Are You Wasting 90% of Your Prospecting Efforts?

Light Bulb - Prospecting EffortsDid you know that only 10% of the energy used by an incandescent light bulb produces light? The other 90% is given off as heat.

Seems like a lot of wasted energy, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s no different when it comes to prospecting for clients. Most of the time energy freelancers put into a promotional effort is wasted.

It usually goes something like this: You send out hundreds of letters, make dozens of cold calls or go to a handful of networking events, only to end up with just one or two golden nuggets — the few prospective clients that have an immediate need for your services.

It’s true that those few “hot prospects” are ultimately what we’re all looking for. But, too often, the difference between just “getting by” and earning an executive-level income as a freelance professional lies in what you do with prospects who are NOT ready to hire you.

The “Not Today” Crowd

Take, for instance, a direct mail campaign. Or maybe a cold-calling effort. If you’re lucky (and with the right list, call to action, copy or script), you might get 5 out of 100 people to respond. From that select group, maybe a single prospect will become a client within a few days or weeks.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the other 4 who responded don’t need or want you. Assuming there’s a good fit, they might just not have a current need. Or maybe they don’t have the budget to hire you at that moment.

That’s why I call these prospects the “not today” group.

But here’s where many freelancers drop the ball. Instead of trying to nurture these high-probability prospects (the 4 who expressed interest but couldn’t hire you at the time), most folks just forget about them.

Sure, they might attempt a follow-up call here and there. But many such calls take the wrong approach. They go something like this: “Hi, Jim. Pat Jones here. Calling to see if you have any projects I can help you with.

That comes across as desperation more than anything else. Plus, most marketing professionals today don’t have time to field these “do you have work for me” calls.

The Right Way to Stay in Touch

What very few freelancers ever do — and what you should attempt if you want to boost your income — is to start a meaningful dialogue with this “not today” group … regardless of their timing to hire you.

In other words, you should work diligently to nurture these people over the long haul. Not with calls to see if they have a project for you. But with carefully timed, value-added information.

Think about it. These people have expressed interest. They’ve responded to your call to action. Most of them are qualified to do business with you. You’ve probably even had some honest dialogue.

In other words, you’ve already done most of the heavy lifting. Now you just need to stay top of mind (without being a pest). That way, the next time they need a freelancer in your profession, you’re the first person they think of!

Not staying in touch in a meaningful way is wasteful. And crazy! In my case, more than 25% of my income every year comes as a direct result of my nurturing efforts.

These are companies that I’ve contacted in the past. But at the time, they didn’t have a need or a budget. Yet my steady, value-added contact helped me stay memorable until conditions were right to hire me.

So, how can you strategically nurture this “not today” group? Here are some practical ideas:

  • #1: Ask permission to add them to your newsletter distribution list. A highly targeted email newsletter with valuable, insightful and practical content gets read. It builds credibility. It positions you as an expert in your field and as someone with great ideas. Better yet, it helps keep you top of mind with hundreds of potential prospects.

    But don’t just stop there…

  • #2: Send an occasional email with relevant news. Have a new service offering? A new capability? An impressive case study of how you helped a similar company solve a pressing problem? Thought of another way you can help the prospect? Send him or her a quick email every couple of months. Be brief, but be personal.

    And if you really want to set yourself apart…

  • #3: Stay in touch by mailing relevant articles. Personally, this is my favorite way to become memorable. While I use the other 2 strategies above, I love to send my clients and prospects articles I think they’ll find interesting and useful, based on what I know about them and their businesses.

And if you really want to make an impact, send the actual cutout (or printout) of the article via postal mail with a Post-it note attached to it. On that note, write a simple message. Something like, “Hi, Jill. Thought you’d find this article interesting. Take care! Ed Gandia.” And make sure to include your business card.

Be genuine in your approach. And again, always be personable without coming across as a stalker. Also, don’t send everyone the same article. Make sure what you send is relevant to each prospect, based on what you know about them.

Regardless of your income goals, a prospect-nurturing program should be a key component of your marketing process. It will enable you to get more out of every dollar and every minute you spend promoting your services.

There’s just no reason to let all that valuable “prospecting energy” go to waste.

image in this post: Grant MacDonald


  1. says

    This is great advice! I usually send holiday cards to my regular clients, but it might be more advantageous to focus on the “Not Today” crowd. This year I’ll be including my nifty little magnetic business cards so they can attach my contact information to their file cabinet…just in case.

  2. says

    Life’s too short and business time too valuable to wait around for lookey-loos to make a committment. I give them a couple of opportunities to reach a decision, then go about my life.
    If someone is ready to buy and make the decision, then it’s pretty obvious. Otherwise, they’re just shopping and have no set budget or time frame for committment in mind.
    That’s why I always find it best to get a direct yes/no. If no–move on, plenty of people in this big world of ours not to.

  3. says

    Excellent article! Thanks for the insight. This will definitely help in keep those few from falling through the cracks. I agree somewhat with Alma, but there is fine line. You really just have to go with your gut on whether to drop or nurture. Some are worth the extra effort and others you can tell are never going to pull the trigger- so don’t waste more time.

