ad nauseum.

Alas, neither scenario comes to pass.

By Tuesday (when my dear friend departs and I resume business as usual), Virgin Mobile has overnighted me a spankin' new phone, so I am back on the cold calling war path.

I did miss one call from a new prospect. Fortunately she emailed me, so I was able to get back to her the same day.

What would I have done without a phone? I like to think I'd have forged on using Skype or similar. But truthfully, even though it doesn't scare me anymore, I haven't grown to adore cold calling. So I probably would have kicked back, taken the week off ...

... and had a really agonizing time getting back on the horse next Monday.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cold Calling Alternatives: Email prospecting with Ed Gandia

If you're convinced you'd rather spend a lifetime eating broken glass than pick up the phone and cold call a prospect, you're probably in good company. So can you survive as a freelancer?

Of course. As with anything there's more than one way to skin a cat. Which is why although this blog focuses on cold calling, we'll occasionally offer viable alternatives.

Here's a link to what's shaping up to be an excellent (FREE!) series of videos on "warm e-mail prospecting" by Ed Gandia of International Freelancers Academy. Even if you're a hard core cold caller, Ed's video series will give you lots of good marketing pearls you can integrate into your approach.

One large caveat: Ed's first episode on the horrors of cold calling is so far from my experience, I don't know where to start. I was even more surprised to see all the anti-cold calling comments below.

In 460 calls and counting, I've never been hung up on, rarely been made to feel like I'm wasting prospects' time, and have had WAY better than a 1 percent response rate.

I suspect the difference is one of approach -- in the examples Ed describes, the salesperson is trying to snare a meeting or even a sale on the spot.

For the purposes of this blog, we're calling to gauge receptiveness and see if the client wants more info. If we secure a meeting, it usually comes after the client spends some time with our portfolio, not right there during the initial call. This approach doesn't seem to annoy people -- in fact they're often grateful the writer reached out.

Hate Cold Calling? Do This Instead | International Freelancers Academy

In-Person Prospecting: One Reader's Approach

Just because you're not into phone prospecting doesn't mean you can't engage in courageous self-marketing as a writer. In person networking through professional organizations, Meet-Ups and trade events in your specialty area are another great way to get your face out there.

Here's how one brave freelancer used a community event to approach marketing pros in her niche:

I was at a street fair recently, and a community hospital was exhibiting. I had tried to reach them with a letter of introduction, and didn't get anywhere. I asked one of the people working at the booth if they were from the marketing department, and not shockingly, they were. I said I was a medical writer and asked if they needed or used freelancers. The guy couldn't hand me his card fast enough, asking who else I wrote for. He said to follow up with him the next day, which of course I did by 9:30 a.m. We'll see if it turns into anything, but it was a very easy way to approach a potential client. I'm going to try it at future street fairs!

One huge advantage of prospecting in person: marketing research shows that clients are far more likely to hire someone they've met in the flesh.

Note: if you're actively cold calling, prospects will often dish about live networking opportunities in your area. As someone relatively new to Fort Collins, I've found this to be a huge windfall.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest Post: Anxiety Free Cold-Calling Tips From Peter Bowerman

Talk about a superstar of cold calling. 


To relieve any lingering fears you may have had about the cold call process, here's a guest post from the man who inspired me to give it a try -- the one and only Peter Bowerman! 


If you like his advice below, I definitely recommend you pick up a copy of his book, The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less. He does a great job of psyching you up, demystifying the cold-call process, and showing you how anyone can succeed at self-marketing (whether through cold calling or other means).


So without further ado ... take it away, Peter.


Anxiety-Free Cold-Calling
How to Make Phone Prospecting Productive – Minus the Stress!
by Peter Bowerman


(An adapted excerpt from The Well-Fed Writer (2010; Fanove) by Peter Bowerman) 


Action or Results?  In my seminars, I’ll ask, “When starting a cold-calling campaign, should you focus on action or results?” Many immediately yell out, “Results!” Why? “Well, we’re judged on results,” they’ll reply. But I say “Action” is the right answer. Think about it. What’s true of action that isn’t true of results? If you answered, You can control action, but you can’t control results, go to the head of the class.


You have no control over the results of any given phone call or email. Nor how that person on the other end of the line will react to your contact or whether that individual will think your portfolio is good enough to consider hiring you.


Sure, you can improve your results by, say, getting more comfortable with your phone skills, choosing better prospects and beefing up your “book.” But still, fundamentally, the one thing you have control over is the actions you take. An example…


Two copywriters both start cold-calling at 9:00 a.m. Copywriter #1’s goal? To land two new writing projects or three hot prospects by 5:00 p.m. Copywriter #2’s goal? To make 50 calls. Now, tell me – who’s going to have a more stressful day?


