How to Make Prospecting Painless and Effective

Summary: Let's face it. No one really likes prospecting for new clients.But who said prospecting had to be painful? In this week's episode, Steve Slaunwhite will show you 4 simple ways to make prospecting easier. And even fun, if you can believe it!


Prospecting doesn't have to be difficult or uncomfortable

Let's face it. No one really likes prospecting for new clients. As one of my workshop attendees once put it, "I would rather spend the day cleaning my window blinds with a toothbrush than make a single cold call."

In fact, most of freelancers prefer to have new business come our way through referrals, word-of-mouth, advertising and other methods that don't involve contacting prospects personally.

If you're getting all the business you need through those methods, congratulations!

But if you aren't, then it makes sense to find an effective way to:

  • contact prospects directly,
  • introduce yourself, and
  • ignite their interest in your services.

In other words, do some prospecting.

The good news is, prospecting doesn't have to be difficult or uncomfortable. In fact, if you follow the strategies below, it can actually be fun. Well, almost fun.

1. Get in the right mindset

When I started freelancing back in the 1990s I did a lot of prospecting, but it was a tough, miserable experience. Worse, I didn't get good results.

It took me a few years to understand why.

I had the completely wrong mindset. I was focused on selling when I should have been focused on building relationships.

When I shifted my thinking, and focused on initiating and building relationships with prospective clients, I got phenomenal results. In addition, prospecting was not only easier, it felt better, too.

Now what's the first step to building any relationship? An introduction, of course. So with that in mind, here's the definition of prospecting I now teach and use.

Prospecting is introducing yourself to people who have a likelihood of being interested in your services.

Think about that for a moment. No matter how you're prospecting – making calls, sending emails, using LinkedIn – if your focus is on making an introduction (not a sale), how much easier would you expect prospecting to be for you?

Probably a lot easier.

And if you're approaching only those prospects who are likely be interested in your services, what kind of response would you expect to get?

Probably a fairly positive response!

Here are a couple of examples of introductions:

Email Introduction:

I read in Marketing Mag about your promotion to Director, Marketing Communications. Congratulations. I work with a lot of clients in your industry and wanted to introduce myself...


Hi, I'm Jill Smith of JS Design here in town. I just visited your website and thought I'd give you a quick call to introduce myself. We specialize in marketing and design for retailers – and are particularly good at creating flyers that bring in shoppers...

Notice how friendly and conversational those introductions are? That's key.

By the way, the more you learn about your prospect, the more easy and effective your introduction will be, which leads to the second strategy...

2. Be picky.

One of the things I really like about prospecting is that you get to be choosy. You get to cheery-pick those prospects you suspect would be ideal clients for you.

It's like being at a large buffet and saying, "I'll have one of those, and one of those, and one of those."

Unlike any other marketing method, prospecting allows you to fill your plate with exactly the kind of clients you want to do business with. (How cool is that?)

That's the real secret to prospecting. Be picky. Carefully select those prospects you plan to approach. Keep your list small and focused. You'll get much better results by contacting a few prospects who you have determined are worth your time and effort than blindly reaching out to a humongous list of strangers.

3. Pick a method that works for you.

I've been in business for a while. So I remember when there were only a limited number of ways to prospect: cold calls, letters, networking at meetings and other events.

These days, however, there are dozens of ways to reach out and introduce yourself to prospective clients. You can use email, LinkedIn, online groups, social media, getting introductions (my favorite method), and many more.

To make prospecting easy and effective, you need to pick a method that is a good fit for your skills and personality.

If you're good at making calls, then by all means make calls. If you have a knack for writing friendly, inviting emails then emailing might be your ticket. If you're good at meeting new contacts in networking situations – live or online – then you should leverage that gift. (Believe me, it's a gift.)

A friend of mine, who owns a small branding and design firm, is masterful when it comes to networking. He hosts a local meet-up group for small business owners. He is a genius at getting introduced to prospective clients. He plays the LinkedIn game better than any 15-year-old does a PS3. His way of prospecting is such a natural fit that he doesn't even think of it as prospecting. He's just being himself.

Imagine if he tried to force himself to make calls or send emails?

If you're unsure about which prospecting method is right for you, experiment. Try email. See how that works for you. If you find it's not your style or you're got getting a good response, switch to a different approach. You'll soon discover a prospecting method that feels right and gets results.

4. Do a little, not a lot

Prospecting is not a numbers game. It's a relationship game. So if you plan on cold calling everyone in the National List of Advertisers this week, you're doomed to failure – not to mention exhaustion.

