It is a fact of life that not everyone you approach will want your services. If, for example, you have an email list of 100 potential clients and send each one a short, punchy overview of your talents and experience, you would be very lucky to receive 20 replies, most of which would probably be along the lines of ‘thanks but no thanks.’
Irrespective of the media we use for marketing – email, phone, face-to-face, social – it is inevitable that most of our efforts will draw a blank. Nobody likes to be rejected, however, and so you might be tempted to avoid the pain by simply reducing the chances of it happening by giving up on your marketing efforts. An alternative approach is to actively hunt for new opportunities and, at the same time, challenge the way you think about rejection.
So how do you deal with the inevitable rejection? There are three basic techniques that I think work best if you employ them simultaneously:
1. Acknowledge that rejection is totally normal and refuse to take it personally. No matter what your industry or specialism, you cannot expect that everyone you approach will need your services at that particular moment. This does not mean, however, that you are a failure.
2. Contact prospective clients at the right time. For example, freelance journalists instinctively know the production cycle of a newspaper and will pitch ideas for articles way before the presses start rolling. They also know to never phone an editor on a deadline. Actors too know that they need to be in the minds of casting directors months or even years before filming begins.
The same principle applies in the corporate world. Every company has a financial year but this doesn’t necessarily mirror the calendar year. Some British companies’ – and many public sector organisations’ - financial years follow the government’s tax year, from April to March. But there are no strict rules, so is worth hunting around the financial pages of your target companies to make sure. Budgets are decided three to six months before the new financial year begins, so if you are going to make an innovative proposal, this is the best time. If your proposal arrives toward the end of the financial year, don’t be surprised if the budget has been spent. However, on saying this, in some cases, people have money that they need to spend before year end. It’s just a matter of keeping in contacting and finding out the right time for each individual.
3. Assume an infinite population of prospective clients. ‘Infinite’ is obviously an exaggeration but it can certainly appear that way when you are actively marketing. Journalists and writers have hundreds of magazines, newspapers and websites to approach. There are numerous film production companies, thousands of music venues, and, of course, tens of thousands of other companies that might need writers, actors and musicians. If a phone call or email yields no result, move onto the next one and don’t fret about what might – or should – have been. A useful motto when you are trying to eek out new commissions is: ‘Someone, somewhere needs my services right now, and all I need do is find them.’
Actively searching for new clients clearly necessitates a different mindset from the passive approach to marketing. Sometimes it demands considerable mental dexterity: you need to be simultaneously fatalistic (‘oh well, these things happen’) and optimistic (‘this next phone call could be the big one!’). And you also need to know when to stop.
It helps to give yourself a target. If, for example, you have decided to actively sell your creative services to technology companies, divide your project into tasks. In week one, start by doing the research: check out the websites of 10 companies, find out what they do and how they promote themselves. Find the name of the marketing managers/or people commissioning and read their profiles. It might take a day or two to gather sufficient information, so on the third day give yourself a target of calling each of the 10 names on your list.
Cold calling prospective clients is deceptively hard and stressful work, and this is one reason that many people prefer email. But the phone is often a much more versatile medium: you can express enthusiasm much better with a voice; you can answer and ask questions quickly; and you can even inject a little humour into your pitch. Each call is, in effect, a performance, and after 10 you will need a break.
Your first day’s efforts might well bring no success, but this doesn’t mean you should quit. Instead, you should consider the feedback from the phone calls: were people totally disinterested, or was it a case of bad timing? What did you find out that will help you decide what to do next? Did anyone suggest calling later in the year? Did they suggest you spoke to a colleague instead? Armed with this knowledge, call another 10 companies the next day.
If you still are hitting brick walls after 50 phone calls, you should consider changing direction. Maybe the technology industry is not the best candidate for your services? Maybe your idea is just too radical? Maybe your idea isn’t as good as you thought? Contemplating this latter possibility can be rather deflating but it could be true. Although it might seem like a defeat, there is no disgrace in pulling the plug on an idea with no future.
Again, how you think about such things is the key to contentment: view it as every time an idea doesn’t come to fruition, you’re a step closer to one that does and will have found out plenty of information along the way that will help you refine your marketing efforts.