As an independent creative, prospecting is a practical and necessary business activity that I need to give focused attention to. It requires work to keep a pipeline of prospective clients. If I don’t get a project directly directly from a contact, very often someone on my list will refer another to me. I have to always be prospecting.
Prospects are simply those people who might be your clients but aren’t yet. A pipeline is a system to get a prospect onto your list and eventually stepping up to the plate with a project for you to take on.
One thing to remember about prospecting is that you can control what you do, but you cannot control what others do. Prospecting is not instantaneous in giving results – you might acquire a new client quickly, but more often it will be awhile. So you need to be consistent in your efforts, and not be discouraged when you don’t get responses right away.
Your clients are out there. If you give up too early, you will miss them. So keep the process going.
Find your prospects.
The first thing to do is to identify the types of clients you want to work with. Somewhere you have the idea of your ideal client. Hopefully, you have that description written down where you can refer to it. If not, your first step is to decide on the kind of work you want to do and the market you want to serve. For example, I serve small businesses and organizations for the most part. There are certain entities I don’t want to work with. Knowing that keeps me focused on the ideal client.
Once you’ve identified that market, find out where those businesses are listed. Some places to look include:
- Professional and industry directories
- LinkedIn groups
- Chambers of Commerce
- Trade associations
- Google+ Communities
- Online registries (Manta, Yelp, YP)
- AdBase (mailing lists subscriptions)
- Yodelist (mailing lists subscriptions)
- Artist’s Market
- Writer’s Market
- Photographer’s Market
- Friends and family network (who do they know that needs what you do)
Look at web sites to find out more about each prospect. Make some phone calls to find out who at the business is the contact for creative submissions.
Another way to find prospects and start making connections is to network in person. Chambers of Commerce, Meet-Up groups, service clubs, trade associations, will all have opportunities to network. Meeting people, finding out what they do, what their challenges are, and leaving with their business cards in hand is one of the most rewarding means of prospecting.
Collect the Data
So, here’s what you do once you have a few cards and contacts: start a prospecting list spreadsheet. Use a Excel or Numbers to record data and track your promotional campaigns.
Create a spreadsheet with the following header titles, or download the spreadsheet I have created for you using the links at the end of this article.
- Company Name
- First Name
- Last Name
- Email Address
- Street Address
- Phone Number
- First Contact
- Next Steps
Enter the data you’ve collected.
Send your first promotion.
Plan, write and mail your first prospecting email. Don’t use a mail client (Mailchimp) yet. Just follow up if you’ve met the person, or introduce yourself and your work if you haven’t.
Use your own voice. Don’t try to sound like someone else.
If you haven’t met the contact, let them know where you got their email (are you connected on social media? Use that), or if someone referred them to you.
If you have met the person, tell them something you really appreciated about meeting them. Include a value statement describing what you do, and what makes you different. End with a request to connect. Include links to your web site about page or blog, and social media.
The content of this email should be short (150 words or less) and to the point.
Keep track of your emails and responses on the spreadsheet.
Send a second promotion.
One week after sending your first email, send a second. In this, lead with a question in order to engage and peak their interest. The idea is to start a conversation that you’ll maintain.
If your prospect replies, you’ve made a connection. You can then engage them more fully from then on to discover how you can help them.
Again, track your sends and responses on the spreadsheet.
Send the third promotion.
One to two weeks following the second email, send your third. This time you might include a link to a tip sheet or white paper you’re offering, or some other offer. “Do you think we should get together over coffee?” “Should we schedule a phone appointment?”
You can also ask for a referral.
Remember that the idea of the prospecting pipeline is not to land a project immediately, but to build up to landing a project.
You want to develop a relationship with your prospect.
If you’ve received a positive reply, then add them to your email service list (Mailchimp, Constant Contact).
If at any point you receive a “not interested” or please remove me from your list, do so immediately. That’s just the courteous thing to do, and you don’t want to be contacting anyone who doesn’t want to be contacted.
What keeps the pipeline going is always adding new contacts, and always removing those who ask to not be bothered. Your prospecting work is never completed. Even when you’re busy with projects, you need to take time to prospect.
After the third email, send an update every 30-60 days.
Don’t spam your prospects.
Your prospecting needs to focus on the recipient, not on you. Each email needs to be timely and relevant to the other person. It should sound personal, not like it’s an email blast.
There are many ways to abuse this pipeline. You must receive prospecting emails all the time, as I do. By personalizing the subject line and the lead sentence, you can avoid being considered a spammer. It’s by carefully crafting the content of the three emails that you’ll have success.
Remember that the idea of the prospecting pipeline is not to land a project right off, but to build up to landing a project. You want to develop a relationship.
Leave a comment to ask questions or share about your prospecting experiences.