  4. says

    Key to follow up is detailed record keeping on prospective and current clients. While the typical small business owner or freelancer may find customer relationship management (CRM) tools like out of their budget and open source alternatives like vTiger beyond their technical skills, CRM principles can be applied to even a simple notecard filing system. Once you have reached an actual buyer (they make the purchasing decision), write down their complete contact information, discover their needs (even if “not at this time”), ask for an email address so that they can keep your information on file, ask when it would be best to call them again and mark that on a calendar and on the contact card, etc. And skip “occasional”: your own self-marketing plan should be on a calendar, deliberate and produce data for year-end evaluation. You will want to know how to better use your time in the new year!

  5. says

    @AlmaGray Of course, evaluating the potential of the contact is important. While some clients may be worth passing on quickly — for other contacts in the company or other company pursuits entirely — some may be worth additional nurturing, especially if their decision means you can leverage it with other companies. For example, if you are focusing on content writing for the travel industry, a well-known brand may be worth the extra nurturing (i.e. to let their name sell your work to other lesser-known companies).

  6. says


    My biggest client contract came from what you call a “lookie loo.” This person was on my email list for a number of years and then one day called me out of the blue. She said, “I’ve been getting your newsletter for some time now and can see that I need to hire you.”

    She has been my client ever since. If I had “simply moved on” as you say you do, I would have missed *thousands* of dollars in project fees.

    That is why it pays to nurture “warm” leads.

  7. says

    It’s possible to get a cost effective CRM system for SB. I use one called Salesboom, having tried and found it a little overpowering. I agree that follow up is key. Plus, since it takes at least 7 touches with a lead to potentially have them turn into a client if you don’t follow up methodically and creatively you are going to miss opportunities. From the other side of the coin, as a marketer, I feel that freelancers (and even others) give up far too soon. I’m with Dianna here.

    Getting an immediate yes is often a rarity, plus a “no” in February can become a “yes” in September/October when budgets are being finalised.

    Often I’ve been called by a person and filed their info too well, lost it, expecting that they’d contact me again. When I’ve eventually needed their service, they’ve not followed up (I never hear from them again) and I then go searching for someone else.

    Who loses out here? I even had a potential service provider contact me (after I got in touch with them) and tell me “They thought I wasn’t interested so they didn’t bother following up. Sorry.” Ouch! And this is a small business.
    One last thing before this gets too long… sometimes potential leads may hear of other people in their circle who may need your services even if they themselves don’t at that time. They can only forward your info if they have it… it’s recent and of value.

  8. matthew duerksen says

    Great points Ed,

    This something I am guilty of not doing, but have been working hard to stay on top of.


    matthew duerksen

  9. says

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! Great stuff!

    Alma – You have to be the judge of which prospects/suspects you’ll put in your nurturing list. Absolutely agree that some folks aren’t worth pursuing any longer because they just weren’t qualified based on factors other than timing (for instance, I won’t write copy for, say, a nutraceutical company because I don’t know that business at all. I focus mostly on high tech and other B2B).

    Let me put the benefit of deliberate nurturing in perspective. Our real estate agent sold us our current house a few years back. I heard from her a couple of times afterward, but then her communications stopped. Then, after years of silence, once the bottom fell out of the real estate market, I get emails from her every week with articles about home improvement, the housing market, etc.

    Now…I appreciate her efforts, and I feel bad that the real estate market is in the toilet. However, her sudden, now-I-need-to-market nurturing effort makes her look desperate. It feels phony to me. And it just makes me wonder….where were you all those years?

    I don’t want to try and start a dialog with my “not today” prospects when I REALLY need the work. The best time to do that is when you DON’T need the work. It communicates to my prospect that I’m interested in their long-term success, regardless of what they decide to do.

    And when you DO need the work, you won’t look foolish giving them a call to see if you can offer them a new service you just rolled out (or something along those lines).

  10. says

    Good post.Cold calling is not my cup of tea.When it come to getting new prospects you need to realize that 99% wont do anything at all because they expect to get millions by tomorrow.Only 1% will build a business.You job is to educate the 1% to do exactly what you do.Some will, some wont, so what, next!…

  11. says

    Thanks, Cedric! You’re right about the term — it’s a reminder that the biggest reason they’re not hiring you now is timing. As long as they’re qualified on other key factors (the right type of company, the right types of projects, right industry, adequate funding, etc.), then they’re probably a good candidate for active nurturing.

  12. says

    Great article! I definitely have a list of these people going. I call it my “tickle file” — it’s a database I set up in google docs. I list the person/company, the date and what I did to contact them, plus any response I get and when I get it. I’ve been keeping similar files and databases since I was in college and while I don’t always need one, that sort of record keeping has helped me out a bunch over the years.

    I’m still not sure how your newsletter/articles/email list idea applies to me. I’m very targeted — the people I’m talking to are the people who hire people like me on a freelance basis. The only things that I can come up with to send people are links to projects that I’ve just finished. I don’t talk to my clients about business and I’d feel odd sending people links to random things other people have done. I’m not sure what else is worth their time, and it doesn’t help me in my driest downtimes. “Do you have anything for me?” works really well for my current clients, but I’m not sure what to do for those people who’ve said “Great work! We don’t have anything yet, but keep in touch!”


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