Cold calling, as much as I, the introvert, hates to admit it, is still the most powerful and effective way to find good freelance technical writing work. Even if a “no” is forthcoming, a good, polite cold call followed up properly can lead to work later on. Don’t get me wrong — cold calls are something I absolutely detest. Almost as much as I dislike being the voice or face in video. But then, I do that, too, for my embroidery YouTube channel. Sometimes being visible to attract clients is hard. I get it. But let’s look at cold calls anyway. We still have to pay the rent!
Types of Cold Calls
There are three main types of cold calls, and one may be more palatable than the others for you. Try them all.
The True Cold Call
This is what my father did when breaking into the freelance market back in the day (early 1980s). Open a phone book (or now, a web listing) to a section containing businesses that might need tech writing, like software developers, manufacturing, or whatever. Pick up your phone and start calling, with just your personality and a basic “this is what I can do for you” script to go on.
I don’t recommend this these days. In these days of ample online information, calling without knowing anything about the person you’re calling is intrusive and rude. And while it may still be effective, it will likely create more frustration than income.
The Lukewarm Cold Call
If I absolutely need work yesterday, this is the best method I’ve found by far. You will start with the same listing you would for the true cold call, but before you pick up the phone do some research. Check the company website. Know what they do. Answer a few basic questions:
- Do they generally seem to hire tech writers in a captive capacity? Then spin your pitch as extra help during busy times.
- Who should you talk to? This is the most important bit of information. You will always be received better if you have taken the time to find the appropriate people! Yes, sometimes websites lag behind actual cahnges to the org chart, but this gives you a starting point. You are no longer stuck asking for “the guy in charge of documentation.” If you can’t narrow the field down, make your best guess.
- What does the company make or do? Note down a couple of specific services you can offer and an idea of what they can do to help the company’s bottom line.
NOW make your phone call. You’ll be better prepared to offer appropriately-themed and priced services, and are much more likely to get a good reception.
The Warm Cold Call
This feels much more like actually applying for a job. You do the research in the last section, craft a personal email to the person you want to talk to, making a case for how you can help, and then let them know you’d like to call them. Suggest a time and day (within 1-2 days) and ask for an alternate time if they are busy in that timeframe. Make sure to note down their time zone and adjust in your calendar if it’s not yours! Then put the appointment in your planner and call! Especially if they have replied with a preferred time. Someone interested enough to schedule a phone meeting is even more than a warm call, they are a warm lead!
After You’ve Called
No matter what the immediate result of your call, please send a thank you note if you talked to a live person. If you have trouble with these, see my post on thank you notes. Inside your note, include your business card with a link to your website’s services page or a physical brochure. The results from this kind of follow-up can bear fruit even years later.
My book on Kindle, The Technical Writer’s Guide to Getting Freelance Jobs has even more detailed information about finding freelance gigs and creating your sales materials, including a sample script for cold calling!