Effective telephone selling

Many freelancers struggle with the sales aspect of their business. Although experts in their field, by default they also need to excel at winning business if they are to succeed.

Effective selling comprises every form of communication that you can have with your potential clients, from direct mail and other forms of advertising to nightmare-inducing cold calling and, if you're lucky, closing a deal at a credentials meeting.

Not only are the ways in which you can sell yourself into a prospect diverse, but that effort needs to be ongoing. Even when your order books are full, most freelancers appreciate that a percentage of time has to be dedicated to drumming up new business on a regular basis. Unforeseen changes in circumstances can mean that you lose expected income from a client at the last minute, hence the constant need for potential prospects in the pipeline.

Once a prospect is aware of your services you need to start to build a better picture of their requirements. Converting a potential prospect into a client invariably means building a rapport with that contact. To do that, you ideally need to speak to them on the telephone.

If you are one of the freelancers that fall into the category of being more than a little unnerved at the prospect of telephone selling, then the pointers below are designed to offer some guidance. 


  • Organise your calling in priority of those more likely to offer the best prospects of work. As a freelancer your time is limited, so plan who to call and when.
  • Once you have made a few calls, it is likely that you will become familiar with the questions that you will be asked. Before you even pick up the phone, however, it is worth familiarising yourself with every conceivable query or objection that might be thrown your way.
  • For instance, can you tell them what your service is, what you specialise in, what your geographical travel boundaries are (if any) to service that client? Do you have a lower rate cut off point in your head in case you need to negotiate on the spot? Why should they hire you over an incumbent supplier (what incentive can you offer to close a deal). Be familiar with your industry and competitors.
  • Be prepared for likely objections because they may be reasons that a client may say they don't want to hire you and make sure to have a solution or justification. If you know you are relatively expensive then the chances are that the client will voice this. In our opinion it is best to address objections rather than shy away from the subject, even if the client doesn't verbalise concerns, they will be thinking about them so may not offer you the work. Whereas, if your pitch addresses those objections, then the client has the full picture: 'I offer a premium service, for the rate quoted I offer X, Y and Z in addition to the standard A, B and C.'
  • Do your research before calling. Make sure that the person you are calling is the relevant decision maker and that you have his or her name and job title. Establish if there is a good time to speak to that person with the receptionist.
  • Research a list of questions to ask that contact when you call. Structure the questions to ensure you get a full answer, rather than one-word answers. Assume they will have no immediate work and use the call to establish the nature and timing of future projects. You could also ask how they currently fulfil those projects to gain a better understanding and possibly offer an improved service/added value when a new project is in the offing.
  • Set up a database to record every sales call. It not only organises your efforts, you can also relate back to previous conversations when you next call, for example, “when we last spoke you were expecting to be commissioning the photography work for your Corporate Brochure next month. I am calling back as promised”.

Successful telephone selling 

  • Have a plan as to how to capture their attention from the opening line. The chances are you're the third person this morning calling to sell the same service. Alternatively, you might send an imaginative mailer ahead of the call to introduce yourself, for instance. Following up provides a reason for your call.
  • Communicate effectively the what, where, who, why and how of your service. Never forget that gentle persuasion and sincerity go a long way. 
  • Benefits. The client will only ever want to know how you can help them for example, can you increase sales, raise their profile, change the perception of their company if that is what they need? 
  • Deal effectively with objections and this can strengthen your case.
  • Listen to what you're being told and add it to your knowledge of that prospect's business in the database. 
  • Finish the call with an agreed next action. If they have work they will consider you for then get a commitment from them for example, a date and time for a meeting. If they don't, agree a good time for you to call back when they will have a project.
  • Thank them for their time and help.
  • Confirm in writing, any agreed actions after the call. Make sure you do what you said you would do in good time. Otherwise, you risk undoing all the effort.
  • Like any other project, we recommend that you are disciplined in your new business efforts. Set yourself objectives and targets. If a certain approach is not working, recognise that and change tack. Monitor and measure the effectiveness of your sales drive to ensure the best return on your efforts and time.

Some other helpful tips

Be enthusiastic because you will negate the effort of all your carefully chosen words if you don't sound like you want their business.

Speak with conviction in order to gain the confidence of the person on the other end of the telephone. You need to have an unshakeable belief in your capabilities.

Be polite even if you feel frustration kicking in after a long line of unsuccessful calls, now is the time to move on to another task for the time being.

More on sales and marketing as a freelancer.