I spent three years working in my school’s call center while I was in college. It was a student call center, where we would call alumni to raise support for student scholarships and other projects around the University.
It wasn’t exactly cold calling, but it was pretty close. On some nights I would make as many as two hundred calls. (Of course, the nights when I managed to get through two hundred calls were the nights when virtually no one answered the phone, but that’s as may be.)
Here’s the thing: when I first started, I was terrified of phones. As a child (and as an adult) I would shy away from answering the phone at the slightest excuse. I’d pretend not to hear it ringing. I’d run around the house shouting, “Phone’s ringing!” Heck, I’d even pick up the phone and hang it up again. (This was back in the old days, when you would actually “hang up” phones.)
So it took some doing for me to warm up to making phone calls. But over time, I became better and better at it. I ended up having some pleasant conversations during those evenings at the call center.
When I became a freelance writer, I decided I wanted to master cold calling. I still don’t love the process, but now I can safely say I can use the cold call to rustle up business whenever I’ve got a slow week.
If you’ve never done cold calls before, it can seem pretty daunting. And there is a learning curve when it comes to cold calling well. But I want to share with you how I got over my fear of cold calling, and how you can do the same in your freelance business.
How I Got Over My Fear
I made phone calls every day for three years, but I still have butterflies in my stomach when I pick up the phone for cold calling.
When I first decided to make cold calls, I hadn’t called regularly for years. My old fear of phone calls was at it again, holding me back. I knew I had to start making cold calls if I was going to get the business I needed, but at the same time I wanted to shrink back and avoid it.
So how did I get over my fear?
I didn’t just jump in and start making calls from the get-go. “Taking the plunge” might work for a one-time thing, but I meant to make a habit out of cold calling for as long as I needed to do it. I had to get my mind in the right place first.
Instead, I did all I could to prepare for cold calling as well as possible. I took time to put together a list of contacts. I took time to write out a script—which helped me map out what to expect from the process. Most importantly, I listed everything about cold calling that scared me.
Because when you’re afraid of something, the worst of it is that your fear strikes you as a vague, undifferentiated mass of awfulness. The simple act of naming all the aspects of cold calling that scared me broke up that undifferentiated mass into specific, small fears. Instead of saying I’m afraid of cold calling, I could say I’m afraid of rejection, or getting yelled at, or awkward moments with strangers. And now that I had a group of specific fears instead of one big vague fear, I could come up with ways of dealing with those fears.
Being afraid of rejection turned into, “What do I do if a prospect says no?”
Being afraid of getting yelled at turned into, “What do I do if a prospect yells at me?”
Being afraid of awkward silences turned into, “What do I do when there’s an awkward silence?”
By analyzing my fear into its component parts, I gradually turned it into a plan for making my calls as good as possible. And when I no longer had any excuse left for not calling, I started.
So let’s address some of the major fears that might be holding you back from making cold calls.
What’s Holding You Back?
If you’re anything like me, the idea of cold calling gives you a cold feeling of dread in your stomach. What if you get rejected? What if you get yelled at? What if there’s an awkward moment? And worst of all: what if things get so bad and you get so embarrassed that you die?
Let’s address the first of these fears: the fear of rejection.
Let’s face it: if you’re trying to sell your services, you’re going to be rejected more often than you get accepted. Particularly when you’re starting out, many more people will tell you no than yes. The fear of rejection is only going to hold you back. Which means you have to think of a way to reframe the situation.
One way you can do this is by realizing that it’s actually a good thing when people tell you “No, thank you.” When people tell you they’re not interested in your services, it means you no longer have to waste time on a prospect who isn’t interested in what you have. Rejection always stings a little bit, but it’s not a disaster. So you don’t have to worry about it.
What if you get yelled at? First off: while it does happen, it happens so rarely that it’s hardly worth mentioning. Remember, you’re a skilled professional calling during business hours to offer a valuable service. It’s not like you’re calling people in their homes to ask them for donations.
And second: even if someone yells at you, you’re not obligated to stay on the phone with them. Once a prospect raises his voice, you’re more than welcome to hang up. Think of it this way: as soon as a prospect starts yelling, you can feel pretty safe putting that company in the “no” column.
What if there’s an awkward silence? Honestly, this is a problem I’m working on right now. I’m not exactly the smoothest or most natural conversationalist in the world, although I’m working on it. One thing I’ve noticed is that you can’t go too far wrong by asking a question. You should be able to avoid awkward silences by preparing a list of questions to ask in the event of an awkward moment.
Lastly: what do you do if you have an experience so bad that the person on the other end laughs at you, the earth breaks open beneath your feet, and the bowels of the earth swallow you up?
My advice: don’t worry about it. Remember: cold calling can’t kill you. The worst thing that can happen is that you might feel embarrassed for a few moments. Maybe, once in a million years, somebody will yell at you and hurt your feelings. It’s not that bad.
Seriously. Cold calling is no big deal. The only reason you’re worried about it is because you’re not familiar with it. But if you commit yourself to making a few cold calls every day, you’ll very quickly reach the point where you don’t even worry about it.
So let’s get you started.
How to Get Started
Let’s say you want to get started cold calling today. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to cold calling success.
- Put a list of prospects together.
Find a few companies that fit your ideal client profile. You can look for them on social media sites like LinkedIn, or some more niche sites like CrunchBase or AngelList (if you want to work with startups). Most companies will have a phone number publicly available, and it won’t be too hard to identify the person you’ll want to talk to. Most likely, you’ll want to talk to the head of marketing, the creative director, the editor, or someone with a title along those lines.
- Write your calling script.
This doesn’t have to be fancy. Remember, you’re mostly doing this so you can get used to being on the phone. It’s okay if you only say something like, “I’m Geofrey Crow and I’m a freelance copywriter. I’m calling to see if you need any writing work done.”
It’s not a fancy pitch, but it gets the message across. You can always come up with something more sophisticated later on.
- Make five calls today.
Now that you’ve got your script and your list, it’s time for you to get on the phone and start dialing.
Full disclosure: if you’re making five phone calls, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll actually make it to talk to more than one decision-maker. That’s just fine. The point of this exercise is to get you comfortable with dialing the phone. If you actually get to talk to some prospects, that’s icing on the cake.
- Take notes when you’re finished calling.
Take notes after every phone calling session. Figure out what you did wrong—and when you’re first starting out, there’s plenty you’ll be doing wrong!
This is crucial. If you want to be an effective cold caller, you need to be able to identify what you’re doing wrong. This can be as simple as saying “uh” too much, and it can be as complex as, “I think I’m emphasizing the wrong benefits in my pitch.”
Cold calling is always a work in progress. There’s always something you could be doing better. Make a habit of identifying problems and you’ll be in great shape.
- Make ten calls tomorrow.
You made five calls today. Make ten tomorrow. Keep building up that number until you can’t build it any more. If you really need business, you can keep building till you’re making calls all day long.
The point is that you should keep making calls until you don’t mind making calls anymore. Then you’ll still make calls, you just won’t think about it.
If all this sounds unpleasant and overwhelming to you, I can sympathize. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. But it’s also not impossible. Get in touch if you need help.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about freelancing. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.
And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather do it that way.
Good luck, and good copywriting!