Cold Calling for Writing Clients

A few months ago, I decided to change my marketing approach. I had built up my entire writing business through online bidding websites like oDesk and Elance. This worked to an extent, but I was hitting a wall earnings-wise. There’s just too much competition on these websites and too many writers willing to sell work for a fraction of what it’s worth. I decided to try cold calling for new clients. While I’ve only begun using this approach, the results have been very promising.

Cold Calling for Writing Clients

Why Did I Choose Cold Calling?

First off, I had outgrown the bidding websites. oDesk and Elance aren’t bad places to start, but there just aren’t enough quality clients. I was earning about $0.10/word, which was great compared to other writers on these sites, but I heard from more experienced writers that I could earn much more.

Before writing, I had worked as an insurance salesman. Part of this job meant making lots and lots of cold calls so this wasn’t something that intimidated me. I’m still nervous before making calls, but probably not as nervous as most people would be. Finally, my writing coach (Anne Wayman) recommended cold calling as an effective way to find new clients.

Other approaches that I considered were contacting old work contacts and building an audience through blogging. I hadn’t been in the financial services industry long enough to have much of a network so this approach wouldn’t work. I also didn’t have a blog up and running so I thought that would take too long. Cold calling seemed like the best fit for the time being.

How Did I Find Clients?

All major companies need writing, especially in the digital age. Many of them outsource this work to freelancers. I narrowed my focus to companies related to my financial planning background. I just did a Google search for “list of life insurance companies in the US” and “list of banks in the US” and this gave me several hundred names to work from.

Once I targeted a company, I would search its website and see if they listed their media contacts. I found this was a good place to start because these contacts are often available with their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. If that didn’t work, I would look for PR statements or any sort of writing that might have someone’s contact info available. I found 1-800 numbers to be pretty useless though. If a company doesn’t have this type of info online, I just move on to the next one on the list..

What Is My Approach?

I contact companies both through email and phone. First, I send out a cover letter style email to any contacts I find. This email says that I’m a financial writer, explains my financial background, and links to my business website. I found my website to be my big selling point. A potential client can see my samples right away and know I’m a good writer. I can’t imagine how frustrating this would be without a website. If clients have to work too hard to learn about you, chances are they’ll go elsewhere.

A week after I’ve sent out my emails, I follow up with calls. I’m still working on my script but I typically say something short like “This is David Rodeck. I’m a freelance writer. Do you handle freelance writers at XYZ company?” I don’t want to waste the contact’s time because people get annoyed. If I find the right person, we usually have a conversation about whether or not the company needs freelancers. If I find the wrong person, they usually point me in the right direction.

If I don’t get an answer, I leave a voicemail with my name, phone number, and email. This rarely gets results, but it just gets my name out there one more time.

What Were My Results?

So far, I’ve landed two large jobs from cold calling. I’ve contacted a little under 100 companies so far. For each company, I would call maybe 1-5 people. Each week, I try to reach about 12 new companies. It takes time to find a new client, but the results are well worth it.

Both of my new jobs are paying $1/word, 10 times what I was charging through online clients. I suspect that I’ll be able to increase my rates even more later on. Most people I talk to don’t need a freelancer and that’s natural. The two jobs I landed were a coincidence of timing, they both had big jobs ready to go and it was like I fell in their laps. That’s the key with cold calling. You keep calling until you get “lucky,” but you make your own luck by increasing your total contacts. Eventually, you’ll find someone with a job ready to go.

I’ve also found that nearly everyone I’ve spoken with has been polite, kind, and helpful. It’s not like calling people at home when you have to deal with a lot of anger and tough rejection. Most writers don’t cold call yet at the same time businesses need writers. As a result, most people I’ve contacted were generally happy I called, even if they didn’t need my help.

I still have a lot to improve on with my technique but I can definitely see the potential of this approach. The hardest part of cold calling is picking up the phone. Once you can get over this hurdle and start regularly making calls, good business is going to come in.

David Rodeck photoAbout the author: David Rodeck is a professional financial writer based out of New York City. He specializes in making insurance, investing, and retirement planning understandable. Previously, he worked as a financial adviser for New York Life.

Photo credit: johncpiercy

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  1. Great post! I think many writers are intimidated by cold calling, but it has been the most useful way for me to find clients. My process is usually the opposite of yours: I call first to introduce myself, then send a follow up email — mostly because sending the email is the more time-consuming part for me and I want to make sure it’s going to the right person.

    Good luck — if you keep dialing you will keep getting “lucky”!

  2. Thanks for the shout-out David. I’ve always thought cold calling was an excellent way to generate writing clients and you’ve done a great job of proving my point! Dialing for dollars works as you’ve shown.

  3. Way to go, David! Great stuff. 🙂

  4. I tend to agree with Dava about calling and then emailing – that just seems more personal to me. It also gives me something to leave on the voicemail – I’m going to be sending you an email with some tips and my contact information, so be on the lookout for that…

  5. Let me just say that I have watched David do this and soooo admire his perseverance! David, you are a fine example of what good comes from taking hold of your success and making it happen.

    Kudos to you!

  6. Gosh, when I think about cold calling, I get shivers all over!
    I’d be more with “cold emailing” or “cold messaging”, and I think I should give them a try (or several).
    I like the way David exposes his technique; he has a very approachable style, makes you think that you’re sitting right next to him while he’s contacting prospects.

  7. Thanks everyone, glad you liked the post. That’s a good idea about calling first, it would be a good primer for the upcoming email which I’ve found to be the main selling point.

  8. Mondo FRazier says:

    Your description of successful cold calling reminds me of doing the same in the mid-1980s. To be successful, you have to hit the numbers. Each Thursday, I cold-called. I tried to cold-call at least 40 companies on Thursday. Follow-ups and sending out information were for Fridays and personal visits on M-T-W.

    Cold-calling is dreaded by most people, but if you do it systematically–like you describe in this article–it can yield a LOT of new clients and eventually make you some money.

    Useful information that everyone who has never tried cold-calling should take to heart.

    Good article.

  9. Thanks David for writing such an informative piece. You outlined every detail and made me believe I can do it too.