Cold calling and lead generation for freelance designers

I get it. You hate cold calling. I do too as a freelance designer. In fact, everybody does. Still, it is an effective activity to get new leads. Here are 3 tips from a first-time cold caller.

As a freelance designer, I needed clients. And the cheapest, easiest, most efficient way to go about this is cold calling. And yes I get it, you hate cold calling. Everybody does.

Cold-calling is an activity in sales when representatives reach out to potential customers who haven't expressed any interest in the offered products or services. It is a huge challenge to deliver a pitch to someone who has never heard about you or your services.

I’d much rather design a print ad and send a mass mailer. But I decided that would come later, as a supplement to direct calling. So I tried calling on my lunch hour. My script was simple enough: the call to action was either a registration on my site, a collection of email, or a follow-up call.

A lot weren’t interested, it’s true. But even with uninterested parties, there is value. Just like the creative briefing process, cold calling too can benefit from these 3 traits: Be human (not a robot), be prepared (use templates/scripts) and agree on the next steps (how to proceed).

1. Make Contact

Find a Network Node.

Network nodes are contacts that have connections to and clout with a large client base. They can be accountants, with access to a client list startups or photographers with access to a client list of bride/groom-to-be. Two recent contacts have taught me that unexpected nodes are all over the place. One connection went like this: I reached out to a non-interested non-lead that connected me to someone who I defined as a competitor. But now, they are a potential partner. Another has access to a steady stream of desired clients. So don’t be afraid to call that business or take that meeting. Now, the non-valuable calls. Call after call, I noted that the potential clients were kind enough but I wasn’t getting any traction. I only had limited time to spend on cold-calling, which was not enough to get one single client.

2. Outsource

If you’re not going to make the call, pay someone else to.

A small business needs effective lead generation, especially in its infancy.

The refrain I most often hear concerning young businesses is that a large percentage of them fail in the first year. This has absolutely scared me into prioritizing lead generation. 

The cheapest and most effective way to do that is cold-calling. Cold-calling seems to have a higher return than anything else I’ve tried: Facebook messaging, Facebook/Instagram Advertising, rudimentary SEO, Social Media posts, Directories, emailing, etc. I started out doing the calling myself. But I quickly realized that wasn’t an efficient plan. For one, the process was slow as there were a lot of no-answers and I couldn’t get in touch with point-people. 

The digital age is amazing. Press the on button on all kinds of processes to make your life simpler. An easy way to develop a database is to hire a professional on Upwork. This keeps costs low and opens up the hours for you to strategize and produce. My first hire had an hourly rate a bit too high for my liking, so I paid per call. The contractor flew through 500 calls in under a week.

Now I had touchpoints scattered throughout my target market without me ever having to pick up a phone. 

Spring for a Basic Podio plan to keep track of these leads and get a Google Voice number for your contractor. Now, the principal’s only touchpoint is when the potential client is very close to a deal. If you find a reasonably-priced and effective cold-caller, leads will travel through the funnel quicker and deals will close faster.

3. Simplify

Make sure your lead scoring is simple and effective.

Cold, warm, and hot is all I’ve needed so far. Onboarding is only done after a Hot Lead turns into a Client. I’m only actively interfacing with the lead while in the Hot stage. This streamlines the process and ensures time isn’t being wasted on warm leads.

Even though you’re streamlining, don’t neglect follow-up tasks. A warm lead can slip quickly if not given proper attention.

Bonus Tip: Take Heart

A negative reaction is a given. To my surprise, a huge amount of people have been appreciative of my call, even if they weren't interested in the product. This pleasant finding has led to repeating the company name a few times during the call and hoping for a referral.

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