Tackle This Scary Freelance Marketing Strategy to Become Super-Productive

Overcoming your fear of cold calling can help you land more and better clients.I wrote articles, networked, and emailed prospects for years, targeting small to medium-sized businesses.

I was no stranger to marketing to find freelance clients.

Then my business coach matter-of-factly said this to me:

“Let’s get you started on cold calling.”

I never considered making live phone calls as a freelance marketing strategy. Cold calling terrified me.

My coach helped me bust through my marketing fears and become more productive.

With practice and a good script, I was able to reach out to four to five times the prospects I was connecting to before, in the same amount of time. And the results were stellar.

Here’s how I did it:

Write a simple script

Here’s what I said on the phone:

“Hi, my name is Stacey Morris, and I’m a freelance copywriter based in New York City. I was doing some research on your company, and I’m wondering if you ever hire freelance writers to help with ______.”

Don’t fill this with drama – it’s very short and straightforward. Their response will shape the remainder of the exchange (don’t think of this as a conversation – this is much briefer).

This is hard the first few times. In fact, I spent an entire session with my coach on speaker-phone while I called prospects on my landline. I figured once they yelled at me, I could say “I told you so” and be done with the whole mess.

But they never yelled. Not once. No one even expressed impatience.

Measure your cold calling results

Once I got into a groove, it became much easier. I’m able to reach out to many more prospects, and it feels much more real to speak with someone in person.

Most of my cold calling efforts were directed toward creative agencies of fewer than 25 employees, but the initial results were similar regardless of the size of company.

The beauty of cold calling is you can target your prospect. Even though I was mostly researching medium-sized creative agencies, I also spent time calling speakers, designers, and other niche markets I wanted to work with.

I keep track of the results of my prospecting, and after about 200 calls, I compiled the following data:

Out of that first batch of prospects, 79 percent said they weren’t looking for a writer at that time. That’s to be expected — very rarely is anyone looking for a writer right when you call. So be prepared with a follow-up question:

“I understand. Would you mind if I followed up in the future?”

I’ve tried asking, “Can I send you some information?”, but I get a much more positive response when I leave it more open. Few people decline outright.

About 20 percent requested information. The key is sending the info to the right place. Make sure to get a name and email.

If you’re targeting larger companies, most of the time you’ll either be referred to a higher up, where you’ll repeat the script, or you’ll be asked to send a resume and portfolio. Before they mention the black hole of human resources, ask: “OK great–what’s the name of your marketing director?” Get that name before you get off the phone!

One to two percent of your prospects will say they do need someone right away, but I don’t consider these calls a win. Honestly, who chooses a freelancer from a cold call?

Think long term

Getting a client immediately is not the point of cold calling. The goal is to save a lot of time and energy targeting the wrong prospects, and to send the right information to the right person.

Before starting to cold call, I used to spend 3-4 hours a week attending networking events. Now, I can spend half that time, reach more prospects, and work directly from my office without getting dressed up!

My conversion rate from initial call to client work over the years has been about 3-4 percent, and the typical lead time from call to project is about 2-3 months. I get similar results through networking, but have found calling to be a huge time saver.

The rates I’ve gotten through cold calling varied depending on who I was targeting, but range from $45 to $150 per hour. (Those that paid $150 per hour didn’t know they were paying that much, as I almost always quote a project fee.) Agencies tend to pay on the lower end, but the payoff with them is more steady work.

Most prospects asked about my rates, and I chose to send them my rate sheet. Why? Because there is a minimum I won’t go under ($45/hour), it outlines a lot of services I provide, and it only offers ranges of prices. There’s no point in wasting time with a company that doesn’t pay my rate.

In fact, cold calling is the most efficient method of prospecting I’ve done. It immediately prunes the noes and provides a follow up plan for the maybes.

My tip? Welcome those who say “no”–they’re saving you a lot of wasted energy.

