How to reach out to new potential clients or employers
Cold-calling; when you hit someone up unsolicited, who you’ve never spoken to before, and who hasn’t reached out or made it known they’re looking for your services. It’s a painful yet necessary part of life.
Because opportunities are often either based on inside-knowledge or being at the right place at the right time, you can at least increase your chances of the latter by sucking it up and placing a few cold-calls.
The real art to making it a positive experience for both yourself and the other party, is in how you approach and execute the process. If you do it right, you’ll get a good positive rate of return.
Why am I doing this?
Despite all the clickbait blogs hailing the end of cold-calling, they are mostly either selling a CRM product or suggesting that an email or LinkedIn message ahead of a phone-call isn’t a cold-call, it’s an unsolicited message followed by a warm-call (defined further down).
“I think of cold calling as making a connection with someone that you haven’t previously before and reaching out to someone who doesn’t know who you are up to that point.” – Steve Richard, Vorsight
Over the past decade, a significant trend from voice communication (phone calls) to text-based (SMS, email, chat) has been well-documented. In business, it has another advantage, the ability of the recipient to take note on their terms, and not be annoyingly interrupted. Cold-calling isn’t dead, it’s just not an actual phone call anymore.
If you’re looking to expand your client base, get a job at a company you have no connection to, or find an actual human to help you personally with something at one of those companies that doesn’t seem to have anyone behind the info@ wall, you are going to have to make unsolicited communication.
But that’s okay, it’s actually much less scary now that we don’t have to pick up the phone. I have been making cold-calls weekly, for lots of different reasons, for years. I’m pretty sure I have it down to a fine art, I’m getting results, and I’m ready to share some of my best tips with you.
The sales-world has a term called “warm-calling”, which is generally defined as an unsolicited phone call that has been preceded by some level of prior interaction, whether direct or indirect, but not necessarily personal.
It could be that you had a passing handshake at a conference, or they followed you on Twitter, or a mutual acquaintance mentioned/introduced you, before you picked up the phone.
My version of the cold-call is sort of this, and sort of not. Firstly, don’t call first, email. This isn’t 1990, we have the technology now to make this less awkward! It’s still challenging, as the recipient isn’t looking for the thing you are trying to sell them. But it’s much easier.
If you can set up a more traditional warm-call situation, get creative, and go for it. Based on your research, you might find a common ground conversation-starter, or a reason to reach out. Even better, you could find a mutual connection or make a point of introducing yourself at an event.
Then that cold-call email will be a bit less awkward, and potentially more likely to net a positive result. This isn’t always possible though, so it’s not totally necessary. It’s just icing on the cake.
Do your homework
Who, specifically do you want to contact? Find out who the actual person is. Companies have info@ emails, that generally go to the receptionist and are ignored if they’re unsolicited. You also aren’t going to get very far if you contact the CEO, unless that’s who you specifically need to talk to.
If you’re looking for a job at a specific company, consider who the person might be that supervises or hires for the position you want. If you are looking to expand your client base to include Real Estate companies, find out who makes the decisions on marketing and/or multimedia content at the companies you want to approach.
Even better, find out whether that person actually has a say on the colorist being used, if you’re a colorist; because they might go through an agency or other third-party.
How to find that person, and what’s their email? This is where you really get to work. It’s not too hard these days to get this info. Some people and companies are harder to reach directly that others, but none are impossible.
The biggest challenge I had, once, was finding the person at Apple who could help my company become accredited to deliver movies and tv episodes direct to iTunes. I had to find out what the name is for companies that do that, first. I searched the internet, asking questions. I found out that what I wanted to become is called an Apple Approved Encoding House. So now I knew what I wanted to even ask.
So now I knew what I wanted to even ask. I looked all over various Apple sites for obvious ways in, to connect with someone who deals with Encoding Houses, because clearly there’s no point me asking Apple Tech Support or sales.
Through my research, I found a spec-sheet for deliverables to iTunes, which included the line “For more information, contact your iTunes Technical Representative”. From this, I went looking for iTunes Technical Representatives on LinkedIn.
