Free Advice Friday: Your Freelance Prospecting List

What’s on the iPod: Hardliners by Holcomb Waller

For a week that has just a few items on the to-do list, it’s kept me busy. Yesterday I talked with a new client and started in on their project almost immediately. Today, I continue that, plus I’ll be starting a draft for another client and talking with yet another new client to get their project underway.

I was researching an article for a client when I came across various methods people use to find new clients. What’s interesting is how each person is successful, but how very different their methods may be. I know freelancers who love cold calling. Other freelancers do quite well with sales letters. I myself love a solid letter of introduction.

Yet the method you use to reach prospects is just part of the marketing mix. You have to know who you’re going to contact, right?

It’s the part plenty of freelance writers can’t come to terms with. The result: hit-and-miss messaging to people who weren’t really a good fit.

Instead, isn’t it smarter to build a prospect list?

So who goes on your prospect list? The people who are going to buy, that’s who. Still, you don’t know who that is. Yet.

Start here:

Study current clients. I see too many people building a prospect list by examining what they’re about to do — what message they’ll send, to whom they’ll send it, what the intended outcome is, etc. While all of this is necessary information, it’s not the only focus. Try looking at who’s going to buy — and do that by looking at who has already. How did you find them/ how did they find you? What need did they have? What business are they in? What services did you provide? Big or small company? What industry? Really study who your current clients are and how you appealed to them. If you don’t know what made them buy, ask.

Include your network. You know those people you met at the last conference or business networking event you attended? Put them on the list. That includes anyone you interact with occasionally on social media or LinkedIn.

Add those views and website visits. If your LinkedIn profile is getting interest or you’re getting return visits from potential clients, include them on your list.

Draw them to you. Make it easier to find people interested in what you do — put up a mini-survey or a poll to draw them in. Or give away something in exchange for their email address. If you give them something targeted — like 4 Steps to Creating Popular White Papers — you’ve just identified both the client and their need.

Get referrals. I heard this from Jake Poinier, and it’s an effective, easy way to grow your prospect list. Ask current and former clients for referrals. Make a habit of asking. Ask friends, former coworkers, and business contacts if they know anyone who could use your services.

Go old school. Remember the Yellow Pages? Find sources like that — magazine directories, business directories, associations, even magazine advertisers — to find prospects. As you look through these sources, the temptation is to grab everyone on the list. You could, but then you’d be spinning your wheels either by vetting them later or wasting energy on contacting them. A better way would be to keep in mind why your current clients work with you as you sort through the lists. Don’t forget to search social media forums and Twitter hash tags to locate prospects.

It’s tempting to vet by annual revenue or company size — the more money, the better your chances, right?. I nearly did, but before I could, I was hired by two one-person shops who kept me busy and well paid (one still does). Instead, identify the need and the motivation.

There are any number of ways to find prospects, but finding prospects who fit is a better way to approach it. Will it guarantee sales? No. But as you learn more about who’s buying and who isn’t, you’ll be able to recognize more quickly who should be on that list.

Writers, how do you build your prospect list?
What factors do you use to determine who’s a good fit?
What makes you leave a prospect off your list?

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