Keys to doing cold calls right

If you’re new to this process, here are my cold-calling tips:

  • Do your homework. Know enough about the company that you can offer relevant services. You really won’t know if a company is hiring from their marketing materials–I’ve seen horrible websites from terrific companies, so don’t try to outguess yourself.
  • Introduce yourself immediately. The recipient is already on the defensive by the time you say “My name is…”, so get to the point.
  • Have your script and follow-up questions ready. Remember, your prospect is being caught off guard, so you’ll need to guide the conversation. You don’t have to get pushy, but you do need to make an impression.
  • You’ll often get a secretary or receptionist. That’s fine. Often, they’ll patch you through to the right person, which saves you the time of figuring it out.
  • Remember, you’re not selling anything. Don’t even think like that. You’re simple inquiring if they would ever consider hiring someone to help with their XYZ problem. Your goal is to get permission to send more information and keep in touch.
  • Cold calls save you both time. If they absolutely have no need, you move on. But if they seem receptive to hiring a freelance writer, you’ve opened the door to sending them information.
  • Follow up is easier — even fun. You’ve turned a prospect from cold to warm, and because you’ve had a brief exchange, they’ll remember you when you follow up. And you’ll feel more inspired to reconnect.
  • Have your follow-up materials ready. You should send something immediately, and then send more, over time. Follow-up can be email, a call, or even a snail mail letter. Ideally, it should be all three, spaced out strategically.
  • End the call gracefully. A simple “Thanks for your time” is sufficient.

Making cold calls is scary at first, but it gets easier and can lead to some great jobs. It’s also a fast way to target prospects and get an overview of the marketplace. You get to talk to your prospect — immediately getting a sense of their need for you and possible problems for you to solve.

When you’re calling during the workday, it’s unlikely that you’re annoying anyone. In fact, in my first week of cold calling, one woman was so impressed that I was cold calling her, she referred me to a terrific prospect! Cold calling gets easier, and once you get into a groove, you can hit a dozen prospects in a day, including research and follow up.

Have you had success with cold calls? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Stacey Morris is a business copywriter and sales trainer based in New York City. She writes for Beyond The Pitch and runs FocusCopywriter.


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46 comments on “Tackle This Scary Freelance Marketing Strategy to Become Super-Productive
  1. Jean Henshaw says:

    I ONLY cold call to find clients! It’s by far the fastest and most effective way to land them.

    I started this edition of my freelance writing business in 2008, when sending out 25 e-mails landed at least one client. Now it upwards of 200 e-mail to garner interest, while calling at least 25 people lands a client. Sometimes two.

    I never look at it as selling. Instead, I’m presenting my services to people I:

    a) know need my services and,
    b) they know they need my services.

    It’s like two partners meeting each other for the first time.

    I’ve called probably two thousand of prospects since I started calling in earnest in 2011 and I’ve had just two people hang up on me.

    Most people are quite pleasant and not a few are just gobsmacked that I’m calling! It’s as if this phone thing is new…;-)

    I’ve had long conversations with prospects, as well, because they find the calling just fascinating and different.

    As for the fear of calling, rest assured you won’t actually talk to people that much. I end up actually talking to someone only about 10 percent of the time. 90 percent of my calls end up going into voice mail, where I leave a message and say I’ll be sending info on my services, so please look for it. (It’s best to have the person’s direct e-mail, but I’ve just sent it via the company’s “contact” form and referenced in my voice mail that I’ve done so and that I hope they look for it there.)

    I find it’s more or a numbers game. As well as regular follow up (e-mails as well as calls) with prospects who appear interested.

    Calling WORKS! And, being the introvert with definite extrovert tendencies that I am, it’s fun and helps me feel less lonely here in my office.

    I haven’t read Carol’s e-book on getting clients, so I don’t know how she covers calling. But I got my start by following the directions found in Diana Schneidman’s book. You can find her book on Amazon. It goes into EVERYTHING you could worry about regarding calling.


  2. Randy says:

    Carol I like this article. One of the things I don’t understand, is how do you know which companies will not pay that magical minimum rate and that I am in fact wasting my time.

    When, and how will I know this? Sorry, I have dense moments, can you or somebody comment?

    Below is the paragraph I’m referencing.


    • Randy says:

      Most prospects asked about my rates, and I chose to send them my rate sheet. Why? Because there is a minimum I won’t go under ($45/hour), it outlines a lot of services I provide, and it only offers ranges of prices. There’s no point in wasting time with a company that doesn’t pay my rate.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Unfortunately, it looks like you put some coding brackets around the paragraph and it disappeared!

