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Finding Prospects for the Freelancer

As independent business people, it is incumbent upon us to continuously look for new prospects: those contact names within organizations who may someday hand us a contract. Firstly, I'll describe how I find prospects. This may not be the best approach for your target market, so by all means, customize it to fit your needs.

Getting a starting point for a newly-launched business can be daunting. There is a plethora of companies you can contact, but how many of them are going to be a total waste of time? Start with the following steps:

1. Determine the geographic region you are willing to work in.
2. Set a minimum size (people or revenues) for the company.
3. Determine how many companies to approach in your "campaign".
4. Consult trade directories and regional business development web sites to obtain contact information. Target only companies most likely to need your services.
5. Send an introductory letter.
6. Follow up with a phone call within two weeks.

It is a well known fact that mailing campaigns typically yield only a two percent (maximum) success rate to get one qualified lead. That's not necessarily work, but a lead that may result in work. Given that dismal statistic, it follows that you may need to send out and follow up on 150-200 letters to land your first job. Out of a mailing of this size, I did get a couple of good leads, and only one led to work.

On the subject of follow up, the biggest obstacle to making it successful is voice mail. People can hide behind it, and don't have to deal with the caller. And forget about getting a callback from your message unless the recipient really needs your services badly.

Personally, I'm daunted by this problem, but others aren't. Some are persistent enough to keep calling or find a way around this "gatekeeper". One technique is to use the company's phone directory, which may be one of the choices on their voice mail system. Then call someone else, or the operator, to find out if there's an appropriate alternate person to contact.

If this still daunts you, consider subcontracting to a telemarketer - a persistent individual who thrives on getting through to the right person and schmoozing them. Interview them carefully, and make sure their phone pitch is informed and appropriate. The last thing you want your potential client to hear is a bully on the other end of the line who won't take no for an answer.

If trade directories don't give you enough quality leads, try a more targeted approach to making up your contact list. Get on job search web sites and search on terms specific to your area of expertise. Refine your search to your geographic area, and you should be able to determine what companies may consider outsourcing their needs as opposed to hiring. Two problems with this approach:

The vast majority of listings will be by agencies, but a few companies may list directly.
Even if you get a company name, you likely will still have to work through their Human Resources department. They may filter out any enquiries that aren't from people applying for full time positions.

Regardless of the obstacles, this method helps you expand your potential contact list.

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