I noticed most people with that title were located in Texas, USA. I doubted that the folks who deal directly with post production vendors were all based there, so I clicked on the company “iTunes/Apple” and saw the job titles and locations of other people who worked for the company. I found a “Video Operations – Technical Relations” in San Francisco, and a “Technical Account Manager” in Los Angeles. And I had their names.
From here I had two options. Option A is to find the company’s email address pattern, by using the pattern of someone easy to contact in the company (a sales agent, for example) and apply to the names I had, therefore knowing their email addresses. In the case of Apple, this is impossible when not a single person in the company has an easily accessible email address! Option B is to find someone else in my circle, someone for whom it wouldn’t be a weird cold-call to reach out to, who might have a contact for one of those people. Again, in this case, I used LinkedIn. Fortunately, I had a mutual connection, because in this case, our industries overlap, and the rest is history.
Why not just send a message over LinkedIn directly, skip the rest? Because it’s lazy. It’s impersonal, and it’s often ignored. I do it rarely, and only if I have lots of mutual acquaintances and something really good to say.
“Poor email techniques, poor calling techniques… those kinds of thing are amplified by tools like LinkedIn. So if you suck, you are gonna suck tremendously using LinkedIn .” – Ralf VonSosen, LinkedIn
Most people aren’t that hard to find. Want to find me? You know my name. Find out where I work, by searching the internet. My company’s website has an “About” section, and there I am. My email address is listed. Fan mail only, please!
Say I’m looking to contact someone at Deluxe, and I’ve found the name of the person I want to contact. That person might not want their details made public, but Sales and Marketing people sure want to be easily reached! The email pattern will be the same. In their case, a quick search for Marketing Manager at byDeluxe gives me < firstname.lastname@example.org >.
This Forbes piece explains exactly this, and also offers a few more handy tips that align nicely with my own methods.
Option C is relevant if you know nothing more than the person’s office – but it does take an actual phone call. Reception can give you some details, if that information is public (but you just can’t find it).
“Hi there, I am hoping you can help me. Who would the person be at your company that supervises the Sound Department, or is Head of Sound?”
“Thank you for that, I’ve been trying to reach out. Would you be able to give me his/her email address so I can contact him/her directly?”
If you approach this in a friendly, casual and gentle way, you’ll generally find that whoever is on the line wants to be helpful. Don’t push it, you might only get a name, but that’s something!
Some times when I’ve had to take this approach, I’ve been “put through” to the person I’m looking for directly. If asked, decline. Say “I do not want to disturb him/her at this moment, I’d rather schedule a time to talk”. If it’s a rushed receptionist who just hits the transfer button automatically, I tend to hang up, to avoid the old-fashioned awkward style of cold-call, which disrupts the recipient’s time, and is less effective. I would have been unprepared, and potentially interrupting the person during a session, mid-afternoon slump, or Facebook break.
What will you say to them? You need a template for your email, because you’ll be sending out lots of them. My typical cold-call response rate is 10% for really cold calls, like when I send out a press release, and it’s really not personalized much. It goes way up to 75% when I use a great template and do my research well, making it personalized, direct, and specific.
Because I know the sort of response rate to expect with certain types of communications, I make sure that the number of people I send them out to reflects this. If I know to expect that one out of ten reporters will run my press release, and I want at least three media outlets to pick it up, I send it to 30 reporters. If I’m job-hunting and I know that 1/4 of facilities I contact will ignore me, I make sure I reach out to about ten places to get a decent number to follow up with (especially as only a small proportion of those will have a job opening).
My approach takes aspects of the 3-B Plan, short and to the point, based on research showing that people are more likely to respond to shorter messages. It also takes aspects of the PPP model, which is rooted in psychology to get the recipient to respond positively.
The subject should be adjacent to the message, but also somewhat targeted to the person it’s addressed to. For the guy at Apple, I used the subject line Apple Approved Encoding House: Department of Post. For a job, I might use my name or my job title, or if there’s some element of “warm-calling”, I might use following up: <where I met the person> or reaching out: <something specific about why>.
Make sure your email is friendly and written in your voice. I usually open with Hi <Name> (and no punctuation after their name, so it flows on.
The first paragraph should open with who am I and why I’m emailing. Keep it short, personal and to the point. There should be something about them in the second half of this first paragraph, to show you’ve done your research.