      The only way you know for sure if companies won’t pay your rate is to pitch them and ask. I did do a post recently though about how to find out how much revenue companies have, which can be a helpful yardstick for the size of their marketing budget and the rates they’d likely pay:

      • Randy says:

        I did that Carol, you didn’t know I was a secret code writer?
        Neither did I.

        Thanks Carol I’ll check your post.

  3. Rachael says:

    I don’t know about this … I used to work as an editor for a magazine and I never answered my phone. Too many PR people cold calling me. 🙂 You would’ve had a much better chance getting an assignment by emailing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think cold-calling is more of a strategy for calling on marketing managers at businesses — I don’t know many people who’re getting anywhere doing that with editors.

  4. Jessica says:

    Great post Stacey! I agree with you. Once you get into cold calling it gets easier. Crazy, but I actually look forward to cold calling. I feel like I’m being productive.

  5. Samuel says:

    I always used to get cold feet when i was think about cold calling lol, But I remember the first cold call gave me $2000 back in 2009, it does work with a bit of luck

  6. Karen Briggs says:

    Congratulations on your courage in taking that step! Our comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there. Stretching outside it is necessary for us to reach our goals. I have to remind myself all the time. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I just over this weekend learned a great saying — there’s no growth in your comfort zone, and no comfort in your growth zone. 😉

      But ultimately, which one would you rather be in?

  7. Hammo says:

    Nope, I still fear the cold calls. Even warm calls (ones with a lead) makes me break out in sweats. Perhaps those early network marketing days have had an impact on me, those times were brutal.

    But that’s great advice about preparing a script, even if it’s just a few one-liners to help keep the conversation flowing.
    Hammo recently posted…What is WordPress?My Profile

  8. Gwen Boyle says:

    Hi Stacey and Carol,

    After stalling on it for the longest time, I finally began a concerted cold-calling campaign last week (thanks in part to this timely post). So far it’s been…absolutely fine. Pleasant, sometimes!

    I’ve been approaching marketing, PR and web design agencies to start with, and plenty of people have expressed interest and requested a follow-up email. One woman was actually delighted that a writer had called her. The worst I’ve got so far is a polite “sorry, but we do everything in-house”. I’m going to keep at it…aiming to do at least 300 calls by the end of the month.

    Stacey, your advice about framing it as an inquiry rather than a sales call is invaluable. Calling up to ask a question is far less scary!

    Thanks for the motivation to finally do it 🙂

  9. Mary says:

    I have tried cold calling – I made about 100 calls at least. I noticed it was difficult to locate the exact person to talk with without being put into voicemail.

    I have a phone intro I use for voicemail.

    I will get back on it and try again.

    Thank you.

  10. Great post Carol,
    I’ve never tried cold calling before though, its not a new word to me. I’ve been hearing about how people are using it to get some awesome clients but the truth is that I’ve never thought of doing it.

    But after going through this post of yours, i think i will have to start learning how to do it so i can see what it will come it.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Theodore Nwangene recently posted…21 Habits of Highly Successful Growth HackersMy Profile

  11. Rohi says:

    Thanks, Stacey.
    I plan to try it next month after my vacation as an experiment. I’ve bookmarked your post – it’s like a quickstart guide to cold calling.
    Rohi recently posted…How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation Right NowMy Profile

  12. Stephen Koenig says:

    Like this post a lot. Funny how it seems old-timey to call people these days – but I think this “return to an earlier time” is what actually makes it effective. When prospects are swamped in Emailgatory from the moment they wake up, it’s surprising to get a call from someone who could potentially help them; a living being existing outside 0/1 society.

    Don’t do enough cold calling, but an instance where I ALWAYS make a point of it is when I’ve actually visited a business or restaurant as part of routine comings and goings. That way I can make a specific reference or two that automatically draws me closer to the prospect. A new town market, for instance, that has a great selection of craft beers opened near my house. Mentioned on a call to them a particularly rare line I saw they carried – it led to a conversation that brought me business promoting their new event series. Relationships matter…

  13. This was such a timely article as I have just started working on compiling a list of cold call clients because of Carol’s Marketing 101 advice. I did have one question though. What method do you use to keep track of follow ups and when to send them? Just an excel spread sheet? I usually take Carol’s advice about not following up, but with cold calling I certainly see the necessity which was only highlighted by your statement that, “You’ve turned a prospect from cold to warm, and because you’ve had a brief exchange, they’ll remember you when you follow up.” I get lost if I am not super organized and find that getting started has been as much finding effective organization strategy as clients. Thanks Stacey

