6 Cold Calling Alternatives That Actually Work

By Bethany Johnson, Contributor, on December 14, 2017

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Ew, cold pitching. Sure, some freelance experts swear by it, but there’s always an ick factor you have to push through to make it work. After all, you are asking someone to take a chance on you over the 53 million other freelancers out there. No matter how well-crafted your proposal, cold pitching is, by nature, cold. In the worst case, the task can take precious hours that may never produce a gig. I even know freelancers that treat pitching as their full-time job until they have a full client roster.

Ready to try some cold calling alternatives? Here are a few that have worked for me — and many other successful indy workers.

1. Good, Old-Fashioned Friendship

Chummy business friends are the best. They’re people who “get” you, cheer you on and champion a cause you support. I keep my pipeline warm by sharing and commenting on other industry experts’ publications, to their delight. In fact, my most loyal clients often start as professional friends. Today, they don’t question my sincerity since that’s how I lead out the gate, long before offering my services.

2. Keep Up With Past Clients

When your point of contact makes the leap to start a new career or business venture, don’t just wave goodbye. Go beyond the typical “thanks for the memories” email. Commit to keeping an eye on whatever’s next for him and his new team. Departures can become beginnings if you view the separation as a multiplication of clients, rather than a loss. A few months into his new thing and you can bet your old contact will be open to hiring some on-demand help. Make sure you’re the first person that comes to mind.

3. Write Your Own Recommendation

Here’s a hint: The number one reason people don’t refer you to others is because it costs them precious time. Take a page out of my playbook and draft up (that’s right, “ghostwrite”) your own referral for your clients to pass along to their industry colleagues, endorsing your creativity, skills and commitment to hitting deadlines. Other freelancers will balk at this idea, but that likely costs them the low-hanging fruit of referral clients.

4. Aim for Awards

This year, I’ve been blessed to have been recognized by multiple institutions as a stand-out freelancer. The accolades have won me attention from prospects that I otherwise wouldn’t have garnered. There’s nothing — nothing — quite like what good PR does for your client list. My highest paying client today was in the crowd as I accepted my second award. Here’s a great way to get clients to pitch to you, not the other way around. My awards were a surprise to me, but you can go out and nab your own “earned media” coverage by entering competitions and winning a trophy or two. Here’s how:

  • Set up a Google Alert for every time the phrase “call for submissions” appears online.

  • Each day you’ll get an email digest of new contests you can enter with your creative work. Many will be irrelevant. Graphic designers, for example, may not want to enter poetry contests or a jingle competition. Just keep an eye on the ones you believe you have a chance of winning.

  • Then, submit your work according to the guidelines.

  • Finally, promote the association or group that’s holding the contest. Encourage other creatives to enter.

  • A final word of advice: Spend no more than an hour each week on this type of hit-or-miss marketing. It’s a niche idea for sure, since few freelancers do it as a strategy. But the prestige of winning competitions and commendations can certainly produce buzz that no cold calling can beat.

5. Find Common Ground

“Hi, I’m Bethany. Which company are you representing here? What did you think of that last keynote speaker?” This is the perfect way to introduce yourself to a stranger at an industry conference. The conversation can work in any buffet line, coffee station or intermission. Notice I didn’t ask my new acquaintance to sign on any dotted lines. In fact, meeting new people at conferences is one of the best ways to make a cool, professional, lasting impression. Next step: Follow up by joining their brand’s online discussion. Keep an eye out for your new friend’s pain points and business frustrations as they share their work on social. If you can fill a need, that’s the time to do it. Not the buffet line.

6. From Mentor to Sponsor, With Grace

Most successful freelancers are booked solid — and they’re sometimes on the brink of becoming overwhelmed. Ease their pain by offering to do some of their work in exchange for constructive feedback and instruction. The hard-won lessons of a seasoned freelancer are more valuable than anything you’ll find in a textbook, so gratefully take any and every piece of advice they provide. Don’t for a moment believe you’re doing work “for free.” Often, at the end of your formal mentorship, your guru will gladly endorse your skills or even pass off entire client relationships to you so they can move on to land bigger and better clients for themselves. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this type of relationship, and I can say that everyone is delighted in the end.

Warm relationships are always better than a cold pitch. While cold pitching may produce a few surprising responses here and there, it can also sap your inspiration and diminish your prospects’ trust in you. For a more effective, less awkward approach, try these creative cold calling alternatives today.

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