Around 2:00 p.m., if #1 has landed neither gigs nor interest, you think the desperation is going to start seeping into his voice? How do you think that’ll work out for him? Meanwhile, #2, cool as a cucumber, makes his 50 calls – unconcerned about the outcome (that would be focusing on results again!) – and he’s done.


Here’s the key: Make those 30, 40 or 50 calls a day, and the results – hot prospects and writing jobs – will come. Minus the anxiety. The Law of Averages is ironclad. And I don’t care how those calls turn out (i.e., live contact, voice mail, message left with a secretary, appointment, dinner date, etc.). Keep calling and the results are assured.  


Just a “Telemarketer”? Really?  Another thing. In a seminar I was doing a few years back, a woman raised her hand and said, very earnestly, “I just hate the idea of cold calling, because I don’t appreciate telemarketers, and I think most people feel the same way.” Whoa.


I gathered my thoughts, looked at her and asked, “Is that who you think you are? Just an obnoxious telemarketer—no different from the people who rudely interrupt your dinner to peddle aluminum siding, long-distance service, carpet cleaning, and a zillion other things you have no interest in?”


Get this or fail: Assuming you’re a competent, reliable writer, if you pursue this business, you’ll be a professional marketing a valuable and needed professional service to other professionals. Period. While the people you call may not need your services (80 percent won’t) or even have the time to talk to you, I promise they will not be viewing you as an irritating telemarketer. So, don’t dare view yourself this way.


Action, Not Results…Again  When I sold books door-to-door in college, our goal was 30 demos a day (the equivalent of phone calls made to prospects), a demo roughly defined as pulling the books out and beginning our pitch—either in the house or at the door—whether or not we got to finish it. Making sales the goal (i.e., results) would’ve introduced unnecessary anxiety into the process. They knew if we made 30 honest demos a day or close to it, the sales would come. And they did. Same here.


There were days as bookmen where we’d put in our honest 13½ hours (8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday; insanity, yes, but character-building insanity) and come up with…bupkus. Growth and Development Days, we called them. Very, very rare. Our sales managers would congratulate us on having a G&D day, adding, By the way, you do know that you’ll sell the first three houses you visit tomorrow, don’t you?


And I’m telling you straight here, we always did, because, I’m convinced we were, well…convinced. On my first call one morning following a G&D day, I remember approaching someone getting in their car in the driveway, briefcase in hand, about to head to work, and absolutely knowing that, despite the unpromising-looking circumstances, this person was going to buy a set of books (a $40 purchase). I guess he knew it too, because he did. Approach cold calling with that same bone-deep belief in the Law of Averages and you can’t help but win.


************


Love to write but hate to starve? Visit www.wellfedwriter.com for a free report, ezine and blog on the lucrative field of “commercial” freelancing – writing for businesses and for $50-125+ an hour. All written by Peter Bowerman, veteran commercial freelancer, writing/publishing coach, and the author of the three award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles, the self-published how-to “standards” on lucrative commercial freelancing. He chronicled his self-publishing success (currently, 60,000 copies of his books in print and a full-time living for nine-plus years) in the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I know this much is true

A prospect (for whom I'd left a voice mail an hour ago) just phoned in a panic.

"I really need the link to your site!" she said. "Didn't you send it?"

I told her I had, but that I would send it again. Just in case.

Turns out it was in her spam folder.

"Great!" she said. "This couldn't come at a better time. I have something big coming up and I could really use a writer."

This before she even read my portfolio.

Seriously.

Write this down and post it on your bathroom mirror.

For every one prospect who will be annoyed by your call, there are at least 50 who will act like you just answered their prayers.

En serio. There are people out there who really need a good copywriter RIGHT NOW and will be overjoyed if someone friendly and competent called them up right this minute.

I guarantee you, if you make enough calls, you will find someone who will be GAGA to hear from you. It will be like they have been sitting around all their life waiting for a writer to call.

I never would have believed it, but it happened twice my first day of cold calling. It still happens pretty regularly.

BLOOPERS: The other Sarah

Today I called a graphic design firm. But the creative director insisted I'd contacted him already.

"Oh yes," he said. "We've had a nice back and forth about your services.  Don't you remember?"

Derp?

Although I didn't, this seemed all too plausible at first. After all, I'm over 400 calls now, and though I have a pretty good memory, it's getting impossible to keep that many prospects straight in my head.

However, he seemed so genuinely happy to hear from me, I was suspicious.