    • Hi Diana,

      If you find not having a clean and clean system derails you, as it does me, stick to the simplest and most versatile tool – Excel. It’s a one-stop shop for tracking…pretty much anything.
      Stacey Morris recently posted…Website Copywriting: One Secret You’ll Never HearMy Profile

      • Thanks Stacey! Excel is what I have been using so it sounds like I am sticking with it 🙂 Now just to break out my mad skillz and get it to automatically color sort based on my color code system. Being an Admin Assistant during college has finally paid off! Now to work on not distracting myself with my system… and actually make some calls. Nothing like knowing your weaknesses.

  14. Heather says:

    Hi Stacey,
    The thought of cold calling terrifies me. I’ll be honest, and say that I have avoided it my entire career – as an employee and as a freelancer. But you’ve actually made me realise that a) I need to consider it and b) it’s not about sales (which I know being the daughter and sister to 2 of the best sales people I know – I didn’t get that gene!)

    Your line about it not being about sales is a wake up call (pardon the pun). You’ve actually inspired me to do this. Although I’m not going to lie and say it’ll happen today! Thanks for the post.
    Heather recently posted…42 Ways to Be A More Productive FreelancerMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ll admit I’ve mostly avoided cold calls, too — I love Stacey’s approach of thinking of it as relationship building. Feels less weird to be calling strangers that way!

  15. Ramona says:

    I absolutely hate it when someone calls me to offer/inquire anything, so I am pretty scared of cold calling myself. But, done right, it does have its merits. Will look into it and hope to get some good results.
    Ramona recently posted…Small Business Success Story: Creating a Successful Web Hosting Business from ScratchMy Profile

  16. Kevin Preis says:

    Thanks for the article! I completely agree about the targeted efficiency of cold calling; it’s one of the most effective tactics I use to meet new clients. I also suggest exploring LinkedIn to identify the individual who is most likely to know about these types of opportunities. Presenting this script to the administrative assistant who answers the phone may lead to a referral to HR, while calling and asking for the associate director of marketing, whose LinkedIn profile says that she oversees content, may yield a more immediate “yes” or “no” on work with the company.
    Kevin Preis recently posted…Writer Fight! Ernest Cline vs. Daniel SuarezMy Profile

    • Vivinne says:

      Really good tactic Kevin-makes sense to ask for the person more directly in charge who can answer the question. And they are who you’d want to warm up anyway. Great tip!
      I’ve been lost in HR “hell” for other freelance work, and it’s awful.
      Vivinne recently posted…New Real Estate Agent Bio ExamplesMy Profile

  17. Vivinne says:

    Helpful, I’d love an in-depth followup that expands on some aspects of the article. Areas like: how to choose appropriate targets, could be a separate post. And more detail on followup tactics, for example,”Follow-up can be email, a call or…spaced out strategically…” Would be great to know what strategically is.

    Just broken down more. But great piece especially in being encouraging to take risks. And as you mention it’s a safe “risk” if no, you are no worse off, but somewhere in there you will get a yes! Yahhhoooo.
    Vivinne recently posted…New Real Estate Agent Bio ExamplesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Vivinne, there’s a ton of ‘how to qualify clients’ info in my How to Get Great Clients ebook. Since that book is 100+ pages, I think it would be tough to get all those details into a post!

      • Vivinne says:

        That’s good to know Carol, I’ve taken 1 of your courses and you over delivered, I’m actually still digesting it. And in fact that course on breaking out of the content mills- has this type of info.
        I was just reacting to this specific post- but if I’d stopped and thought about it 😉 the info is available at reasonable cost in this community.
        I always feel that you “have our back” (as writers) so I’m never being snarky! I appreciate all that you do especially with mindset of us writers- that’s so key and your site helps to build a healthy self-esteem.
        Vivinne recently posted…What You Need to Know About Getting Customers to Your WebsiteMy Profile

  18. Laurie Stone says:

    I have to agree that its not about getting sales as much as information. Even if you only get the receptionist, you can ask who the head of marketing is or creative director. You can find out if they use freelancers. Somehow that’s a less scary approach. Thank you!

