I’ve heard arguments against it — it doesn’t generate work, it’s better to network in person, only word-of-mouth referrals reliably lead to jobs.
But I haven’t yet discovered a downside. I can pick and choose all the companies I’d like to work for and start calling them. A phone call only takes a few moments. The conversation may or may not lead to work, but at least it’s a way of getting my name out there and driving traffic to my website.
Often, when people hear that I like making cold calls, they ask me how I do it. So I’ve made a list of some of the tips I’ve developed that have helped me make cold calling successful:
- Develop an image. Get a nice website with a logo and a professional email address (and business cards, of course). When you make a cold call, you have scant moments to make a personal impression, and then you’ll follow up with an email containing all your contact information. Your online image will have the opportunity to enhance or diminish the impression you first made on the phone, and it can definitely have the power to determine whether or not you get work.
- Always talk directly to the person you’d be working with. I do my best to research the company/organization I’m going to be calling and track down someone in communications — usually the communications manager or communications coordinator. If I can find their direct number, I call that. If not, I ask for them by name when I call the reception desk. If I have no idea whom I should speak with, I call the company’s main number and explain that I’m looking to speak with someone regarding contract writing and editing work (or communications work, marketing work, etc.). If they say, “Oh, that would be Joe,” I ask for Joe’s extension or direct line so that I can always call Joe back directly. If possible, I also ask for Joe’s last name (and the correct spelling). When I speak to Joe, I address him by name.
- Get the important information across first. I always provide my name and my company name immediately. I explain as briefly as possible what I do (for example, “I provide freelance writing and editing services and specialize in corporate communications”) and immediately get to the point of my call (“Do you contract work out to freelancers?”). No matter what their response is (often “No, we do everything in-house” or “Occasionally, but we don’t need anybody right now”), I follow up with a request to email them my information (“In case you need someone in the future”). Often they forget my name by the end of the conversation, so if they ask for it again, I take that as a good sign. My top priority is to get their email address so I can follow up my phone call with all my contact information, a more detailed (but still brief) sales pitch and a link to my website.
- Don’t leave messages. This is a policy I’ve adopted for a very important reason: If you leave a message, you can’t keep calling back without appearing stalker-ish or desperate, and the chances of having someone call you back after listening to your 30-second voicemail is, in my humble opinion, slim to none. So unless I’ve aready given up on the lead, I refuse to leave messages. Let them wonder who calls from an unfamiliar number once a day three times a week. Maybe their curiosity will inspire them to pick up.
Finally, don’t give up! My philosophy is that for every 20 phone calls I make, perhaps five of them will sound promising. Of those five, perhaps one will lead to actual work.
Cold calling might seem like a lot of work, and by all means if you have referrals coming in, leave cold calling till you’re desperate.
My theory about cold calling is that the difference between success and failure is timing. All it takes is for you to call the right place at the right time, and — voila! — you’re in.