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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?