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Is phoning for freelance and consulting work really so awful?

One of the biggest names in copywriting has sent out a newsletter recommending that freelance writers not telephone businesses for assignments because it is an awful practice. In his newsletter he labels it “cold calling,” a term I avoid because it unfairly characterizes the practice as “cold,” when it’s actually no more “cold” than reaching out to as-yet strangers via any other medium, such as email, networking events, etc.

In his email newsletter, he quotes a copywriter who believes she can improve upon the direct mail sent out by prominent companies to sell credit card accounts. She wants to cold call and email these companies to suggest she can improve their copy and ask for assignments.

The writer of the newsletter offers five reasons to avoid cold calling. I’d like to respond to all five, agreeing with two and disagreeing with the other three. Plus I will end with an additional justification for phoning.

First, he says clients want to work with service providers who seem to be busy and successful. If you have time to make phone calls, you must not have enough work, goes the reasoning.

In response, I say that the same can be said no matter how you try to connect with potential clients. From networking luncheons that eat up more than half of the workday to round-the-clock chitchat on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and daily blogging, all efforts to publicize your work show that you have “spare” time to devote to marketing.

In reality, you have to keep marketing no matter what others may be thinking—even when you already have work—or you will eventually find yourself idle.

Yes, if you quit marketing, you can choose to believe your silence makes you appear to be too busy with paying work to bother with it. However, this is your own personal fantasy—if you aren’t getting your name out there, no one misses you. People are not lusting to work with someone they haven’t heard from for a long while and certainly not with someone they have never heard of.

Two, cold callers meet price resistance because prospects assume they are desperate for work. I say not necessarily.

Potential clients may assume that if you have the guts to phone them, you have the guts to phone others as well. You are actively marketing so why would you settle for simply anything you can get? If prospects are interested, you can negotiate for an acceptable rate.

Plus, what the famous writer of the original article considers to be a low rate may be quite acceptable to the woman who wrote to him. I’d guess that the newsletter writer earns hundreds with an “S” per hour for much of his work, while I’d also guess that a less experienced writer negotiating with a national financial organization should expect to make in the high double digits per hour (at least).

If you are confident in your willingness to get out there and find work, you should never succumb to feelings of desperation. This sense of security helps you negotiate more successfully.

Three, you should never criticize a prospect’s work because you don’t know that the work is not getting the intended results. I agree with this—it’s much smarter to praise their work and explain why you are qualified and eager to build on their excellence.

Fourth, if you criticize their work, you may personally offend the individual who wrote it or approved its use. Again, true. Even if you make a good case for what’s wrong with their work, they won’t select you to make the improvements.

Fifth, telemarketing is a nuisance that has lost favor. Yes, dinnertime telemarketing to people in their homes to push products they are unlikely to want is out of favor. However, phoning prospects in the right industry and work function who are most likely to purchase your services, with phone calls made by you yourself instead of a disengaged script reader to a work phone number during work hours is quite a bit different from the phoning that gives telemarketing a bad name.

The newsletter author concludes that it is better to get clients to come to you rather than for you to go to them. I agree . . . to a point.

If you have the clients you want coming to you, you’re in clover. However, if you want to work for a particular company and they don’t know you, you will have to approach them. In this situation, if you don’t ask, the answer is always “no.”

If you are not a top name in your industry, you may have to adopt marketing methods that the leaders no longer practice.

The article refers to a phone-email combo. But if you decide not to phone, what would you do instead? Email without the phone call? It may work, but you are improving your chances of finding the right person to talk to, of getting through and of getting your message noticed if you combine the two.

And while some people are sick of phone calls, those same people insist they get too much email. They delete the emails in bulk so you’re not making more progress by limiting yourself to email.

Originally posted 1-20-14

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