"Let me just check my notes," I said. Sure enough, I had no record in my spreadsheet of calling this guy, or any prospect with a similar name.

The creative director was still SO SURE, but then he double-checked his email.

Sure enough, he'd recently been contacted by yet another Sarah Copywriter. Albeit one with a different last name.

Fortunately, even though Other Sarah Copywriter was apparently great, he still asked to see my portfolio.

I went on with the day's calls, but couldn't shake the creepy feeling that Other Sarah Copywriter had gotten to all the good prospects first.

Or that people might in fact be mistaking me for her.

At least it sounds like she's somewhat personable and competent. Maybe it'll even work in my favor one day.

Imagine if she was a talentless wench. Shudder.

Marketing you can do while drinking a beer ...

While I wouldn't recommend drinking while you make the actual calls lest you get a bit TOO confident, here's some easy support work you can do in front of the TV -- or even while buzzed -- if you're having a bad day. Or just want to tie one on early.

1. Go to the website for your local Chamber or Commerce.

2. Look for prospects you might want to call. On many chamber sites, you can search by category (advertising, nonprofit, etc.).

3. Visit each company's website. Use a spreadsheet to record company name, phone number and (if you can pinpoint it) the name and email of an appropriate contact person.

4. Make sure the company is not a) someone you have already called, b) a subsidiary of another company that likely does its marketing or c) out of business.

5. Repeat 25 times, and you've got your cold call list for tomorrow.

This work is so mindless, it may feel like laziness at first. But believe me, if you're going to make 1,000 cold calls, you will spend a lot of time on it.

I usually save this exercise for days when I'm feeling run down, working late or just need a break from it all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

BLOOPERS: The Phone Connection from H. E. Double Hockey Sticks

So I called up a graphic designer yesterday, and within five seconds I was convinced I was speaking to someone with a horrific speech impediment.

It went like this:

Me: So, do you have any occasional or ongoing needs for a copywriter to assist with Web sites and other writing projects?

Prospect: UM! UM! Derpy derp da derpity do (continues).

The embarrassing part: I think he could hear me with perfect clarity because he responded by chatting on and on in gibberish. Racing around my living room and leaping onto random furniture in search of better reception did no good whatsoever.

I finally had to interrupt him and say, "I'm sorry, but the connection is terrible and I'm having a hard time hearing you!"

"Derp," he said. "Doody derp da doo."

"I'll send you a link to my Web site," I told him. "You can view my online portfolio and resume there. Again, so sorry about the bad connection!"

I hung up feeling like a total idiot (as if phone connection was my fault) -- and way too embarrassed to call back.

But whaddaya know, same guy emailed back today (in English, not Klingon) with gushing praise for my portfolio. He just lost his copywriter to the corporate world and is looking to find another one. Would I be available to meet next week?

And he also apologized for the terrible connection and said he hoped he didn't sound too silly.

When prospects need you, they really need you. Remember this works in your favor.

Wussy Prospect List Reaps Rich Rewards

Okay, so lest you feel like a total wuss for axing those client types that give you fits from the prospect list (whoever they may be for you), I must say that yesterday was probably my most productive day of cold calling ever.

And I think it was because I overhauled my list to eliminate all doctors' offices (which were starting to feel like my personal nemesis).

I actually took today off from cold calling because just about everyone I called and sent a link to yesterday wrote me back and it took forever to answer them all.

Quite a few were looking to set up face-to-face meetings. And one (who is an artist on the side) asked me if I'd be interested in reworking her bio (first paid gig if it pans out -- woot!).

One man wrote and asked not only for more info, but for tips on selling copywriting services to his clients.

So who did I call yesterday? Almost everyone was a graphic or web designer.

And weirdly enough, they were all in Cheyenne and Laramie. Those are little Wyoming towns about an hour up the road. I was sure they'd be a tough sell, but so far they've been very receptive. Maybe there are less copywriters trolling the phone lines up there.

So who's on your list that you dread calling today? I give you permission to delete them. Give them the ax and replace them with a different prospect you feel more confident about.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Prospect Lists for Wusses

A confession: I have not been taking my own advice.

I let several days go by last week without cold calling.

Part of it was looming deadlines, part of it was normal life drama, and part of it was, well, resentment because cold calling the past two weeks hasn't been going as smoothly as it was at first.

Unable to face another round of, "You do, um, WHAT?" I decided to prune my prospect list to focus on the types of businesses that have been most receptive to cold calling. These include:

* Marketing firms
* Graphic design firms
* Hospitals
* Universities
* Publications/Publishers
* Larger nonprofits

And I kept a few things that I just happen to like (e.g. microbreweries).

