Monday, April 25, 2011

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?


  1. I've never actually cold CALLED. I've cold EMAILED. It's gotten me meetings but not work. Are you literally calling all of these places? If so, I'm so impressed.


  2. Yup. On the phone. So far, I'm in the same boat where I've got nibbles and meetings but no assignments yet. I'll be at it a couple months, so I'll keep you posted -- should be interesting to see.