6-2. Setting Appointments

There are four things you need before you can start:

1) A telephone (so there it is, all out in the open…you suspected this, didn’t you? You have to speak with potential clients sooner or later, right? I’m just going to suggest you do it SOONER, that’s all. It’s painless, I promise.)

2) A prospect list

3) A way to manage that list

4) An 8-1/2″ x 11″ flyer promoting you. Keep this SIMPLE; just something you can print out as needed from your b&w laser or color inkjet, one side.

Are your palms sweaty yet? I’m going to assume you have a telephone, so let’s move on. Before you call anybody, you are REQUIRED to have a list of AT LEAST 300 company names and phone numbers. MINIMUM. Here’s why: You are going to be prepared to burn through about 60 calls per day. At that rate, you can afford to really screw them up. They weren’t probably going to call you anyway, right? RIGHT?! Get with me on this. If you show up on call day with only 10 names, now they mean something, don’t they? You start imagining the people behind every one of them, and what you would do for them, and what they would be like to work with. You’ll agonize over which one to call first, you may cross two of them off, and then you’ll make a sandwich and overthink some more. Pretty soon it will be two in the afternoon and if you don’t talk yourself right out of this whole deal you MIGHT make a call and get a busy signal. You might make three more calls and find out “we don’t use freelancers.” If you hang in there, you may hit an answering machine on call five. “Oh man! Only five more shots left. This isn’t working!!!! And those were my BEST prospects!”

TRUST ME. 300 company names and phone numbers. MINIMUM.

Here is where you get them:


Click on Advanced Search. You have several options, including a Detailed, By Street Address, By Zip Code, By Phone Number, and More, which includes a By Distance search so you can prospect within a three, five or ten mile radius. I like By Street Address; that way I can make several appointments on the same block. PLAY with the categories and see what feels best to you; you can access a lot of information and build lists very quickly; there really is no wrong way to do it.

You can copy/paste 45 listings at a time to any simple word processor, then do a quick search and replace to clean up unnecessary extra words. You can use this method of generating a list with most of the major online yellow page directories.

There are plenty of other list sources; you may have one you’re more comfortable with; it makes no difference as long as you get your 300 names and phone numbers. Phone books are good, and “criss cross” directories are good (available at your local library).

Next, you need a way to manage your list and daily activity. You do this with “call sheets.” I recommend you print only six to eight companies to a page, complete with address and phone. This way you have plenty of room for notes and check marks as you talk to your prospects. Place your call sheets in a folder or loose leaf binder. Remember to do your promotional flyer.

On the third day, you may as well get it out of your system — go to a movie, ride your bike, have a picnic lunch, eat chocolate, have a panic attack, go quietly insane — because TOMORROW, you’re making calls.

Ready? When you are in sales mode, and especially hunter mode, there are only two things you need to concern yourself with:

1) Setting Appointments

2) Seeing People

That’s it. Everything else is secondary, put everything else out of your mind. Do not cherry pick your list and do not pre-judge anything. You have no idea how many millionaires with TONS of money to spend with YOU are running companies with the most unassuming names. “Bailey Associates;” indeed. “General Services LLC;” all just WAITING for a talented graphic designer to call them. And how many do you think actually do? That’s right, virtually none. So what do you think the freelance graphic designer “noise level” is at these companies? That’s right — there isn’t any. Is this starting to make sense?

60 calls will take you about four hours, and that’s what I want you to shoot for on your first day. Give yourself a one hour break at 30, then plan to address and send out some flyers after you hit 60. Make sure your portfolio is in shape; you should have one or more QUALIFIED appointments scheduled for the following day.

OK, back to class
You have no doubt noticed that you only have company names, and no names of any contact people. Perfect. “You don’t need no steen-king contact name.”

This is where I am going to tell you exactly what to say, and this is where you are going to ad lib “something better.” Don’t. Until you have put $30,000 in your pocket with THIS SYSTEM, don’t change it. Pay attention, this is deceptively simple:

When someone picks up the phone, you say: “Who would I speak to concerning graphic design at your company?”

And now the fun begins. Here is what you are testing for and listening for: If they (and this includes the receptionist) don’t understand the term “graphic design,” these are not your people. Politely move on. If you are feeling ambitious, you may test the response one more time to make sure; but only about one in 20 will move forward from here: “I was wondering who is in charge of your sales literature, identity programs, web site design, advertising (you have permission to make up your own list) — that sort of thing?” Still nothing? Move on.

OR, you’ll get: “That would be Cheryl Smith. She’s not here. Would you like her voice mail?” Yes, thank you. While you’re being connected, write down “Cheryl Smith” by the company name on your call sheet. At the end of her greeting, you say:

“Hi Cheryl, my name is [Dan Turner], I’m a freelance graphic designer here in [Sedona], I was calling to see if I could assist you with the development of your graphics. You can reach me at [phone number].”

Once in a blue moon, she will call you, but don’t expect it. If you are not swamped doing proposals in one week, call these people back and ask for them by name. Or, when you do this exercise again in five to eighteen months, you can start with these people.

