Keeping In Touch with Prospective Clients
A lot of your success as a freelancer will depend on your persistence.
It takes many forms – your persistence in learning and improving your skills, the persistence that's involved in bringing a long, difficult project to completion, and the topic of this article, persistence in keeping in touch with the people who may do business with you.
The Very Simple System
Your Keep In Touch system can be as simple as Greg the Yard Man's. He was a guy I met on the day I moved into this house. A disabled Vietnam veteran, Greg did yard work to make extra money.
Every few weeks, he'd pick up the phone and ask his customers a simple question: "Ya got any work?"
Most of the time, I did have a job for Greg to do. (I'm using the past tense because Greg's health has deteriorated to the point that he can no longer do yard work.)
A Not As Simple, But Usable System
If you've been actively prospecting for new business, you've probably amassed quite a list of people to keep in touch with. And, for handling that list, you're using contact management software, right?
Here's how to make that contact manager work for you when it's time for your "keep in touch" outreach:
1. During your initial contact with a lead, you may hear one of the four flavors of "no." Meaning that your lead may have work for you to handle in a few weeks or a few months, but in the meantime, the answer is, "No, not yet." So, use your contact manager to mark that individual as a "Lead – Keep In Touch." I like to call this subset of my contact manager database the "KIT List."
2. Right before you start your outreach calls, generate your KIT List. I like to export mine as a CVS file to pretty up in Excel and save as a spreadsheet. In my KIT List spreadsheet, I have fields for:
- First Name
- Last Name
- Date Added (to the contact manager database)
Now, it's outreach time. Here's how I script my telephone calls. Since most of my website development work comes from university faculty, I'm usually addressing someone with a doctoral degree. Hence, the "doctor" salutation below.
Here's the call:
"Dr. So-and-so? My name is Martha Retallick and I'm a freelance graphic designer."
[Since we've spoken before, there's usually some recognition at this point. It's okay to go off script and chat a bit!]
"We'd spoken earlier about the possibility of my doing work for you. I was calling to see if there were any projects I could help with."
[Time to pause and let them come out with the truth, which, most likely will be along the lines of "Nothing now, but thanks for calling."]
To track how the calls go, I color code each line in my KIT List spreadsheet:
- Left Message: Yellow
- Not Yet: Orange
- No: Red (Which means that I’d better take this person out of my contact manager so that I don’t call him or her again.)
- Left Organization: Gray (Another one who gets removed from the contact manager.)
- Green: Possible Project (Remember, it’s not a Real Project until the sale is closed, the contract is signed, and money changes hands.)
Since a lot of my academic KITs aren't sitting by the phone awaiting my call, I leave a lot of messages. (Word to the wise: Keep your messages short and sweet.) Here's my message:
"My name is Martha Retallick and I'm a freelance graphic designer. We'd spoken earlier about the possibility of my doing work for you. My number is [my phone number, including area code] and I'll also send an e-mail."
Since the e-mail address is already in the spreadsheet, I click on it and send this message, which I've saved as a template in my e-mail software:
Subject: Following up on our previous conversation
Message: We spoke earlier about the possibility of my doing Web or graphic design work for you. Was checking in to see if you had any projects that I could assist with.
Here is an example of a recently completed project:
Name of Project Here
Web address of project [or your blog post that describes the project]
You can find additional work samples in my website portfolio. [I put a hotlink around the words 'website portfolio."]
I end the message with my e-mail signature file. If you don't have a sigfile yet, here's a starter:
I've just finished my first KIT outreach for this year. The statistics:
- List size: 115
- Messages left (without response): 71
- Not Yet: 40
- No: 1 (And, yes, that guy's long gone from my contact manager!)
- Left Organization: 1 (Another who was removed from the contact manger.)
- Possible Projects: 2 (I'm now working on closing the sales.)
Although I wish that I'd turned up more than two people with possible projects, neither of those people was reaching out to me. I had to do that. And one of the two has been on my KIT list for three years. (See? It is about persistence!)
I'm planning to do two more KIT outreaches this year – once in the summer before the "everyone goes on vacation" month, August, and again in the late fall before the holiday season.
Before I close, here's a brief, but handy, KIT Survival Guide. Call it "What they're telling you vs. what really happens."
- When someone tells you, "If something comes up, I'll give you a call," this may actually happen. But don't count on it. You want the business? Be persistent – stay in touch.
- Here’s another classic: "I'll keep you in mind." You’ll hear this one a lot. And no they won't keep you in mind. That's your job. So, don't just rely on periodic outreach efforts. They're just the icing on your Keep In Touch cake. Get the KIT people on your monthly e-zine list. Put them on your blog’s RSS feed. Ask them to follow you Twitter. Friend them on Facebook. Invite them to lunch. Go hiking with them. Do what you have to do!