I don’t know how many times I’ve read or heard that phrase from graphics people (and other entrepreneurs). Cold calling is the line drawn in the sand. You just don’t go there. Cold calling is like the greasy used car salesman of marketing techniques. I’ve come to the conclusion that for many, the emotional equivalent of the thought of cold calling someone can be similar to that of sky diving with no equipment other than a 6 inch layer of bubble wrap. Most would rather sky dive given the choice between the two.
There are lots of ways to reach future customers, and I will make no argument that some ways of selling yourself are just better cut out for certain kinds of people. You can use the internet and it’s many facets, or use print media. You can direct mail eye catching info-nuggets via postal service. You can even use your car as a dynamic advertisement, or say something cool on the radio. Lots and lots of choices! However, I want to bring to light why traditional phone calls to a local prospective lead are hard to beat in a number of important ways, and why anyone with some self confidence and patience can make it work on a small budget. It’s worth your time to give it a try. I would know, because it’s one of my favorite and most successful techniques for picking up new customers and making people aware of what I do.
The Stigma. I think the first thing that puts people into fits of cold sweat when they think about pitching themselves to complete strangers is the immediate comparison of themselves to telemarketers. I don’t know a single person that enjoys fielding calls from telemarketers. Then there’s the association with pushy, needy, or sneaky tactics to keep you on the phone so you’ll do something you don’t want to do.
Invasion. In these days of email, texting, and social connectivity through Twit/Face/Space, everyone communicates at a distance, acknowledged only when convenient through the push of a key. Actual voice communication now carries even more of a feeling of plowing into not only someone’s personal space, but their time as well.
Nerves. You don’t get to delete your first botched line and start over when you call a prospective client. When you’re on the phone, emotions, apprehension, and preparation show through one’s voice clearly and such exposure can be frightening to someone who isn’t prepared to quickly convey their ideas clearly and with confidence.
Rejection. How much can one stand to be turned down and not call an endeavor a waste? Being told “no” or worse is not going to brighten anyone’s day, and it’s not going to brighten anyone’s week either after days and days of the same. It’s one thing for someone to quietly throw away your postcard or delete your e-newsletter, but someone telling you to go away can really affect your drive.
Relatively Cheap and Easy. Do you own a phone? Congratulations, you are equipped to call people! You don’t need to hassle yourself with printing fancy things or trying to customize the infrastructure of a web utility. Unless you’ve already killed all the minutes on your phone (if you’re using a cell), you’re paying for it anyway. Might as well get your money’s worth. You’re going to have to buy your clients’ contact information from somewhere, which is discussed below*. You may also have to access it online to buy it, so an internet connection is pretty much an indirect necessity, but if you’re reading this you’ve already got that taken care of as well.
Captive Audience. Contemplate for a minute how hard businesses work to make you pay attention to their advertising. When you call someone, you have either all, or a substantial portion of, their attention even if only for a few seconds. Even if you have to leave a voicemail, odds are high that person will listen to enough of your message for you to get the key information through to them. Make this time count!
Authentic. To simply talk with someone is one of the best ways to express your true personality and in doing so, make your point stick. If you really mean what you say about your product, and say it sincerely, it will be clear you’ve got your soul invested in what you do. People do pick up on that, and it can be a powerful way of making a lasting impression.
Opportunity. If you cold call someone, you’re showing to at least some degree that you want that work, because you’re taking the time to try to contact someone directly. Showing that kind of ambition is an advantage and speaks to your character. The worst that can happen is that you’re told not to call back. Think about the best that can happen.
Fast. Provided you have a list of people to call already organized, you can cover a lot of ground in just an hour. It’s essential to keep your speech succinct, but you should be able to make about 30 calls in an hour if you want. Spread that over 5 business days and odds are, you’ll have a couple good leads that may turn into jobs every week.
Let’s start getting prepped. Aside from charging your phone and knowing what you need to say, the first thing you’re going to need is a list of people to call. Who, and what type of customer are you after? My recommendation is to call new businesses that are local to you, or within your state. Starting out locally gives you the best chance to develop a client base that refers other businesses and friends to you by word of mouth. It also gives you the opportunity to hopefully meet your clients in person, which is a great way to work when possible.
It’s in your best interest to find someone who will not only need to establish their new business identity through a logo, but also require business cards, tear sheets, webdesign, etc in order to simply begin doing business. Most businesses establish a relationship with an artist early on for their needs, and typically don’t change graphic services unless they’re unhappy with their service in some way – and you won’t have any idea when that time arrives in any sort of reliable manner. Your chance to make a calculated inroad on a business relationship that lasts is right at the beginning.
*So, what’s a good way to find out who’s opening shop? I recommend using www.bizjournals.com. Choose your locale, then go to Purchase –> Sales Leads.
I recommend a 13 week subscription to start, which will cost right around $360 last I checked. That will give you plenty of time to hone your skills and at the very least, make your money back. Bizjournals will send you an Excel spreadsheet every Friday of the month which contains a bevy of information pertaining to newly registered businesses in your state. You’re going to have to sort this information out based on a few criteria. Since you receive this info on a Friday, take a lazy Sunday to do this and be ready for the start of the week. I like to keep the following information in the spreadsheet:
• Business Name
• Owner’s First/Last name
• Street Address
• Service type
• Phone number
That’s pretty much all the info we need to do a little research and properly address someone on the phone. At this point the information will look more focused but still a bit jumbled. It’s up to your preference how you’d like to sort out this information, but when I receive a spreadsheet, I like to sort the cities alphabetically. This will be useful because we will want to check the business in a search engine to see if they have a website (you want to educate yourself on what the business does whenever possible) and we may have to enter the city to hone the search. This will simply help you organize how you search, and save you from having to type in a new city with the business name every time you search.
Unfortunately some businesses listed will not have a phone number. This is where we’ll have to do some quick Googling. If the business has established a website, you may be able to find contact info. They may only have a Facebook page if they’re very fledgling which could offer a contact number. See what you can pull up, but you may either have to contact them a different way (such as email) or just consider it a no-go.
Delete businesses you are absolutely not interested in. You don’t need to call everyone. If you aren’t feeling engaged and motivated to call someone, it’s going to show through in how you speak. Make it worth your time and theirs.
The last step is the most fun: highlight the businesses that sound really cool – the ones you’d really love to do work for! What businesses share a common subject or profession you naturally enjoy? Don’t let an opportunity pass where you could inject your huge enthusiasm for that business into the artwork they need. Naturally, there will only be a few of these businesses opening at any given time, but make sure you note them.
So, we’ve got our list, checked it twice, and we want to make some calls. Next week I’ll go over how I like to structure my calls, how to practice so you feel natural, and having prepared information to email when a future customer want to know more. When, not if!