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Freelance and consulting: How much follow-up is too much?

A reader recently asked about following up on targeted phone calls to freelance and consulting prospects (also called “cold calling” by some).

Frankly, this is an area I am still developing a strategy for, even though I’ve been freelancing and consulting for two decades.

Opinions vary. Check out Jill Konrath for some interesting remarks on why she appreciates lots of follow-up from her dentist to set up timely checkups. She makes a valid point. However, note that she is already a client, she wants the follow-up, and showing up for a dentist appointment doesn’t require any thought, work, or unusual expense on her part. It’s routine dental maintenance. She shows up, the hygienist does the rest.

Freelancing and consulting are different from dental work. You can’t undertake an assignment without guidance, participation and even inspiration from the client. It’s not enough for them to sit back and say “Ahhh.”

Two different situations require follow-up. One is when you phone, leave a message, and ideally, send an email as well. Then you hear nothing. The second is when a prospect has requested further information or even a proposal and you hear nothing . . . or maybe a vague promise to think about it.

Call it crazy, but I like to strategize with my gut. When self-employed or even when campaigning for a full-time job, it’s a tremendous temptation to determine follow-up timing to please others. Family and friends will tell you that it takes lots of following up, so we are tempted to keep calling to win their approval. “I’ve called every day for the last two weeks,” we report back, but at a certain point we are just going through the motions, not expecting results.

Here’s what my gut says to me; yours may have a different message.

When I phone someone I have no relationship with or only minimal ties, I leave one message and send an email. Unless I really, really want them as a client, I don’t call again for a month or more. When I call back, I seldom refer to my first message since they probably don’t remember it and are not obligated to remember it. At other times, I tell them I called awhile back and I’m following up, but again, I don’t ask if they remember me. Why would they?

If I reach a prospect, they have no work at this time but request my informative email, I send the email but don’t follow up again for a month or even much longer. They are gracious to accept my email and have told me they don’t need my services at this time. So why bother them again?

If they specifically request follow up in a specified time frame, I note it in my Franklin Planner and call back as scheduled. I remind them of who I am in detail. I don’t expect them to remember me without prompting.

In both situations, I say something along the following lines, tweaked as appropriate:

Hi, I’m Diana Schneidman. I am a freelance writer specializing in insurance and asset management and I’m a CLU and CPCU. I called awhile back and I’m following up to see if you use freelance writers or if you have ever thought about it. I’d love to discuss your writing needs. Please call me back at [phone number].

What about proposals that have been requested but have been neither accepted nor rejected?

I follow up a few times but not as persistently as some would. If they are not responding to my messages, there’s a reason. For instance, they chose someone else to work with or they are postponing the project or they are short on money. I don’t want to work with people who require too much pestering. That may be OK for dental hygienists, but it’s not OK with clients who will require a collaborative approach. I’m not their mother, nagging them to do their homework.

My reader asks if follow up calls are a form of supplication, as if I am begging for an assignment.

It doesn’t feel that way to me. I offer a service that may be of use to them. Therefore, I am calling to offer help, not to beg for anything.

Can I put these names of prospects on my list?

My phoning list is an Excel spreadsheet where I track what I have done. I don’t use it for any automated emailing, so of course I can add whoever I want to this list.

I do not add prospects to any automated list, such as Constant Contact or Aweber, without their request. Prospects are invited to opt into my list and receive my free report.

The experts used to say that you have to contact a prospect a specified number of times, such as eight or twelve. I believe those numbers were developed before contacting was so heavily automated with newsletters, autoresponder email campaigns, and such.

People who are not open to our messages shut down quickly and assign us to their spam file, I believe. Don’t most of us read our email with a heavy finger on the delete key and delete many of our voicemail messages before we hear the whole thing?

Just because we have decided to contact someone persistently doesn’t mean they have to listen to us with that same persistency.

Originally posted 5-6-12

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