OK, you’re really excited. You’ve taken the plunge and set up shop. You’ve got the business cards printed up. The letter head. Maybe even a brochure. Three colours. Bet that cost you a bundle.You’ve evne ought that fancy new all-in-one printer/ fax/ copier/ kitchen sink gadget. Sent out 3000 announcements about your services, and even favoured specially targeted companies with your beautiful three-colour brochure that cost you a bundle. Already, it’s cost a fair amount, and not one billable hour in sight. You have yet to factor in the mailing costs. Now you are waiting for the phone to ring. And it’s not. And it won’t. Well, not likely anytime soon.
Basically all you have done is keep the printers and Canada Post happy. And annoyed everyone else with your junk mail. What you are doing is the equivalent of job hunters sending out a thousand unsolicited resumes and complaining that no one is even acknowledging their letters.
Lest you think I am being insufferably opinionated about this subject, I should tell you that I learned this, like most of us, the hard way. I once put together a package of materials – a resume, client testimonials, a few writing samples in a very pricey binder and was very careful to target a very select group of clients. But I was smart, or so I thought. I knew it was presumptuous to expect them to go through my package and then take time out to even acknowledge my wonderfulness. So what I did was to include a self-addressed stamped postcard. It contained three lines each, with a check box. One line said “Sorry, this doesn’t meet our needs”. Another said, “Nothing now, but keep in touch.” And the third “Please give us a call”. All they had to do is put a single check mark by one of those lines, and throw the card in the outbox. How hard could that be?
I was so smug. I thought I made it so easy that I would have a 100% return of cards. What I got was about 2%, which direct mail marketers will tell you is pretty good. And you can imagine what box they checked. I was being rejected not because the package wasn’t good. It looked great. It had substance. But so what?
It was an arrogant mistake to clutter up the desks of busy executives with “crap” they didn’t ask for.
The moral? Never send out unsolicited packages. Period. Ask any communications or public relations director what they do with them, and they usually point to a forlorn stack of brochures, portfolios, and resumes in the corner of their office. Unread, and headed for the wastebasket.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this. If you set up your business without doing some effective marketing – that includes extensive networking – it’s like blinking in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.
“But…but,” I hear you spluttering. “Isn’t sending out all those brochures and resumes telling people that I’m open for business? And besides, I’ve put an ad in the paper, and I go to the odd CPRS meeting.” To which I say – sorry! You are doing too much of the wrong thing. And not enough of the right.
Time for plan B
So how do you effectively let people know you have arrived? That you might be just the person they absolutely need to hire? In short, how do you stop blinking in the dark?
The first thing – you won’t be surprised to hear – is a very targeted form of networking. As a speechwriter – even though I have a solid base of clients – I am always on the lookout for potential new clients. I have over a thousand speeches as work samples, and a very considerable list of testimonials from satisfied clients.
When I invite my potential new clients out for coffee, do they want to see a single speech or read just one of my hard won testimonials? Not a bit of it.
All they want is to see the whites of my eyes and the cut of my jib. Can they trust me? Would they like working with me? Would I deliver the goods on time and on budget? It takes them about 30 seconds to reach a conclusion. I have been known to fly 3000 miles to do such an information interview over a 20 minute cup of coffee. It has paid off every time. Not always immediately. But eventually. Because in the end, what you are really selling is yourself.
The second essential is targeted volunteer work. (We’ll take up the issue of when to work for free, and when to volunteer in another column.) I know more than one person who started out with no contacts and no work. But they joined a networking group such as IABC and made themselves indispensable. They become one of the 20 percent who do 80 percent of the work in such organizations. And as a result they developed more useful contacts that they can shake a stick at.
So join a group. Volunteer to write their newsletter. Organize an event. Or sort through the unsolicited material that other freelancers are sending out. Volunteering is very much in line with the “showing up” mantra I discussed in a previous column. Show up, and you are there when they need you.
As for all those beautiful brochures, business cards, and portfolios you put together, don’t despair, and don’t throw them out! They indeed are very critical part of your branding and positioning in a competitive market. But that too is a topic for another column.