What’s your current direct client research process?
Direct client marketing can feel like pushing a cement mixer up a hill, in the dark. Stop me if this sounds familiar:
- “I need some new direct clients”
- “What kind of clients might need me?”
- “Where would I find those clients?”
- “Who would I contact?”
- “How would I contact them?”
- “What would I say?”
- “What if they never respond?”
- “What if I sound dumb or unqualified?
- …and then rinse and repeat, until you’ve completely talked yourself out of the whole idea, and gone back to translating whatever lands in the inbox…as I said, stop me if this sounds familiar
What’s a better way?
To avoid this cycle of discouragement, make a simple change: instead of re-inventing the direct client prospecting and acquisition process from scratch each time, group these tasks into batches to make them less painful. Like this:
Day 1: Let’s say Monday. Maybe even today. Write a very precise description of the type of direct clients you’d like to reach out to. Such as:
- Content marketing companies in Germany that seem to work with clients who need content marketing materials in English.
- US-based human resources consulting firms that seem to work with clients with large numbers of Spanish-speaking employees, by offering HR and training materials in Spanish.
- E-learning companies that seem to be offering their courses in multiple languages
You get the picture: describe your target client as specifically as possible: industry/sector, geographic location, and why they might need a translator.
Day 2: By researching online or on LinkedIn, identify five to ten potential clients that fit your description. Enter their basic information (company name, website, geographic location, some notes on why they might need you) into a spreadsheet.
Day 3: Follow or connect with those potential clients on an online platform: follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their blog or newsletter, etc.
- If it’s your lucky day, the prospective client might have a company directory online, or might have bios of their key staff. I try to identify a job title (i.e. “West Africa Program Manager” for my international development clients) of a good potential contact. When in doubt, I tend to contact someone in marketing or communications, because I find they’re the most likely to at least respond. In my experience, HR is the least likely to respond: they don’t seem to know what to do with freelancers.
- In the US, I think it’s acceptable to search for a company’s employees on LinkedIn, then search for their e-mail addresses on Hunter.io or a similar tool. I’ve done this hundreds of times and no one has ever even asked where I found their contact information, much less asked me not to contact them again. If your prospective clients are subject to the GDPR, use this approach with caution.
- I also think it’s acceptable to call on the phone, especially if the entity you’re calling is likely to have an employee who answers the phone all day. Just keep it quick: “I’m a freelance German to English translator and I’m wondering who would be the appropriate person to contact to offer you my services?”
Log those contacts in your spreadsheet, along with any outcome or response that you receive.
What does this look like in practice?
If I were prospecting for direct clients–let’s say content marketing companies in Switzerland that seem to need services in English–here’s what I would do.
Monday: Write a description of what I’m looking for (see above)
Tuesday: Find at least five companies that fit that description
Wednesday: Go to those companies’ websites and find any opportunities to connect with them. If they’re active on Twitter, follow them there. If they have a blog or newsletter, subscribe to it
Thursday: Send a highly-targeted e-mail (I find that Swiss clients are relatively receptive to this, if it’s highly targeted) to a contact person at the company, or send a LinkedIn contact request with a personalized message
Simply by going through this process, you will be gathering good data. You’ll be seeing what these clients are up to (because you’re following them on social media or subscribing to their stuff). You’ll be getting a better sense of who the major players in your target industries are. You’ll be figuring out what these clients need and what they respond to. This is all good, whether or not it results in work right away.
Once you’ve done that four-step process once, add in some followup. Maybe try to follow up using a different method: first, connect on social media; then, a warm e-mail; then, a postcard or handwritten note. This can mix things up a bit (in a good way), and can help avoid the feeling that you’re pestering, while accepting that most clients will need more than one contact before they work with you.
For most of us, direct client marketing is a prescription for analysis paralysis: the whole thing seems so daunting that we end up talking ourselves out of doing anything at all. If that’s your situation, try this batch process method and see if that helps ease some of the pain.