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Phoning for freelance & consulting assignments: it still works!


I’m in growth mode on my freelance writing and research business so I’m doing the very things I advise you to do, starting with phoning.

I used to call it “cold calling,” but now I label it as “targeted phoning.” In practice, I make a call and I send an email simultaneously when I have both the phone number and the email address.

I’m engaged in a practical experiment on what works right now. Of course, I’m only one person in a distinct niche: marketing communications and research in the insurance and asset management industries. My experience may not be the same as yours; there’s no way I can know if my experience is the norm.

But here’s what I’m learning:

Finding #1: Association memberships may not be a good source of names. In the past, I’ve looked to paid memberships in relevant professional associations as a top-notch list of names (and contact info) for my calls. But this time, the list I bought as a benefit of membership hasn’t been as useful as lists from years past.

I recently joined an association of insurance communicators. The total number of members is substantial, but they represent a small number of companies because many of them are coworkers in the same department and apparently participate in a corporate membership. Small percentages are in the position to hire a freelancer.

My theory is that companies are reluctant to pay for professional memberships for employees because there is more turnover and employees expect to jump ship in a few years. Also, companies are more selective in paying for conference attendance, making expensive memberships less desirable.

However, there is another problem as well. So many professionals are joining groups on LinkedIn and other free social networking sites that formal associations attract less interest, I suspect. And unfortunately, so many people have formed their own LinkedIn groups that participation is extremely fragmented. There’s enormous duplication, making each group less active than it could be if there were fewer groups.

So where to identify individuals to phone?

Finding #2: Keep looking for new directories and databases that relate to your specialty or industry. I have been in the insurance industry for years and thought I had a pretty good handle on where to find names.

However, I have discovered that libraries have resources I was not aware of. Start by questioning the staff at your library’s reference desk and you may be surprised at what they offer. You are not limited to your local library—while you can’t borrow from neighboring libraries or academic libraries at colleges in which you are not enrolled, you can get free assistance at the desk and, of course, use the photocopier at the usual rate.

I found a wonderful directory listing insurance companies and key contact information. While it does not consistently identify my preferred marketing contact, it provides better information for more organizations than does the more famous Best’s Review. I supplement by looking at the firms’ websites and sometimes LinkedIn as well. If necessary, I call the company at the listed number and talk to the Operator or another contact person I can track down. When I investigated the publisher’s website towards purchasing the volume, I saw I could download a PDF for free and print it off. Heaven!

(I am not identifying the directory here because people who are not specializing in insurance may wear out our welcome if too many unqualified people start calling.)

Finding #3: Be specific in describing what you do. When I ask if the people I’m calling hire freelancers, they often don’t have a ready answer and are not even sure what a freelance writer does. I get very specific, listing some exact types of writing I do and even some titles of magazines in which they could get published. This generates interest more effectively than the supposedly scintillating sizzle that marketing experts recommend.

Finding #4 (and the most important finding by far): Targeted phoning continues to be well received by those I call. I never experience rejection. Yes, some people say “no,” and many don’t return the messages I leave, but no one is unpleasant or abruptly hangs up on me.

Why should they?

I make the calls myself, call only during business hours, don’t waste their time and offer a useful service.

Yes, it’s time consuming and it’s work, but it does work. Phoning enables me to connect with the types of companies for which I most want to work and results in assignments, though I have no indication that the marketplace for my services is especially hot at this time.

Originally posted 6-1-12

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