How to Cold Call Like a Pro

How to Cold Call Like a Pro

Cold calling doesn’t work, some people will tell you.

These days, running a successful business is all about building relationships. While there’s plenty of truth to relationship marketing, it doesn’t mean cold-calling is a waste of time.

Four years ago, I was stuck in a dead-end job editing lists of happy hour specials for my local bar rag. Looking for something better, I started reading books like The Well-Fed Writer and Six-Figure Freelancing… books that said I could make a decent living as a freelance copywriter if I just started cold-calling.

Desperate to escape, I quit my job and spent the next few months camped out on my parent’s couch with a lap top and a phone. One by one, I called each company listed under “advertising” and asked if they hired freelance copywriters.

I had no web site, no Facebook profile and no industry “connections.” Hell, I didn’t even have any cold-calling skills.  But within six months, I was earning more than I had as an editor—all thanks to cold calls.

These days my job leads come more from referrals than cold calls, but I still do them from time to time. In fact, a group of freelance writers and I are embarking on an eight-week cold calling marathon. (There’s nothing like teamwork to improve your accountability.) For that reason, I’ve decided to share my cold calling secrets.

The Cold Call Follow-Up Box

These days, you can track your cold calls via Word documents, spreadsheets, contact management software … the options are endless, and I’ve tried nearly all of them. But no matter what shiny new lead-tracking system comes on the market, I always fall back on my favorite method: a recipe box with index cards organized by month.

Those little sticky tabs are Avery Write-On Tabs. I also have a little fortune taped to the box top for extra motivation.

Each time you get a warm lead during your cold call sessions, write down his or her name, title, company name and contact information on an index card. On the back of the card, write down the date and any important details you gathered during the call. Then, file it three months ahead of time. (Since it’s October, I would file all new leads under January.)

Once or twice a month, I flip to the cards filed in that month and make follow-up calls. On the back of each card, I’ll write the date and the outcome of the call.

Sometimes I’ll just leave a voice mail. Other times, the person will tell me that they have no work, but I should call back in a few months. Surprisingly, 95 percent of the people I talk to are pleasantly surprised that I’ve bothered to call back. And even more surprisingly, a good percentage of them will say something like:

“You must be psychic. I just got a project that needs a freelance copywriter. Can we schedule a conference call for next week?”

Over the years, I’ve met some of my best clients this way … and reconnected with clients who have gone through dry spells, only to come out of them needing more work from me.

For a time investment of one to three hours a month, it’s one of my best marketing tools.

Other Cold Calling Tips

You can’t do cold calls  for four years without learning a thing or two. One book I read said I should make my cold calls early in the morning or late at night, when many decision makers were at their desks. This advice has never worked for me—I’ve learned that if I call before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m., I’m guaranteed to get voice mail.

That’s another thing—voice mail and email are never as effective as talking with someone on the phone. Even if he doesn’t have an immediate need for my services, I can usually tell just by the tone of someone’s voice whether I should put him in my warm leads box or forget about ever having him as a customer.

Sending a postcard after the cold call, however, works wonders. It seems to convince people that I’m legit, and makes me memorable.

Finally, always, always do your homework. If you find a business that looks promising but don’t know who to contact, check its LinkedIn profile for names and titles. Bonus points if you can drop a subtle compliment about a business’s web site.

What are your cold calling tips?