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  • Diana Schneidman

How to research freelance and consulting prospects

. . . but wait! I already have researched them

Tracking down contact info for freelance / consulting prospects is research enough, augmenting years of past employment that was also a form of “research.” Any further research before calling or writing is gussied up procrastination.

To put this article in context, I consistently recommend that unless you clearly have a superior idea, you freelance / consult in the industry and function you already know. Essentially, take the full-time “regular” corporate job you used to do and recast it in a solopro format.

When you do this, you recast your past career as completed research. You already know what prospects need because you have first-hand experience in meeting those needs. And you have heard these needs spelled out, both in formal corporate objectives and in post-meeting gripe sessions.

Most client needs are pretty obvious.

They need work done by deadline that they can’t get around to. Or that they hate to do. Or that they have no one in-house to delegate to.

They need ideas for projects.

They need skilled implementation.

They need to pull in more people who know the lingo and can work independently.

They need freelancers and consultants who know what’s going on in the industry and can fake it a bit or learn quickly where their own knowledge falls a bit short.

They need people who know the fundamentals of the industry and therefore already grasp which companies are market leaders and in which products.

They don’t need someone with an off-the-cuff, Google Alerts-like, encyclopedic knowledge of details.

However, in going after clients, you need to identify the exact people to contact. You come to your work with ideas on where to find the right people to talk (or write) to because you know your industry and the typical job titles that hire your services and the typical problems they face.

Tracking down contact info is research enough, augmenting years of past research. Any further research is gussied up procrastination.

You may think that if you diagnose their exact need, they’ll be so impressed and excited that they will hire you. Actually, if you so cleverly find what they so clearly lack, you may repel them. They may be insulted. They may dislike you.

Or they may not care. Outfits with obvious flaws may be content with these flaws and resist spending money on what doesn’t bother them.

You may be able to undertake extensive research, including phone calls and spider webs of networking, to really investigate a single company’s problems (and solutions) and develop a connection to the exact right contact. This is OK, especially if you really want this client or have special entrée.

However, as a general rule, don’t invest too much time on researching, for instance, a cold call or direct mail. These are numbers games—not that this is a bad thing—and much of your effort will be wasted.

In-depth research is a benefit clients enjoy when they hire you. Your background research and issues tracking can be ever more extensive the more they commit to working with you.

Originally posted 3-28-11

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