When you DO get through, you say exactly the same thing as you were going to say in the phone message, with one important modification:

“Hi Cheryl, my name is [Dan Turner], I’m a freelance graphic designer here in [Sedona], I was calling to see if I could assist you with the development of your graphics — Are you the right person to speak with about that?”

Sidebar: The person asking the questions is the person controlling the conversation. The prospects first impulse is to get rid of you. Be gentle but firm and draw them out. Here are some good questions:

— “What type of graphic work do you generally do?”
— “Do you get into product literature or trade show exhibits?” (use your own specialties)
— “How often do you do that?”
— “How are you producing those things now?”

If the prospect is interested, she will take over the questioning and now both of you are in a conversation. I guess you don’t need ME anymore, do you?

It is during this part of the phone call that I determine whether or not I LIKE them, and vice versa. If I get bad vibes here, I don’t care how much they scream for me to come over, I’m moving to the next call.

You will discover that, once you are talking to a decision-maker, it is very easy to close for an appointment. TOO easy. These people LOVE artists. They would love to have you over and show you around and waste your time. If you haven’t been out in awhile, go ahead and get your feet wet. There are three pieces of information I’m looking for before I make an appointment:

1) Do you have a project I can assist you with right now? (has to be “yes”)

2) What is your time frame for getting it done? (if there is no deadline, there is no urgency — send them a flyer)

3) What is your budget? (a bit more tricky. If they tell you, you would really have to blow the sales presentation not to land this client. They are READY. Most of the time, they don’t trust you enough to tell you; that’s okay, you can set an appointment and go build more trust. If you determine that they won’t tell you because they don’t know, ask for a range; “What do you normally budget for this kind of thing,” or, “What did you spend last year for this?” If you just can’t get it out of them, take your best guess: “Does $12,000 to $15,000 sound about right to you?” They may well come back with, “Oh gosh, we were really hoping to come in under $10,000.” HAH!! No budget, huh? So now you know, and you can determine whether you want to see them (I vote yes in this case).

Sometimes the receptionist or the contact person will ask you to “send us something.” There are several ways to qualify these requests, none of which you need to know right now. 90% of the time people request literature because they can’t say “no thank you” and they can’t think of any other way to get rid of you. Verify their address and the correct spelling of their name. In cases where you are dealing with a receptionist who will not give you a contact person, do not send the literature. If you are speaking to the contact person, ask them for their email address. If you have an online portfolio, ask them, “If I were to email you the URL to my online portfolio, would you be interested in taking a look?” Of course they would. In fact, given the opportunity, many prospects will look at your online portfolio while they have you on the phone. Finish up by promising to “get something in the mail to you this afternoon.”

At the end of the day (NEVER in the middle of making calls), send them your flyer, two business cards and a short, boiler-plate cover letter, all in a #10 envelope. If applicable, email them your URL (your email will follow the same SHORT format as your SHORT cover letter).

Now go congratulate yourself for having had a great day and taking charge of your life and taking charge of your freelance business.

How long do you have to do this???
Let me give you some statistics. I have never had to make 60 phone calls a day for more than ONE day. I generally schedule 2-3 appointments from that and may send out 7-10 flyers. The second day, I make 30 phone calls (another 1-2 appointments) and go to meetings. The third day, I make 15 phone calls (now I’m scheduling 4-6 meetings because I’m following up on calls I made on the first and second days) and work on proposals.

How often do you have to do this??? I do this once, maybe twice each year, depending on what I want to happen. Virtually all of my long-term accounts (3-4 years) were generated this way. Once your freelance business takes off, and if you are particularly ambitious about landing new clients, make 5-10 calls per day just as a matter of routine. But be careful. Unless you are outsourcing the work, you will soon find yourself unable to keep up.

Okay, so now you have appointments. Next, I’ll teach you how to make a Sales Presentation…


14 Responses to “6-2. Setting Appointments”

  1. HessterNo Gravatar says:

    I’m a writer and not a graphic designer, but I do a lot of cold calling. I live in a somewhat rural area and my major niche is the high tech field. So a lot of the companies I’m calling are not in the same physical location. What would be your advice to those of us who are trying to sell our services but can’t attend a face to face meeting?

  2. Dan TurnerNo Gravatar says:

    Hello Hesster, all of the high points are the same, except the face-to-face meeting is off the table. Don’t even bring it up. Physical distance isn’t nearly the obstacle it was five or ten years ago since people are more used to working electronically now.

    Make sure your phone manner projects confidence and credibility. That becomes your #1 business-getting asset, followed by your professional website.

    You’re still listening for the big three: 1) An imminent project, 2) urgency in the form of a deadline for that project and 3) a budget. Instead of closing for a face-to-face, you need to close for a proposal. BUT, it’s likely you won’t have enough information from the first call to put an accurate one together. Schedule a second call (this replaces the face-to-face meeting) to get the details, then do the proposal.