Take your time when prospecting. Do a little bit each day or each week, focusing on quality prospects.

If you introduce yourself and your services to just one new prospect a day, that's about two hundred prospects a year.

Think about that. What would be the impact on your business this year if two hundred good prospects heard from you and learned more about your services? Would you expect that some of those would turn into new project opportunities and clients?

Of course they would.

And how much time would it take to make those introductions each day? (Remember, prospecting is an introduction.) Fifteen minutes? Maybe half an hour?

And what if you're prospecting method is networking at business meetings, trade shows, and conferences? I know a freelance brand designer who focuses on introducing yourself to just three new contacts per event day. When she reaches three, as she puts it, "I'm done!" That doesn't sound like much of a prospecting effort – and it isn't – but over the course of a year the numbers really add up. She gets a lot of new business this way.

So you see, prospecting doesn't have to be a massive effort. It can be a simple and relatively painless part of your business routine – a routine that can steadily build and maintain your base of great clients.

There you have it. Four strategies that can make prospecting a lot easier and more effective for you. Hey, you'll probably never love prospecting. But if you follow these tips, you'll like it a lot more – and get better results.


Steve Slaunwhite is the creator of Practically Painless Prospecting, a program that shows freelancers how to contact and land ideal clients, quickly and easily. View the first module FREE at .

  • Andre M. Flax

    This was a great thoughtful article. I manage a team of advertising consultants and prospecting is a critical part of what we do. This article offers a really good perspective on the subject. Really enjoyed it. Thanks.

  • Kitty Spellman

    Hi, Steve! My name is Kitty Spellman, and I'd like to introduce myself. I offer editing and proofreading services, and if you decide to work with me, I'll make sure that your next post reads "cherry-picking" instead of "cheery-picking." And I'll correct the other embarrassing error that your spell-check software missed (sorry, only the first one is free). There ... how did I do?

  • Elizabeth Whalen

    This afternoon, not that long after reading this post, I went to my local shopping district. While walking back to my car, a woman with a non-profit came up to me, handed me a small card and started telling me about the group and how it feeds homeless people. After about 15 seconds of description of the group, she asked me for a donation.

    I listened to her, then said, "No, thank you," in as kind a tone as I have to offer. She sighed and then literally turned her back on me. I offered to give her back the card she'd given me, but she ignored me. It was a strange experience. She wanted to go from introduction to sale in fewer than 30 seconds. Then, when there was no immediate payoff, she acted rudely.

    If she'd just shifted her goal to introducing me to the group and what it does and giving me a way to find out more (the card didn't even have the name or web site of the charity on it!), I might have done so and eventually donated. Now, there are many potential reasons for her behavior. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she just wanted to go home. Maybe she had just dealt with someone who was rude to her. Who knows. But I do know three things. One, I am less likely to give money to that charity. Two, I think that charity would benefit from having a different strategy and volunteers that behave more appropriately. And three, I have a great reminder of why it's so important to build relationships with clients and to focus my prospecting on introducing myself and my services.

    • edgandia

      You make some great observations here, Elizabeth. Completely agree with you. BTW, I love how you're very mindful of these things as you go about your day. I do the same thing. I'm constantly finding parallels between everyday situations and freelancing. I also notice similarities between traditional businesses and solo businesses. Thanks for sharing this story and your observations!

  • Katie Henriksen

    Thanks for this post Steve! I think my natural fit is in emails and networking through social media. People keep telling me I need to go to networking events, or cold call, because that's how they get clients, but I'm terrible at making calls or connecting with people at live events. And I've been beating myself up for not doing what I think I "should" be doing, rather than focusing on really marketing with my strengths. Not very productive at all. I appreciate the validation that you don't necessarily have to do it all, even if it does work for other people.

    • edgandia

      Hi Katie. I agree with you. If it's just not your thing, you're probably better off looking at other options. No reason to beat yourself up. I think it's important to create a marketing mix that's aligned with your preferences, goals and personality. Thanks for your comment!

  • I was reminded of Tip #2 this month when I had a bad experience prospecting via email. I had forgotten who I SHOULD have been prospecting, and this company was NOT one of them. I immediately deleted the email, and tossed out that email list. Now I'm back to focusing on the right prospects & building relationships with them.

    • edgandia

      Good to hear from you, Julia! You're right -- nothing beats relevance, personalization and relationship-building.