My name is Katie Hinsen, I’m the Head of Operations at Department of Post, Auckland’s premier post production facility. I want to congratulate you on reaching your funding goals for “Action Movie 3”, and to offer my help in getting the production through to the finish line.
If this were my template for reaching out to all the filmmakers on a list of recently funded feature films in my region, it would work well. I just replace out the name of the person and the name of their production for each individualized email.
The second paragraph offers a bit more detail about what you are wanting from them. Again, be specific, and to the point. But in a nutshell, this is the sales-pitch part. Find a way, based on your research, to fit yourself into their world.
So let’s look at what paragraph 2 of a cold-email to a company I want to work for as a colorist might look like:
I have extensive experience working with major studios, such as Netflix, Amazon, Sony and Paramount; with specific expertise in HDR color grading. In observing Posthouse’s recent growth toward these high-end markets, my unique background in these areas would certainly make a valuable addition to your team.
Again, all you have to do in your template here is change out the name of the company to use this for multiple cold-emails.
The third and final paragraph needs two things: you must give the recipient an action point and an easy-out.
The action point is something definitive that you want from them, and/or that you will do. It’s great if you can put a time on that action, too; but it will depend on the context whether that’s appropriate. It’s always effective to make things as simple as possible for the recipient, so tell them what they can do for you specifically, and when.
I would like to make a time to meet with you sometime next week, so please let me know your availability.
The action point should be the last thing in the email, before a friendly sign-off like “I look forward to meeting you”, or “I look forward to working with you”.
The easy-out is what goes just before that. Everything else in the message needs to use positive, assertive language. Use definite statements, not “I think”, “I feel that” or “I hope”, but “I
do”, “I will”, and “I am”. Make statements, with confidence.
The easy-out is the one thing that makes all that not seem pushy. It’s an action-statement, that allows them to pass on your query to someone else, instead of handling it themself, or throwing it in the too-hard-basket. Each scenario will have a specific “easy-out”, but it generally involves giving the addressed recipient the option of passing your query to a colleague who may be better equipped to help you at this time.
I appreciate that you might not have a position open at the moment, but as you’ll have a strong sense of the job market both at Posthouse and beyond, you will be able to point me in the right direction of potential opportunities that suit my unique experience and expertise.
As Director of Marketing, I expect you will be able to pass my request to whichever member of your team is handling partnerships if you don’t generally oversee this area directly.
As Senior Colorist, I realize you may be able to do little more than alert me to any potential positions in your department, feel free to forward my email to your Head of Operations (Sonja Johnson), should you feel that is more appropriate.
It’s certainly the part of the cold-email that requires the most thought, as you need to give them an “out”, but not be too permissive, apologetic or look like you haven’t done your homework. In some scenarios, like the last one, it can look like you’ve done more homework, if you craft it right.
When might be a good time to reach out? Might there be a bad time? Generally speaking, there are times that are better than others. Friday afternoon cold-emails get left until Monday and forgotten.
Most experts suggest you email late Sunday night, to be top of the Monday morning inbox. I argue that first thing Monday, faced with a backlog of important emails to follow up on, your cold-email will also get lost in the pile.
I’ve found from personal experience that Wednesday and Thursday early afternoon emails get the most responses. There’s nothing empirical about that, but I am making recommendations as someone who has been cold-emailing (and faxing, and calling, and showing up, and on the receiving end of all this too) for more than 20 years, in and around the media industry.
I found a few rules that work, so that’s what I’m sharing. I’ve had far more responses from mid-week, early-afternoon cold-emails than from early Monday ones. In fact, I’ve actually followed up on a few unanswered cold-emails that were originally sent early Monday, early-afternoon mid-week, and had immediate responses.
There are also bad times to cold-email for other reasons. Keep in mind general busy-periods for the industry of the people you’re reaching out to. Think about trade-shows, conferences, film festivals and busy seasons for production, or delivery. There will be other reasons why the timing of your message is not good, which is why following up after a week or so is worthwhile.
