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Freelancing 911: Turn Your Business Around with Warm Calls and E-mails

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This past July, I outlined a five-step process that I’m using to turn my business around.

My July article covered cold calls and e-mails, and I suggest having it open in a separate browser window while you read this one. The same five-step process can be used for warm calls and e-mails. To recap, here’s the process:

  1. Create your Ideal Client Profile
  2. Find leads lists
  3. Script your calls
  4. Make the calls
  5. Have a follow-up system


Before we go any further, let’s define what a warm call is. Simply put, it’s a call to someone with whom you have a connection. Here are five examples:

  1. You and Tom met at a business event, and he said that he needed a better online ordering system for his company. You’re an e-commerce website wizard, so Tom asked you to call him next week.
  2. At the same business event, you also met Sharon. She works for an organization that might just need your services, so you’re going to follow up.
  3. Let’s assume that you successfully sold your services to Tom, and you built a wonderful new online ordering system for his company. Tom is so thrilled that he refers you to Cindy, who’s in the same professional association as he is. Cindy hasn’t been too happy with her company website’s e-commerce functionality, and Tom thinks that the two of you could do some business.
  4. You probably belong to more than one business or professional group, Chamber of Commerce, civic organization, club, or religious body. Which means that you’re not a total stranger to your fellow members.
  5. Let’s say you do design work for academic institutions. If you’ve just completed a website design for Dr. Jones’ laboratory, perhaps her colleagues might be interested in sites to showcase their research efforts. Or, if you designed for one department of a college, the other 15 departments may be interested in your services.

As you can see from these examples, there are varying degrees of warmth out there. Getting the sales process rolling with Cindy (to whom you’ve been referred) may be easier than Sharon. But there are no guarantees. What we think is easy often turns out to be quite hard.

Putting the Five-Step Process to Work

Before you start calling anyone and everyone you know, stop and focus. Work on Step One and create your Ideal Client Profile (ICP). Simply put, the ICP defines the companies or industries that you regularly do business with. Or want to do business with.

So, if you do graphic design for companies in the building trades, you’ll only need to call the 43 plumbers, electricians, roofers, heating and cooling specialists, and masonry contractors in your Chamber of Commerce directory. Consider that list of 43 businesses to be your leads list. (Looks like you’ve just covered Step Two!)

A leads list of 43 is much more manageable than a list of all 350 Chamber members. And that’s good. When you’re just starting out with warm calls, you don’t want to feel so overwhelmed that you rush through them.

Remember, these people already know you. Or they may have heard about you. So, they’re going to want to talk. And talk. And talk. Let them. It’s all part of building a good business relationship.

On to Step Three: Scripting those calls. Let’s go back to the five examples at the beginning of this article for tips on how to talk to...

  1. Tom. You met him at a business event, and you think you can help create a better online ordering system for his company. He asked you to call next week. Once you reach Tom, here’s what to say:

    You: “Tom, this is Shirley Shopping Cart. We met at the Business-to-Business Mixer last Thursday, and you mentioned that your company needed a better online ordering system.”

    Okay, enough talking. Wait for Tom’s response. Don’t be so married to your script that you keep talking and miss what he has to say. If Tom expresses an interest in discussing the ordering system, set up a time to meet.

    You: “Let’s get together at your office and talk some more. How about this Friday at 10 a.m.?”

    If you don’t reach Tom, leave this message. “My name is Shirley Shopping Cart, and we met at last Thursday’s Business-to-Business Mixer. We discussed your company’s online ordering system, and I’d like to help you improve it. Call me at [your phone number] so we can set up a meeting. You can also reach me via my website, Shirley Shopping Cart dot-com.”

    Tip: If you don’t hear back from Tom, don’t give up. He may be a very busy fellow who still wants to talk to you. Who knows, after several weeks of trying to reach him, you may get through to Tom, who thanks you profusely for staying in touch. And, since the online ordering system is giving Tom’s entire company fits, could you join him for a meeting with the company president at 1:00 p.m on Monday? “Sure!” you say.

  2. Sharon. She also attended the Business-to-Business Mixer, and you think you could create a fabulous online online ordering system for her company. But you won’t know unless you call and ask for her business:

    You: “Sharon, this is Shirley Shopping Cart. We met at the Business-to-Business Mixer last Thursday.”

    Pause right here. Sharon may say something like, “Oh, yes, you’re the e-commerce lady,” then keep on talking about her company’s needs. But, if she doesn’t remember you, say:

    You: “I build online ordering systems that don’t keel over when customer volume gets heavy. Would that be of interest to your company?”

    You just gave Sharon a really cool elevator speech, then you gave her the chance to say yes or no. The word “no” is a perfectly acceptable response, so don’t try to talk her out of it. Simply thank Sharon for her time and ring off.