This made today's round of cold calls refreshingly smooth. It's just so much faster and less taxing when you're calling people who already know exactly what you're selling and can give you a yes or no on the spot.

And if you're an anxious cold caller, I would recommend starting out with these types of prospects.

So who did I cut? For the moment (until my sales skills are more honed and my skin is thicker), I've decided to give small businesses, medical practices and school districts a miss. I just haven't had much luck with them.

Anyone have any tips for selling projects to businesses in any of these categories? Might be a great opportunity for a guest post!

Paging Experienced Cold Callers

If you are an experienced cold caller, would you be willing to make some guest posts here on overcoming fears or other topics of interest to us novices?

If interested, please contact me at sarah@ziplineagency.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

SUPERSTARS OF PHONE MARKETING: Paul

I'm staring at giraffes at The Living Desert in California when suddenly my cell phone starts to blare.

Though I haven't added him to my contacts, I recognize his number. Yup, he's called that many times.

At first I almost ignore him, but I have fobbed Paul the cheerful insurance agent off so many times I feel like I at least owe him one more lame excuse. And so I answer.

"Hello," I say in my grumpiest, I'm-oh-so-busy voice.

"Hello," says Paul, sounding way too chipper for a Monday morning. "Just checking to see if you had a chance to have a look at those numbers I sent over."

I tell him I have not, and then add in a less-than-angelic tone that I'm on vacation and I'll talk to him when I get back in a week or so. I hang up as fast as possible and probably don't even say good-bye.

Now if that had been ME trying to get some grumpy girl's business, I probably would have given up right there. And written a ranting blog post about psycho prospects to boot.

But Paul is, well, way better at this phone-marketing thing than I am. Which is why he's now not only my insurance agent but my financial planner and I've bought all kinds of insurance from him that I didn't even know I needed.

It didn't happen overnight though. It didn't even happen in a month. The best way I can describe it: he wore me down.

And ya know, I'm glad he did.

Paul first contacted me after I filled out a reply card that arrived in my new-business welcome packet when I registered my LLC. It was from a firm offering "affordable health insurance," and at the time I was hoping some agent with magic powers could get me a policy that covered doctor visits and didn't have a through-the-roof deductible.

So it wasn't technically a cold call, but still.

Paul called next week and said he'd send over some numbers for me to look at. This he promptly did.

I, however, was in the throes of starting my new business and had better things to do.

Every week, usually on a Monday, Paul would call and ask if I had looked at the numbers.

"Nope," I'd reply week after week. "Nope, nope, nope."

I swear, this went on for months. After a while, I almost started to feel guilty about it. But Paul's quotes stayed in my inbox untouched.

I can't remember what finally lit a fire under me. Maybe the stars aligned. Maybe my current health insurance company did something that annoyed me. Anyway, I finally picked up Paul's quote and had a gander.

Only to find it was written in jargon that might as well have been Mandarin.

For the first time ever, I called Paul and asked what in the name of all that was holy he had sent me.

"Oh, I have some free time tomorrow," he said. "How about if I stop by and we look at it together?"

Well, long story short, he stopped by, he was friendly and knowledgeable and he had solutions that made sense to all my problems. Many visits later, he's part of the dream team that makes my little business chug along.

And I now own all sorts of insurance that I never knew I needed or thought was too expensive, like dental and disability.

Well played, Paul. Well played.

Lessons I learned from being on the successfully-converted prospect end of phone marketing:

1. Keep showing up (by phone). After a few calls, Paul established himself in my mind as "THE Insurance Agent." Even though I'd never used his services yet, I started to think of him as mine.

2. These things take time. Paul didn't sell me in one call or even ten calls. But all that calling paid off in the end.

3. Be courageous about following up. Even though sometimes I got grumpy with Paul, I needed what he was selling and in time I realized it. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I had come down with leukemia or fallen into the gears of combine pre-Paul.

Do you have a hero of cold calling? Want to guest blog about them here? Give me a shout.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

TIPS: Before you make 1,000 cold calls, check your phone plan

Ugh. I'm a bit of an infrequent cell phone user, so to save money, I'm on a $25-a-month, pay-as-you-go plan by Virgin Mobile.

Which was fantastic until I started spending an hour or more each day on the phone.

Just checked my phone bill and it's over $100.

Now, if I had been smart, I could have saved at least 60 of those dollars by upgrading to a better pay-as-you-go plan, at least for the remaining month of my campaign.

