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The awful truth about cold calling

February 12th, 2014 by Bob Bly

Is cold calling to get new copywriting clients a good, bad, or
terrible idea?

EF writes:

“I did have a question that I thought you might be able to
answer. I’ve been receiving a lot of mail attempting to sell me
credit cards from big names like Discover, Capital One, and

“But I’ve noticed the writing is rather poor–it’s a statement
of features, sometimes of benefits, but with no real attempt at
persuasion. I’ve done some brainstorming and believe I could
rewrite these in such a way as to increase sales for these

“My thought was to try cold-calling/emailing these companies and
attempting to sell them on my idea of rewriting for greater
persuasion. So I was wondering if you had any advice, ideas, or
tips on the best way to go about this–or even if it’s a
worthwhile idea!”

My bad news for EF is: cold calling to get copywriting clients
is a terrible idea – probably the worst way to go about looking
for copywriting clients ever devised.

There are 5 reasons why I urge freelance copywriters to avoid
cold calling at all costs.

1-Clients want to work with vendors whom they perceive as busy
and successful. By logical extension, if you have nothing better
to do than sit at your desk dialing the phone and asking
strangers to hire you, clients conclude you are not busy,
successful, or in demand. So right away you cause the prospect
to be repulsed by your seeming desperation rather than to be
attracted to you and your services.

2-When you quote your fee, the client whom you find through
cold calling will almost always try to beat you down. Why?
Because they know you need the work. Otherwise, why would you
have called them? Cold calling destroys your leverage.

3-If you tell them you are calling because you have received
their marketing campaigns and believe them to be ineffective,
you risk making a fool of yourself, because the marketing you
say stinks may in fact be working like gangbusters. You don’t

4-Another problem with telling potential clients their copy
stinks is that the person you are speaking with may be
responsible for it and not agree with you. So you start off the
relationship by arguing with and insulting her. Is that smart?

5-Cold calling is a form of telemarketing, a marketing
technique that has slowly fallen out of favor over the years
because it is overly intrusive and interruptive. Lots of people
hate telemarketers, so for you to become one does not position
you favorably with your potential clients.

The bottom line: cold calling is a bad idea because it violates
the Silver Rule of Marketing, formulated by my colleague Pete
Silver, who says: “It is always better to get them to come to
you than for you go to them.”


This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 at 10:14 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

63 responses about “The awful truth about cold calling”

  1. Chris said:

    A lot of people and copywriters recommend cold calling–Tim Ferriss, you in your book Secrets of a Freelance Writer–as a way to drum up potential leads. That you tear apart cold calling in this post as a complete waste of time that is sure to hurt your prospect of landing decent paying work is pretty surprising.

  2. Fred Venapro said:

    The last part of your post was spot on cold calling is a bad idea because it is always better to get them to come to you than for you go to them.

    This is why we use the internet.

  3. SEO and content writing tips: Week ending Feb. 18, 2014 » SEO Copywriting said:

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  4. Robert said:

    I agree completely with his premise. As someone who has made a living out of cold-calling, I have seen the response that it generates falling quite dramatically. In the early 90’s it was possible to make 4-5 good appointments a day in almost all B2B environments. Those days have gone for good. What’s required now is good lead-generation copywriting to encourage prospects to come to you.

  5. William Reynolds said:

    My biggest single mistake in the first year of my freelance copywriting career was the time wasted on cold-calling (and cold-emailing, which amounts to the same thing). By contrast, the smartest moves I made in that first year were (1) to put the phone down and start doing some serious in-person networking, and (2) to start asking satisfied clients for referrals and introductions. It’s about relationships, not “touches.”

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Chris, Robert: I stand 100% by my post.Cold calling puts you in a weak position. When they come to you, you are in command. Example: Someone called me a day or say ago needing copy. I was referred to him by a person he respects — so much so that within 10 minutes of chatting he paid me a $12,000 advance for copy. Try matching that on a cold call.

  7. Don Wallace said:

    Bob, I got into a food fight on WarriorForum for debating your point about cold calling. That some people regard you as an infallible hero is great (hell, I’d love that myself), but some questions still remain.

    – You DID write positively about cold calling/telemarketing years ago. So exactly what changed?

    – Yes, it would be wonderful to have the fat contracts walk through the door or come in the in-box. But for those of us who are not widely published as you are with personal references from the likes of David Ogilvy, that’s just not happening. Your anecdote simply doesn’t play out for anyone unless they have laid groundwork of massive credibility. Or… am I missing something?

    – You just pushed out a mailing that indicates that social media (Facebook, at least) is a waste of time with poor payoff. (That, I couldn’t agree with more.)

    – You have also indicated in some recent articles that content marketing is overhyped as well. (I also agree here.)

    It appears that you have debunked many avenues of self marketing that conventional wisdom points to. What’s left? To generate new billable business, what do you recommend now?

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