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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.