    If she expresses interest, suggest a meeting time and make the appointment.

  3. Cindy. Tom referred you to Cindy after you built his company’s new online ordering system. Don’t make the common freelancer mistake of thinking that word-of-mouth referrals are such a sure thing that you wait for Cindy’s call. You may be waiting for a long time. So, pick up the phone and say this:

    You: “Cindy, this is Shirley Shopping Cart. I just built the new online ordering system for the ABC Company, and Tom Sylvester at XYZ Ltd. said that I should give you a call.”

    Pause and give Cindy a chance to respond. Tom may have told her how well the new ordering system works, and that her company needs to hire you.

    But that’s the best case scenario. She may know nothing about the ABC project. If she’s interested, give a 10-second explanation and offer to set up a meeting to discuss it in depth. If she isn’t interested, ring off and move on to the next call.

  4. Your organizations. Since you’re not a total stranger to your fellow members, should you just start warm-calling the ones who fit your ICP? Not necessarily.

    In groups that don’t have a business focus, like civic organizations, clubs, or religious bodies, these calls are about as welcome as a case of influenza. So, promote your services by showing what you can do. Build a new website for your church. Photograph your neighborhood association’s events. Or program a new membership database for your car club.

    In time, people will express an interest in what you do. And that’s when you can make your warm calls.

    For the business groups like the Chambers of Commerce, use the Sharon scenario outlined in Example 2. People in these groups are used to prospecting by fellow members, so identify the ICP-ers and start calling!

  5. Your client’s colleagues. So, you just finished designing a website for Dr. Jones’ research laboratory. Since you may be waiting a long time for referrals, ask her if you can contact the 39 other faculty members in her department. And make sure that she doesn’t mind if you use her name.

    If you call them, use the Cindy scenario outlined in example 3. But, being academics, they’re probably going to be more receptive to e-mail. Here’s what to say:

    Subject: Dr. Jones’ new lab website

    I am a graphic designer in [your city]. Dr. Jones and I just worked together on the design of her lab website. See:

    [Put the lab website’s URL here.]

    In addition to Dr. Jones’ project, I’ve created websites for educational outreach programs, academic conferences, and graduate student recruiting. You can view examples in my online portfolio:

    [Put your portfolio URL here.]

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. Or, if you’d like, let’s set up an in-person meeting to discuss your needs.

    [Put your e-mail sigfile here.]

    The goal of this e-mail is to tell Dr. Jones’ colleagues about her new site and to show them that you’ve done other work that they might need. And you leave the decision to meet up to them. It’s a more subtle approach than what’s normally used in the business world, but it’s what academics expect.

The Fear Factor

Now we’re up to Step Four: Making the calls. And this is where warm calling gets really interesting. Have you ever had one of those doctor’s appointments that you put off, then, after you called to set it up, you postponed said appointment at least once? And, finally, on Appointment Day, did you circle the block s-l-o-w-l-y before you parked and went into the building?

That’s what starting a set of warm calls feels like. You’re convinced that you’re going to call people who’ve known through the Chamber for years, and you’re going to make such a fool of yourself that they’ll never want to speak to you again. Or that Tom will refer you to Shirley, and you’ll get so tongue-tied that you won’t be able to finish the phone conversation with her.

I’ll bet you can brainstorm a few worst-case scenarios of your own. But that’s not going to get those calls made.

I suggest you handle this call-o-phobia by making just one call to the warmest person on your list. Like the guy who brought you into the Chamber 15 years ago and his kids go to school with your kids. And, just like at the doctor’s office, it’s okay to say that you’re pretty nervous about this calling thing.

You could even admit, as I have done to several people in my “warm” circle, that you’re making calls because you’re working on turning your business around. Then watch how helpful they become. They may give you some names to call. Or, as one of my neighbors is doing, they’ll offer tips on how to do business with organizations that fit your ICP.

There. You did it. You made that one call. Wasn’t so bad, was it? Now, call the rest of the people on your “warm” list.

Finally, we’re at Step Five, having a follow-up system. In my previous article, I suggested these five follow-up techniques:

  1. Adding them to your e-mail newsletter, podcast, or blog lists. (Ask first!)
  2. Making periodic “keep in touch” phone calls and e-mails.
  3. Inviting them to attend events with you.
  4. Including them in your direct mailings.
  5. If you see a useful newspaper or magazine article or website link, send it to them.

As a general rule, your warm call people will be more receptive to these things than your cold call people. That’s because you already have a connection. But it’s up to you to build that connection into a long-lasting business relationship.

Best of luck, and I’ll see you on the Turnaround Trail!

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