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Freelancing and consulting: How often should we contact past clients?

How often should we phone past freelance and consulting clients (and other contacts) to let them know we’re available for assignments?

Actually, there’s a question that precedes the one above: Should we contact past clients?

The answer to the latter question is clearly YES. Assuming the assignment went well, past clients are the best sources of new work. If we want their assignments but haven’t heard from them lately, a little proactivity is in order.

Now back to the original question: How often to call?

In the best of all worlds, we would set up a system. We would phone past clients on a 90-day cycle, religiously. We would maintain relationships. Plus we would connect with them on LinkedIn and follow their online conversations and recognize their service needs from their online discussions and send them links to relevant articles and write notes on beautiful embossed stationery with fountain pens and congratulate them on their birthdays thanks to Facebook reminders and acknowledge how cute their kittens are and . . . and . . . and . . . Sounds good to me.

In the real world, we phone more conscientiously when work is light. We lag any intended schedules for phoning when we are busy with paying work.

Yes, you should phone your contacts. It doesn’t matter if they are newer contacts or what other people would consider to be stale contacts. Some people feel funny about calling people they haven’t talked to in years but there’s no reason to feel uncomfortable. Subtly communicate that you’ve been busy over the years so you didn’t follow up, not that you’ve been too idle or too lazy or too drunk to make a call.

In calls like this, I think there is a middle spot between the two extremes of I’m so busy I don’t have time for you unless you schedule it on my website calendar a month in advance and I am so unemployed they’re turning off the electric tomorrow.

The message is that I am looking for people who need my help. Do you need help? Or do you know someone who may need the kind of help I offer?

Next question is what to say?

If you are not comfortable with these calls, I suggest saying “I’m touching base with you to see if you have any projects coming up you could use my help on.” (Do you have any better lines? Please comment to my blog.)

I know that there are experts who hate the phrases “touching base” or “checking in.” I happen to like them. It’s just the right level of pushy. Simply making the call is really kind of pushy so you don’t need lots of push in your words. Also, this line communicates clearly why you are calling without wasting a lot of time with them trying to figure out what the call is about.

I also like these phrases because they set the tone for me. If I were to have a more dynamic, assertive opening, I’d feel uncomfortable keeping up the dynamic-ism. I’d lose my comfort level and sense of conversational direction.

Here are some more tips:

  • If you get voicemail, leave a message. Include your full name, spelling it out if that’s helpful, and include your phone number at both the beginning and end of the message.

  • Let the person know where they know you from or identify the project you worked on if they may not remember. If in doubt as to whether they remember you, include the info. Better that they think it’s a little odd to provide this identification when they remember you than for them to feel awkward that they don’t recall the name.

  • It’s nice if you can claim (honestly) that you have been busy with a prestige assignment that ended successfully so now you have some time available. Try this out: I just finished a really long-term assignment for the White House and that frees up some time for new work.

  • Add something that is relevant to their business about the benefit of working with you. Prefer a conversational tone to a message that is too elevator-y. Like: I’ve been creating infographics lately that have generated lots of website visitors for my clients. Could I do the same for you?


Originally posted 5-14-13

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