Another thing I should have done was switch off the automatic top-up feature (which allowed me to keep calling after maxing out my Anytime Minutes -- without realizing the massive charges I was racking up).

I've fixed the problems and in the end, it's all tax deductible so I'm not too bummed. Just hoping someone may learn from my mistake -- and save their business a few bucks!

Monday, May 2, 2011

FIELD GUIDE: Medical, Dental and Chiropractic Practices

Nature of the beast: Family practices, eye doctors, chiropractors, dentists and other health professionals set up shop everywhere from cities to tiny hamlets. Most handle their own marketing and patient communications, unless they're affiliated with a health system.

Approachability Level: Fair. Unlike hospital administrators, doctors and other medical types vary greatly in their understanding of what a freelancer can do for them. This is client that may require some grooming and education. 

What they need from freelancers: Web content, newsletters, patient communications, articles, ads, ghostwriting.

Ask for: The person who handles marketing. Sometimes it's the practice manager, sometimes it's a doctor.

Potential to Become a Regular: I haven't had much luck with private practices, though I've heard other freelancers have. Anyone care to chime in?

Caveats: Some practices are owned by large health systems which handle their marketing. You can usually tell from the practice website whether it's independent.

Calling practices will make you very good at dealing with receptionists and other folks who are protective of the boss's time.

I've been surprised how few doctors have voice mail. Be prepared to leave a brief message and ask for the decision maker's email so you can forward a link to your site.

Just hit call

Monday is always my worst day of cold calling. After a weekend off, I just can't bring myself hit the call button for the first time. If I'm not careful, I start checking Facebook, reading Twitter and catching up on FLX -- and suddenly it's 11 o'clock and all the prospects are at lunch.

This Monday was extra brutal because I took the day off from cold calling last Thursday and then wrote all day Friday, so I really lost my momentum.

A few tricks for getting yourself to hit the call button when you REALLY don't want to:

1. Have strict "cold calling" hours. At 9:00, you're calling until you reach your goal for the day. No whining. **cracks whip**

2. Reward yourself. Make an agreement with yourself that if you get through your cold calls by a reasonable hour, you can have a little treat (a shorter workday, a break with a favorite TV show, a cheeseburger. Seriously, whatever it takes).

3. Remember why you're doing this. I posted a list of the things that cold calling is going to bring me: the chance to travel, move to Denver, and get my own place. I force myself to look at it when I'm flagging.

4. Repeat: The first is the worst. Once that first call is done, the others will be easy. Do what you have to to break the ice.

5. Keep your momentum up by calling every day. Twenty-five calls should take 1 to 2 hours, which leaves plenty of time for other projects.

How do you motivate yourself to make that first call on a Monday morning?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can Internet dating make you a better self-marketer?

I hate Internet dating, and I only do it because I have trouble meeting people now that I work at home. In the month since I put up a profile, I have been on a slew of truly horrible dates (including one with a guy so creepy I ended up hiding in the ladies room in hopes he would get the message and bail).

But however painful it is, I'll admit Match.com has taught me certain life skills.

For one, it has given me a ton of practice talking up total strangers, breaking the ice and listening actively through even the most painfully boring of conversations.

These are good skills to cultivate if you're contemplating making the leap from prospecting primarily through LOIs to putting the real thing out there -- your voice, and ultimately, your face -- to clients.

I think Internet dating has also taught me patience (which I'll admit is not one of my virtues). Just like I may go out with 10 guys and see nothing I like, I may call 300 clients without a job offer. S'OK. That's just the way the game is played, and if you don't like it, try a different marketing method (or take down your profile).

During both dating and cold calling, it pays to admit you have absolutely no control over the outcome. For this reason, I give both dates and prospects complete freedom to behave irrationally.

They can ignore me for weeks or months and then call me up out of the blue.

They can express enthusiasm and then disappear for months.

They can pull the "I really like you, but the timing is bad" card and revoke it later.

Yup, marketing is a lot like the early stages of dating.  Can't say I'll miss either one of them when I'm happily coupled/rolling in assignments, but I'll never forget the lessons they have taught me.

Survived: First Client Meeting

So nearly threw up from nerves over first client meeting today. I'm mediocre at best face to face and really hate to sell myself.

But it actually went well.

The client was marketing director for a small independent hospital. He gave me some great feedback on my portfolio and talked about the types of projects he hires writers for.

He said he doesn't use freelancers very often, so it will be an irregular gig at best. However ...


He's been in health marketing for decades (all in this area) and knows everyone and anyone who might want to hire me. So I left with a list of leads and phone numbers and permission to use his name to get my foot in the door.