    Good luck!

  3. Mark CampbellNo Gravatar says:

    I’m going to start this process next week, I have been cold calling and I have 5 or 6 follow ups and 1 CEO who just got a new developer so it seems to be working but my system is nowhere near as fluid as you make it out to be! I will definitely record my results from using this.

  4. Jordan TaylorNo Gravatar says:

    In regards to your 300 people list minimum thing. What if my target client niche only has like 50 clients and i don’t want to burn through those 50 clients. Would you recommend practicing my appointment setting with another target niche. I know i definitley need practice, but i don’t want to practice on the few potential cilents I could actually get if that makes sense.

  5. Dan TurnerNo Gravatar says:

    Jordan, select a secondary target niche for practice. Once you find your rhythm and you have a feel for how the calls are going, switch to your primary targets.

  6. Shelly the Medford Property ManagerNo Gravatar says:

    Very cool website. I am a Property Manager (not really a freelancer) however most of my potential clients are long distance and I almost always end up trying to get the business over the phone. Great website. This was very helpful….thank you Dan.

  7. Dan TurnerNo Gravatar says:

    Hello Shelly, thanks for your comment. The real estate market and freelancing have a lot in common; nearly all of the same prospecting, sales and closing techniques are interchangeable. The phone is a FABULOUS thing! I wish you much success with your property management business.

  8. TuckerNo Gravatar says:

    Great site! I’ve recommended to a few designer friends.

    I like the fishing & hunting analogy. I’m fortunate to have a few loyal clients that keeps my business afloat and never really had to do the cold calling. Now I am at the phase where I have to build client base quickly.

    I’ve always been the fisherman and have the fisherman personality but now have to become that hunter you mentioned. Since I provide many different marketing products (all of which requires some form of design work) would you recommend any changes to your telephone approach?

  9. Dan TurnerNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Tucker, thanks for commenting. It’s best to introduce yourself with only ONE service/product at a time. Select your most popular, most universally known thing and get your foot in the door with that. As you and your client get to know each other, introduce the next thing that will solve their problem(s). Eventually your client will understand your strengths and be familiar with what you bring to the table. But if you start with the whole list you’ll be shut down inside of 30 seconds. Good luck!

  10. Don WallaceNo Gravatar says:


    I found your site through pure dumb luck. I don’t even know how I came to it in the first place. I am sharing it with everyone I know.

    Your approach to freelance marketing is refreshingly simple and straightforward. So much of the theorycraft around freelance marketing involves what you call “fishing”, with social media. I have found social media to be an enormous waste of time – it’s a traffic jam, and nobody except a few gurus who are selling social media courses ever get any results that they can document. Also, there is a “blame the victim” culture around having a small or stale network – and few personal networks are large enough to provide a decent freelance living by themselves. What does that leave? Prospecting.

    I am actually in almost exactly the same situation as visitor “Hesster” (copywriter, catering to tech industry, non tech belt geographic location) and thank you for transposing your advice to that situation.

    Not much else to add. I’d say “MOAR!” but I don’t think it’s about quantity, it’s about quality.

    Maybe you should write an e-book about your marketing “system” and generalize it to a wider freelance audience.

    If that’s your thing, that is.

    Thank you!!!

  11. Dan TurnerNo Gravatar says:

    Great comment, Don! I continue to be amazed at the insane amounts of time people spend jumping through social media hoops for the slim chance of getting to the proposal stage with a prospect. All the business they could ever want is at the other end of their phone. Let’s face it: 2000 social media “friends” are never going to add up to two good freelance accounts.

  12. Emanuela GrassoNo Gravatar says:

    Hello Dan!
    I read EVERYTHING about your blog and am very excited to try your method soon!
    I am currently working in an office 9 to 5 in a fashion company and have been doing this for the passed 11 years!

    It’s time to STOP and go freelance!!! Your blog is giving me the help I was exactly looking for!! Thank you so much for your advice and will let you know how I am doing along the way. Thanks again!!

    Ema 😀

  13. Emanuela GrassoNo Gravatar says:

    Hello Dan,

    I just bought your forms, thank you, I will need to get some translated in french!

    I had a question for you, one of my clients is asking me to create a QR code to incorporate on a packaging for a product.

    I know there’s lots of sites that show you how to make them for free, but my question is, how long could it take to create one and how much should I charge?

    Thank you in advance,

    Emanuela 🙂

  14. Dan TurnerNo Gravatar says:

    Hello Emanuela,

    Yes, I did notice that you are a new owner of a complete set of FLW forms. Thank you.

    Regarding QR codes: They are so quick and easy to make that I wouldn’t charge separately for them. You can list them as a line item on your invoice if you like, but I would roll the time you spend on making them into the larger packaging project.

    I avoid the appearance of charging for every little thing; it makes clients hesitant to call. I want them to call anytime and not worry that they will get an extra bill for asking questions or wanting some little thing. The costs for those things should already be covered under the larger project agreement or a retainer agreement.

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