  19. This article is perfect timing. Carol sent out an email about cold calling in her Marketing 101 series this week.

    I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone, even to my family. Cold calling sounds like it might eventually pay off, though. I had just written a cold calling script, but I like yours better. I think I’d prefer to start at bigger companies and work down to smaller ones.

    Did you have more luck with mom and pop shops or big-scale corporations?

  20. V. Lewis says:

    I like that you said ‘Following up is easier, even fun! Immediately reminds me that sales are helpful, rather than pushy. Writers are providing something of need. Thank you for your article. Came at a good time!
    Two things I’ve learned recently have helped me weather rejection: “No means not now” and to just say “next,”and don’t even blink an eye. Rejection becomes a game. The more targets we shoot for, our primary goal becomes the # of prospects reached and the “yes” becomes secondary. At least, that’s how I view it. 🙂

  21. Helene says:

    Great article – thank you! Super helpful as I work on my prospecting strategies. I do have one question: who exactly are you calling with these cold calls? Are you just calling the main number for a business in hopes of getting directed to the right person? Or is there a strategy for finding the right person and their phone number? Thanks!

    • Hi Helene,

      Glad the article was helpful. It’s so much harder to get a phone number of a VIP than an email. Even the subscription business directories rarely have accurate info. But it’s fairly easy to get to their assistant just by going through the reception center and asking specifically for the exec.

      • Helene says:

        Hi Stacey,
        Thanks so much for your reply! I’m a total newbie at this and figuring out what companies and who within that company to contact is my big challenge right now. So far all the work I have done has been for individuals, so this is a big step for me (to generate more revenue!). When you say contact the exec, do you mean the CEO or president of the company? I expect this is for relatively small companies where someone of that level is still involved with marketing, correct? Looking forward to giving this strategy a try. Thanks again!

  22. Allen Taylor says:

    Ha ha! I love this line:

    “Honestly, who chooses a freelancer from a cold call?”

    As someone who used to do lead qualification and generation for sales people, this was a welcome relief that expresses reality fairly well. Cold calling is not selling. It’s pre-selling. It’s essentially warming the prospect up to the sales pitch. The first step is earning their trust.
    Allen Taylor recently posted…Stephen Guise: An Independent Author Focused On QualityMy Profile

  23. Daryl says:

    Haven’t sent any cold calls but I have done a few cold pitches. Funny enough, my very first batch of cold pitches resulted in good results which I haven’t had the opportunity to replicate since.
    Daryl recently posted…My Personal War on Procrastination: The Freelance Writer FilesMy Profile

  24. I’ve not been pleased with my cold-calling results so far, but a sentence in your post has changed my perspective–that it’s not about getting clients right away, but learning who to spend your time targeting. I’m going to have to hold onto this article and give cold-calling a second chance. Would LOVE to hear more about followup to prospects after the call.
    Emily Wenstrom recently posted…Our Reading Lives: How One Girl Learned to Love the Comic Books ShopMy Profile

  25. I used to cold call my freelance writing prospects during lunch at my day job. I’d prep my call list of 5-10 names the night before, and make the calls from my car. Most of the time I’d get either rejections or voice mail (and I would never leave a message, nobody ever returned my calls!).

    It took a long time, but I got a decent number of high-paying clients out of it! I still hate cold-calling, but I now know that it actually works.
    Patrick Icasas recently posted…Practice Slow, Learn FastMy Profile

    • Patrick, I should really try this. I usually work through lunch so I can get home and freelance, but I have had to do interviews in my car during work (while praying the lady on the other end couldn’t hear my air-conditioning blasting). I was thinking of taking a half day to do my cold calling in one batch, my jump in the pool head first strategy, but will have to consider this approach. Thanks

  26. Mike Johnson says:

    Nicely said Stacey. Congrats! Sales experience greatly helped my writing career too! If you want it bad enough, you stretch your comfort zone to do what’s required. You also learn to create value with your words so you’re sharing rather than selling. This trips a switch in your head that makes you realize that by offering value, you’re actually doing your prospects a favor by contacting them.

  27. Kayla says:

    Yikes! That sounds totally scary. Like you said, I think I’d have to have someone there with me at first to make sure I actually did it!
    Kayla recently posted…How to Organize Freelance Writing Assignments in Google DriveMy Profile