Really, he was so generous with his time and expertise, I was extremely grateful. Just sent him a gushing thank-you card.


Now taking day off from cold calling to reward self for going to scary meeting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

CHALLENGES: Boredom

Cold calling people on the phone can certainly bring all your uncertainties to the surface.

During the first couple hundred calls I struggled with fear of rejection, fear of nameless people, fear of sounding pushy and fear of being labeled an annoying telemarketer.

I just hit 300 calls today and I think I can safely say the fear if gone. There's a new enemy. Crushing boredom.

If you've ever been in choir or another performance group, you might be able to relate to this. It's the feeling of having sung the same song so many times, you feel like you'd rather put a live grenade in your mouth and pull the pin than sing it one more time.

When I get so bored with cold calling I want to eat my one head, I think about the time I went to a Rolling Stones concert. The performance was so electric and crackling with energy, it was impossible to believe Mick and the boys had been singing those same songs for going on 40 years.

So must it go with cold calling, I suppose.

One thing you can do that bands can't, of course, is change the words. I think after this week I'll rewrite my cold call script and see if it puts some life back in me.

Do you ever get bored with cold calls? How do you cope?

FIELD GUIDE: Health Systems

While I think hyper-analysis is usually the enemy of cold calling, I do want to talk about some of the different clients you're likely to encounter out there. I'll offer just a few quick pointers on how to approach them on the phone and what they might be looking for in a writer.

Since it's the one I'm most familiar with, I'll kick off with:

HEALTH SYSTEMS

Nature of the beast: One large umbrella company that operates hospitals, doctors' offices and often extras like a charitable foundation. Some local health systems are owned by even larger conglomerates, but generally each regional system does its own marketing.

Approachability Level: Excellent. Most health marketing folks know all about freelancers, so very little education will be required on your part. 


What they need from freelancers: Anything and everything. Press releases, articles for their newsletters, advertorials, brochures, patient letters, TV and radio spots, grant support, fund raising materials and internal communications.

Two off-beat projects I received through hospitals/health systems include an award speech and a ghostwritten fiction book. Both were exceedingly fun to work on.

Ask for: The marketing department (check online press releases for a name and contact info).

Potential to Become a Regular: High. I've heard of several folks making well over $1,000 a month from health system/hospital gigs. 

Caveats: The good news in Fort Collins is we have a large health system that produces tons of writing. The bad news: it owns just about every health facility in a fifty mile radius, which cuts down on the number of potential health system clients.

Some health systems (particularly smaller ones) write in-house, hire agencies or simply don't have the budget for freelancers.

BLOOPERS: Called the Same Place Three Times in One Day

I hope other make mistakes like this -- I just called the same chiropractic clinic three times in one round of cold calling.

The second time was because the doctor's name and the clinic were separate listings in our local Chamber of Commerce Directory.

The third time? I don't even have a good excuse. I just read my spreadsheet wrong.

It was the same secretary each time and she caught on before I did both times.

She probably thinks I'm the weirdest, most disorganized person in the world. Hope it added some entertainment to her day!

Anyone else have any good cold call bloopers?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New domain name ... SHINY!

So thanks to Tania Casselle and Darcy Lewis over at Freelance Success (FLX) who came up with an easy solution to my last-name, voice-mail conundrum.

I just bought a new (voice-mail friendly) domain and forwarded it!

Now instead of speaking in Navajo code-talk, can just tell prospects' voice mail:

"You can view my online portfolio and resume at zipline agency dot com."

For anyone who is wondering, forwarding is free (at least through GoDaddy) and if you call sales, they will walk you through the setup.

Last-name problem solved. And for only $1 a month. (Much easier than going to court or marrying some guy named Smith).

More serendipity: Copywriter with tips to dream pub

You just never know who you'll meet once you start calling all over creation.

Just phoned a web design company and a very friendly copywriter answered.

We got to chatting.

When she's not doing web copy, she writes for 5280 (our awesome Denver regional mag which I am DYING to break into). And she's been hoping to break into Writer's Digest, so looks like we can help each other out.

Over the next 15 minutes, she gave me the scoop on local writer's groups, conferences and "people I must meet" in the NoCo writing world.

We agreed we must get together for coffee soon.

After calls like this, I always think back on the months I spent agonizing over being yelled at, scolded, rejected and told off on the phone (none of which has ever happened).

If only I had know that happy scenarios like this would be (far) more common!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Serendipity

So didn't get an assignment, but almost as good -- one of my prospects wrote back and invited me to a local Meetup of web designers, SEO pros, writers and so on! Beyond excited. You just never know what you might find when you go digging around calling for people.

