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…

Join my freelance writer community




  1. Josh Sarz

    This is great info, Carol. Thank you for sharing this. I was always wondering how to approach clients.

  2. Scott

    This is great, now I just need to get over my fear of the phone. I especially like the hint from Linda, one thing I’ve learned about sales is to get them in the habit of saying yes. Questions where there is really no reasonable alternative other than “yes” are good to ask.

  3. Joseph Putnam

    Hi Carol,

    It’s really interesting that you posted this topic because I had been thinking about sending you an e-mail to ask this exact question. You mentioned in the past that I should contact Fortune 500 companies about writing assignments, but that left me wondering what I needed to do to contact the right person. This post is exactly what I needed!

    Thanks for the post and hopefully my cold calling goes well! 🙂

  4. Corinne

    I have to get over the fear of rejection and start making these calls. Do you find there is a best time to call businesses? I mean does it matter if you call around the time they first open and are just facing the day? Does the time make a difference?

    • Carol Tice

      I’m not a big cold-caller myself, but I think the big thing about cold-calling is not to overthink it.

      Just do it when you have time to do it, anytime during business hours. You can’t second-guess how prospects are feeling at what hour, because every business is different. And whenever you call you’ll end up leaving a lot of voicemails in any case. Just go for it.

      • Corinne

        Do you recommend leaving a voicemail or calling back later?

        • Carol Tice

          Hi Corinne — are you a Den member? We have a 1-hour call with a ton of detail on how to do cold calls in there, from Sarah Maurer. Or you can click on that “cold calling” link in the post above to see her post.

  5. Terri Forehand

    wonderful information and encouraging for those afraid to do cold calling.

  6. Joe

    Wonderful post, I am bookmarking this.

    Carol, right now I blog for fun, but also to build my skills and my backlog of content. I have a plan to become at least a part time freelancer, and to build my business from there.

    My advantage? My current profession is sales. I cold call repeatedly, day after day.

    “But I rarely meet a writer who’s devoted any serious time to it who hasn’t gotten at least one good client.” No doubt. Because it’s a numbers game. The more you call, the more likely you’ll find someone interested in your services.

  7. Laura

    Nice timing, Carol, I’ve been on a cold calling spree lately myself. If you have a moment to spare would you mind weighing in on a current issue that’s come up for me? I found the marketing manager for a company whose ad I saw on a bus–I thought it was a bit weak when considering their target audience. So I got in touch and said I’d be interested in working with them, if they’d consider using freelancers. The catch is that they’re already using an agency for both the copywriting and design work on their ads, however the manager is new to this area and was interested in my thoughts. I don’t want to give away my ideas for free, but at the same time I don’t want to turn away a prospect who might eventually consider a faster/cheaper option than an agency later on–maybe I could even get on a contract to help out with their other copy needs. What do you think would be the best way to position myself for this?

  8. margiewrites

    When you’re starting out you may think responding to ads is an easier route as opposed to cold calling because, after all, these companies need writing RIGHT NOW, but you’re in competition with hundreds of candidates. If you target the right company at the right time and are the right writer for the job just when they need you, you may be the only writer they’re currently looking at! It’s just a matter of finding the client.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for perfectly summing up the advantages of doing your own marketing, Margie!

  9. Taheerah

    Hi Carol,

    Great article. I would also like to add that ending the call with an offer for a free report is another great hook. Not only are you providing the company with additional value, but they’re getting a bird’s eye view of your writing style. Kills two birds with one stone.

    A free report also comes in handy if you don’t have a ton of clips. Anything to keep your name on the hiring manager’s mind is key.

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, great suggestion — thanks for adding it.

  10. Mike L.

    What about robo calling?

    • Carol Tice

      Seriously? You think you’re going to get good-paying clients with a recording of yourself calling your prospects, instead of doing it yourself?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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