Most photographers would rather walk on hot coals than cold call potential clients. But cold calling is a necessary part of any marketing effort. You can send all the emails and postcards you want, place all the ads you can afford, and even attend every networking function you can find, but you still need to cold call potential clients in order to give yourself the best chance of success.
Here are 7 steps you should take before cold calling prospective clients:
1. Research the person you are calling: Learn everything you can about the person you’re about to call. What stories or accounts have they worked on? Where did they previously work? What’s the philosophy of his or her organization. What are their hobbies or other interests. Find a picture of them if you can. This will not only help you know how to talk to them, but will also give you familiarity with them that should come across in subtle ways.
2. Try to find a shared connection: The best way to start a conversation with photo buyer is, “So and so suggested I give you a call.” The assumption is that so and so is someone who the buyer knows and respects. This will immediately give you some credibility as well give you some of the positive association the buyer has with so and so. It’s not always possible to find this shared connection but it’s incredibly valuable when you do.
3. Send an email in advance: Before you call, send them a personalized email, not just an email blast, and let them know that you’ll be calling them “before the end of the week” or within some other specified time frame. Naturally the email should include an image or two, as well as a link to your site. Better yet, include a link to a mini portfolio of images that you think are particularly relevant for that person or organization. And when you call, be near your computer so you can send it to them again when you call, so they don’t need to dig for it in their in-box.
4. Have some news to share: “‘I’m a photographer looking for work . . ” is not exactly the best opening line. Think of what you can say that might qualify as news. Are you about to go on location to a place where this photo buyer might want some work done? Did you just finish a stock shoot and have fresh images that might be of interest to them?
5. Prepare 3 things to say: If you’re not a smooth talker or get self-conscious when making cold calls then write down at least 3 thing you can talk about if the conversation lags. It could be an observation about a recent campaign or story the person worked on, or perhaps a mention of a recent or upcoming event that’s relevant to the conversation. If the person on the other end of the phone isn’t too talkative, be prepared to move the conversation forward.
6. Prepare 3 questions: Of course the answer to questions you ask can provide valuable information. But asking questions Can be valuable in other ways. It shows that you are interested in their perspective and want to have a conversation, not just broadcast your message to them. It also gives you an opportunity to show them that you’re a good a listener. If you make the effort to actually hear what they are saying, they’ll notice. Art buyers like to work with photographers who know how to really listen to them.
7. Know what you want to get out of the call: It’s rare to make a cold call and instantly get an assignment or stock sale. Depending on the type of work you do and they type of buyer you’re calling, you may have different goals that you can reasonably attain with a call. Is it to find out their print portfolio review process? To get a face-to-face meeting? To be considered for a specific upcoming assignment? To have them add your portfolio or stock site to their bookmarks? To get the names of other photo buyers who might be interested in your work? Or just to have them agree that it’s okay if you call them again in a month or so. Know you goals before you call.
When you do make the call, always make sure and ask them if this is a good time for them to speak, and if not, when would be a good time for you to call back. Also, be prepared to leave a voicemail message. It’s increasing rare for anyone working in an office to answer his or her phone every time it rings.
It takes a lot of time and effort to go through these steps before you even make a call, which cuts into your time for actually making calls. But in cold calling, as with most things, quality is more important than quantity.
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