Prospecting: Keys to compiling a strong call list

I've had several questions about how to compile a cold call list of 1,000 potential clients, particularly in smaller market areas.

While I'm hardly an expert, I'll share what's working for me so far -- and what isn't. Hopefully some of you more experienced cold callers can chime in with your own experiences.

Some quick background: I'm in Fort Collins, Colorado, population 130,000. I'm about an hour from Denver, the largest market in the Rocky Mountain region. So while I'm not in a huge city, I won't run out of people to call.

I started by compiling a list of marketing firms, advertising agencies, graphic design firms and web designers in my area. I did most of this initial prospecting by Google.

Since I have some real-world experience in health care and education, I also made lists of hospitals, school districts and private schools.

And finally, I added a few dozen companies I thought were fun or interesting (like our local microbrewery).

My initial list was about 120 prospects long. I started calling them one by one. It's turned out to be a decent list.

My learning so far:
  • A strong cold call list makes all the difference. Cold calling is stressful enough. But it's even worse when you get passed around to five different people only to find out that the marketing department is in Pig's Knuckle, Arkansas. Or worse, the people who take your call act like you're speaking Klingon when you describe your services. 
  • Call companies who have used freelance copywriters in the past. Your best source for this information? Other writers. It's a great reason to join a local writing group and network.
  • Call companies that do a lot of writing. Before calling a company, take a quick look at its website. Is it producing web content, press releases, publications and newsletters? Are white papers posted? Does it engage in fund raising or receive grants? Does it issue an annual report? Is there a marketing department? All of the above are indications that a company may need a hand with writing projects -- at least occasionally.
  • Some industries are an especially good bet. In my experience, marketing companies, publishers, web design firms, graphic designers, hospitals, universities and regional publications are most receptive. 
  • Call the right person. If you can easily pinpoint the marketing or creative director on the company's website, by all means call this person directly (or ask for him or her by name).
  • Call the right office. Many companies have multiple divisions. To avoid aggravation, call the main office/main campus/headquarters/administration.
A caveat -- while it's worth doing a quick scan of the prospect's website, don't go overboard with your research. Remember, the odds that a particular company will be interested in hiring you is about one in ten. Just gather enough info to increase your chances of getting through to the right person.

Questions I still have ...
  • I have the worst luck with franchises and local divisions of national companies (they inspired the example above about speaking Klingon). Do franchises ever hire freelancers? 
  • Does cold calling outside one's geographic area ever yield results? To find out, I may try calling some folks in Cleveland (where I grew up), and Denver and Cheyenne (each one hour away).
  • Can you cold call clients overseas? After living in Asia for six years, I know of several English-language hospitals, financial services firms, law firms and so on that produce a lot of writing. Might they hire a freelance writer stateside?
How do you compile your cold call list?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TIPS: Choose Your Web Address Wisely

If I had been sane when I set up my business, I'd have given www.sarah-maurer.com a pass and picked something that's super easy for people to spell.

Why?

Because when I'm leaving a voice mail for a prospect, I like to spell out my web address so they can check out my online portfolio and resume.

Because of my stunning lack of foresight, it usually goes something like this. (Combine this messy spiel with my goofy accent and it's easy to imagine marketing director's head exploding.)

"To see my online portfolio and resume, visit duble-u duble-u duble-u dot Sarah dash Maurer dot com. Haha, let me spell that for you. It's Sarah with an 'h' dash mike alfa uniform romeo echo romeo dot com."

I knew it was way too much for people when a very nice lady called back and said, "I didn't get that last part. Was that in code?"

Gah. If I had been smart, I'd have made my business name the domain. Then I could just say, "Visit my online portfolio at zipline media dot com."

Food for thought if you're going to be setting up a commercial writing business. Especially if you plan to do much cold calling.

How do others with crazy names get around this?

Cold Calling Unscripted

So most of you writing types are probably familiar with Peter Bowerman (who talked me into this whole cold calling thing via his excellent book, "The Well-Fed Writer").

In the book he includes an extensive cold-calling script that covers every actual contingency that could happen on the phone.

When I was working up the nerve to cold call, I took Peter's script way too much to heart. I actually made flashcards so I could practice the responses verbatim.

Yup, I practiced saying everything from "May I speak to your marketing director?" to "I feel comfortable working on a wide variety of projects" to "I'll be in your area next week. Might I stop by with some samples?"

Seriously. I agonized over this for months. I wanted to be sure I was really, REALLY ready.

I wish I had known what real cold calling is like.

