As an independent creative, prospecting is a practical and necessary business activity that needs focused attention to. It requires work to maintain a pipeline of prospective clients.
Prospecting is an ongoing marketing activity.
Prospects are simply those people who might be your clients but aren’t yet. The goal is to turn prospects into clients. A pipeline is a system to get a prospect onto your list so you can stay in touch through your self-promotion efforts.
Prospecting does not give results instantaneously. You might acquire a new client after just one or two contacts, but more often it will require a series of efforts. And even then, not every prospect will convert to a client. You need to be consistent in your efforts, and not get 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. You already have an idea of what your ideal client looks like. And, hopefully, you have included that description in your marketing plan. If not, your first step is to decide on the kind of work you want to do and the market you want to serve. It’s also helpful to know what types of clients and markets you don’t want to serve.
This knowledge helps you stay focused on your best prospects.
Once you’ve identified your market, find out where those businesses are listed. Some places to look include:
- Professional and industry directories
- LinkedIn groups
- Dunn & Bradstreet
- Secretary of State (for corporations and other registered businesses.
- Chambers of Commerce
- Trade associations
- Online business listing (Manta, Yelp, YP)
- Mailing lists (Agency Access, Yodelist)
- Creative directories (Workbook, The Red Book)
- Artist’s Market
- Writer’s Market
- Photographer’s Market
- Friends and family network (who do they know that needs what you do)
Once you’ve discovered a group of prospects, explore their web sites to find out more. If the you’re not sure who to contact, make some phone calls to find out who at the business is the best person to contact.
Some industry sectors, such as publishers, magazines, and entertainment companies, are used to received self-promotion emails and mailers from freelance creatives. Other industries and professions need a different approach.
If you intend to work with businesses and organizations, you’ll need to go where they hang out. Start making connections by networking. chambers of commerce, Meet-Up groups, service clubs, trade and professional associations all provide opportunities to network.
Meeting people, finding out what they do, what their challenges are, and exchanging business cards 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 Excel, Google Docs or Numbers to record data and track your promotional campaigns.
Create a spreadsheet with the following header titles:
- Company Name
- First Name
- Last Name
- Email Address
- Street Address
- Phone Number
- First Contact Date/Place
- Next Steps
Cold Email or Warm Email
Plan, write and send an introductory email, personalized for each prospect. Don’t use a mail client (Mailchimp, AWeber, ConvertKit) yet, and don’t send an HTML email. Make it simple plain text message. Send it from your branded email.
If you’ve met the person through networking or another way, this will be a warm email. If you haven’t met the person yet, it’s a cold email.
If it’s a warm email, tell them something you really appreciated about meeting them. Remind them about your work and availability. Include a value statement describing what you do, and what makes you different. End with a request to connect.
If it’s a cold email, simply introduce yourself and your work. Let them know why you’re reaching out, and if someone referred them to you.
Write in your own voice. Don’t try to sound like someone else. Include links to your web site about page or blog.
The content of this email should be short (150 words or less) and to the point.
Keep track of your emails and any responses on the spreadsheet you created.
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 will be your last in this initial series. This time you might include a link to a tip sheet or white paper, 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.
If you receive a positive reply at any point, then add the person to your email service list (Mailchimp, ConvertKit, etc). Then continue to send a self-promotion or update every 60-90 days.
The purpose of the prospecting pipeline is not to land a project, but to develop relationships with your prospects that can lead to projects.
If at any point you receive a “not interested” or request for removal, act on it immediately. That’s just the courteous thing to do. You don’t want to be contacting anyone who’s not interested.
What keeps the pipeline going is adding new contacts, and removing those who aren’t interested. Your prospecting work is never completed. Even when you’re busy with projects, you need to take time to prospect. This needs to be part of your regular marketing mix.
To be effective, your self-promotion needs to focus on the recipient, not on you. Each email needs to be timely and relevant to the receiving person. It should have a degree of personalization, even if that’s simply including their first name in the message body or subject line.
Don’t spam your prospects!
You probably receive prospecting emails all the time, from people you’ve never met. If you have a contact form on your website, you’ll get spam email. This is true for your prospects.
Set yourself apart by using relevant subject lines and including a degree of personalization, you can avoid becoming a spammer. By carefully crafting the content of the three-part prospecting series, you’re more likely to keep the connection going.
It’s important to remember the prospecting pipeline is not to gain a new client right away, but to develop a relationship. People work with and buy from people they know, like, and trust.
Got questions? Drop a comment below.