Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #12: The Quick Way to Hit a Ton of Prospects

Carol Tice

Marketing for freelance writers: reach a lot of prospects quickly.

Does it take you all day to write one prospecting email? Does writing a query letter to a magazine take you a week?

If doing written marketing triggers your perfection-itis gene and slows your marketing effort to crawl, know that there is a faster way.

You could contact scores of prospective clients, cut to the chase, and find out if they might use a freelance writer like you — all in a single day.

This marketing method I’m about to tell you about scares the heck out of a lot of writers. But I rarely meet a writer who’s devoted any serious time to it who hasn’t gotten at least one good client.

Strap yourself in, writers. Today, we talk cold calling.

Yes — cold calling involves having to introduce yourself to total strangers dozens of times a day, and explain that you’re a freelance writer.

But here’s the magic:

When you develop your own lead list of quality prospects and then proactively call the companies you’d love to write for, you are swimming in the right pool — the one with good-paying clients. As opposed to responding to Craigslist ads that 1 million other writers are reading, too.

Effective cold calling relies on just a few basic points:

  1. Develop a great list
  2. Find the appropriate contact
  3. Write a simple script
  4. Have a strong call to action

1. How to develop your list

I went over resources for developing a prospect call list a few weeks back in this series, so you can review on that link if necessary. Remember to look at how big prospects are — bigger is better. Bigger means bigger marketing budgets, and a better shot at ongoing writing assignments for you. Whatever size clients you’ve got now, start targeting the next rung up the ladder.

Once you’ve committed to building a list, keep your eyes peeled anytime you’re reading your daily paper’s business section, watching TV news, or scanning local magazines. Everything you read is a potential source for finding great businesses you might pitch.

My tip is to concentrate on a particular industry or two in developing your list, and on your city or region for starters. Otherwise, you’re likely to be overwhelmed thinking about all the possible clients you could call. Try those, and if nothing pans out, then move on to another industry or region.

2. How to find contacts

Once you have your list, you need to identify the right person at that company to talk to — depending on the situation, usually a publications editor, online/social media manager, or marketing manager. How can you get these names?

  • Try a Google search on “marketing manager + Company Name” or something similar
  • Search on LinkedIn using similar parameters
  • Call up the company and simply ask for the appropriate contact: “Who is the marketing manager who would hire freelancers?”
  • Ask your network if anyone has worked with the company and knows a contact

3. A sample script

The thrill of cold calling is you’re not spending hours researching each prospect. Once you’ve identified your people, you want to go right ahead and call. Peter Bowerman goes into tons more detail on this in his Well-Fed Writer book, but to sum up, say something along the lines of:

  1. Hello — I’m an experienced freelance writer specializing in [your niche here].
  2. I really like what your company is doing, and I’m wondering if you ever work with freelance writers.

That’s about it! If you happen to have noticed something interesting about their current marketing effort, you can mention it inbetween lines 1 and 2 there.

If they say, “Actually, we do use freelance writers,” that’s your chance to chat them up and find out what sort of needs they have. What projects might be coming up? If you have relevant experience, talk it up.

4. Call to action

If the prospect expresses at least some mild interest, you need to end your call with an action item they should do next — something that will keep this budding relationship alive.

My pal Linda Formichelli likes to close with, “May I send you my clips?” This is a low-commitment, non-scary question that prospects can easily say “yes” to without committing to much.

The bonus benefit

The more you say to people, “I’m a freelance writer,” the more you will get your head around the idea that you really are. It’s a bit mystical, but the more you say that out loud, the more you will believe it, and the more you will take your freelancing seriously.

Need more marketing help? Here’s a place where you can get a bunch…

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  1. Charity

    Hi Carol,

    This really does work, even in places with abominable job markets. Over the last 25 years, I’ve used this to job hunt, doing the actual cold calls in person so I could drop my resume off with a live person. I’ve been called back for interviews every time and the majority of the positions I’ve held came from in-person cold calls. This works well for someone who does not prefer phone cold calls. As my new website gets completed, I’ve been thinking about how I might use this method to get free lance writing assignments or contract writing assignments, and think, with a compelling marketing piece, it could be as effective as it has been for job hunting. Of course, I realize this only works well locally, but it provides a good starting point.

    Thanks for this informative post.

  2. Shauna L Bowling

    Carol, I love this post. Writers by nature are a bit shy when it comes to speaking in public. We’re much like a DJ – we live behind the microphone or the monitor, in the freelance writer’s case. That results in postponed or weak marketing efforts. Those of us who work for ourselves have to be the marketing department in addition to development and content.

    I’m all for ‘passive’ marketing because I just don’t like the face-to-face, door-to-door method. I know how I react when marketers come to my door! In an effort to step out of my comfort zone, I’ve drawn up a flyer and have left some at places that get a lot of foot traffic such as my local grocery store and a nearby organic foods store. My next step is to mail my flyers to local businesses whose product or service is something I’m naturally passionate about.

    I don’t have a problem picking up the phone (well, maybe a little) because, once again, you’re not performing for an audience. They can’t see you and you can’t see them. Calling from a comfortable zone, such as your home (the poet in me shows itself from time to time) is more conducive to your confidence showing through. Once you make that connection, if a face-to-face appointment is requested, it should be easier to accomplish since you’ve already built somewhat of a relationship over the wire.

  3. Andrew Kardon

    Great post, Carol. Fairly simple actually, but as you put it, can be 100x more effective than shooting blindly at Craigslist ads. It’s certainly worth a shot. I have previous experience as an editor (where I’d get tons of pitches regularly, mostly via snail mail), and I honestly don’t remember anyone ever calling me up on the phone even once like that. Snail mail is easy to toss or put aside, and emails are easy to delete or just shoot off a quick reply. But a phone call may make you stand out slightly above the rest of the pack and at the very least, make that editor take notice when you do email them your clips.

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve ended up with assignments from calling an editor to ask about guidelines. Yes, you often get voicemail these days, but you never know — you could luck out and begin a relationship right there on the phone.

  4. Jen

    Great tips, Carol! This is also a brilliant strategy precisely because so few writers attempt it–you’ll automatically stand out from the sea of e-queries.

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