After about five calls, I actually scrapped Peter's script. (Sorry, Peter. I still worship you). It just didn't sound like me and it was making me sound nervous and forget to breathe -- leading to sharp intakes of air in the middle of sentences.

Instead, I rewrote my own little script which fits neatly onto an index card:

Hi! My name is Sarah Maurer and I'm a local freelance (copy)writer. I'm checking in to see if you have any occasional or ongoing need for a writer to assist with (fundraising), (marketing materials), (patient communications), and so on. Who would be the best person to speak to?


If I actually get through to a real person, 99 percent of the time this is all I have to say.

If they're interested, they ask if I have samples.

I tell them I've got several uploaded to my website and would be happy to send them a link. I tell them I'll touch base soon to see if they have any questions and discuss any writing needs they may have.

If I've done lots of writing in their field (e.g. healthcare), I mention this.

Sha-ZAM. Done.

Really, that's all the talking that happens. It takes two minutes tops.

Before I started cold calling, I was sure I'd be grilled by every prospect. But seriously, I've probably only had four or five people who asked any questions at all before seeing the portfolio.

How about the rest of you? Do you use a script? How much actual selling do you do during the initial call?

TIPS: Lunchtime is Voice Mail Time

So here's something I've learned after a few all-day cold calling blitzes.

For better or worse, you are very likely to get the marketing person's voice mail between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

So if you are feeling especially chatty and social, take a break and use that time to work on something else.

However, if you are strung out and grumpy (like I was feeling today), it's the perfect time to cold call. You can leave voice mail after voice mail message and never have to talk to a real person.

Anyone else have any good recommendations on the timing of cold calls? I've heard early morning and late afternoon are good, but I've yet to try it.

Cold Call Leads to Galaxy Far, Far Away

So I'm up to 203 cold calls as of today and I'm still alive! I have yet to have anyone yell at me for wasting their time or spamming them via the phone. But I have made some great contacts and met some real characters.

I think my favorite new cold-calling pal is an out-of-work guy who runs a site called The Galactic Warehouse. Check out some of those nebulas! And the size of that telescope.

Not bad for a guy working out of his backyard in Fort Collins.

I called him thinking he was a graphic designer, but his whole deal is astral photography. He does it as a hobby and to make a little money on the side.

(How does one pick up this hobby? I'm didn't even think to ask).

By the way, his photos have been on TV and in mags and they're for sale if you ever need one to go with a science story. You can contact him through his website.

Anyone else ever made a totally random friend/learned something interesting through cold calling?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cold Calling Day Zero

(Plagiarizing a post from my Recovering Expat blog):

So for folks in the copy/commercial writing biz (which is where I get the bulk of my income), cold calling (a.k.a. calling total strangers on the phone without an introduction) is considered one of the fastest ways to build your client list.

According to Peter Bowerman (author of "The Well-Fed Writer," an awesome book I highly recommend if you're trying to break into this area), making about 1,000 cold calls at start-up should have your business running along pretty smoothly.

One problem -- it's absolutely terrifying! Which is why despite knowing this, I've waited nine months to attempt it.

See the little ticker on the right? Did you notice how it's been at "0" since January? That's me being a cold-calling wimp.

After a busy first quarter, I finally ran out of work this week, so I bit the bullet and started my 25-a-day, two-month cold calling program.

And you know what? It wasn't all that terrible. It even had fun and interesting moments. And while we'll see what happens in the next few weeks, so far it seems like a great way to connect with people who hire freelancers -- fast.

I started out following the little "script" in the Well-Fed-Writer, but actually, after a few calls, I rewrote it so it was a bit less formal and better suited to my personality. That helped me relax a bit.

The first few calls were terrifying.
After five, I took a little break to calm down.
After ten, I was still freaking out a little.
Around twenty, it started to feel like I had been doing this my whole life.
My nerves were totally gone by twenty-five.

A few people said thanks but no thanks. Most were VERY nice. One was a little grumpy, but hey. I was often grumpy when I had a day job.

A few said they rarely hire copywriters, but to send something for the file.

A surprising number seemed quite enthusiastic and said to send over materials and follow up in a few days.

At least two acted like they had been sitting around all their lives waiting for a copywriter to call (highly gratifying, and kind of amusing considering they hadn't even seen my stuff yet).

No one yelled at me.

No one asked what the hell a copywriter is.

Though I tripped over my tongue a couple times, I didn't say anything too embarrassing.

So I have a ton of resumes, clips and links to send out tomorrow. It's a great feeling to have the first day over with (which I'm assuming is probably going to be the hardest by far).

It's only 4:00, but am having a delicious Dales Pale Ale now to reward self.