Why are you contacting them in particular? What specifically can they help you with? I covered a lot of this in the section about the content of the email, above. This is a very important element of a successful cold-email strategy, so it’s worth reiterating. Hi, I’m Katie and I’m a VFX Artist looking for work, here’s my resume, is only going to solicit a “so what?” response.
Unless the person you’ve contacted happens to be specifically looking for a VFX Artist right now, you haven’t given the recipient any reason to feel anything other than that their time has been wasted or at worst, their privacy violated.
You need to tell them exactly what you want from them, and why they want to comply.
Most people aren’t monsters, they actually want to help if they can, in most situations. A lot of situations can be framed in that way. Being very specific with one or more action points you would like the recipient to take, removes the need for them to think about it at all, and makes it easier for them to take that action. It also makes the cold-email personal, because it’s relevant.
Finally, it suggests that they can help. Think of the examples I gave above, they included specifics, like “I would like to meet with you”, and helping actions, like “point me in the right direction of potential opportunities”.
Another way to frame it is to imagine you’re the person being approached. Sometimes I like to imagine that someone is literally coming up to me in the middle of a busy work day. I want to know “who are you, and why are you here? What can I do for you, and when do you need that by?”.
I don’t want a long answer, I want a concise one. And I sure as hell don’t want to feel like I’m unimportant, like the person doesn’t even know or care who I am, or like they’re just shoving a business card in my hand and walking away.
So you didn’t get a response. It may be because the person didn’t want to be contacted, or it may be that the recipient put your email at the bottom of their to-do list, and forgot. If it’s the latter, the follow-up can ensure you get a positive result.
The initial email: already covered. How long is appropriate to wait before following up?
Researchers did a broad study of email response times and advised that if you haven’t heard back within 48 hours, your email has been forgotten. That study is flawed, it didn’t consider the nature of the emails. Most of the emails I get, I respond to immediately, because they’re expected and relevant to my immediate tasks.
Most other experts (here’s quite a good one) suggest giving it at least a week, and I generally wait 10 days. I don’t tend to follow up on the same day as I sent the first email, because the reason might have been timing. I also tend to follow up at the beginning of the week. Keep that follow up short. Subject should be Following up: <original subject> and the contents of the email polite and short.
I’m just following up on the email I sent you on 23 August. I was hoping to speak with you regarding WebCompany’s multimedia marketing strategy, so please let me know the best time to come up to your office. Feel free to email me, or you can call me directly on (456) 789 0123
Don’t give that second follow up much time to marinate. First of all, decide “do I care?”. Much of the time, if someone doesn’t follow up, they’re not interested or don’t have time. If you are just casting bait to see who bites, you probably don’t care. Move on. If you really need that person for something, that’s different. You care. Then you go to the second follow-up.
Obviously emailing isn’t working. If you are comfortable, now is the time to call. It’s a warm-call now! You do have a prior interaction, the emails. If you really can’t get on the phone, that’s ok, you can try another email. But it will really just be a repeat of the first follow-up, so not too effective.
Be prepared for rejection. It feels worse on the phone than just an unanswered email, but it’s less likely to happen on the phone, because rejecting people is awkward. Be friendly, not pushy. Assume they just missed the emails.
“Hi Jeanne, Katie Hinsen here. I’ve been trying to reach you via email, but it looks like my messages might have gotten lost in transit”
I made it personal and friendly. I stated who I am and why I’m calling, and I gave her an excuse so she doesn’t feel as awkward about ignoring me.
“I’ve been hoping to find a time to catch up with you for a coffee. I’m an Editor, I’m new in town. As a Post Supervisor, I know you will have excellent insight into the local job market, so I’d like to pick your brains.”
Even though I’d been a bit more formal and assertive in my emails, that obviously didn’t work. So I’m putting a real person to the cold-email. That’s me. I’ve made it about her, given her a way she can help me, and asked for a meeting.
I generally don’t want to take it fully off-line, I’d prefer the person to respond to my email. That way things are in writing, there’s a chain, and a connection. In this case, I might ask how the Post Supervisor’s coming week looks, and have her respond to my email with a specific time and day that she’s available.
In a way, the “cold-call” is dead. It’s morphed, it’s now gone digital. There’s an art to doing a good cold-email, but it’s necessary and can be really effective if done right.
Be specific, be to-the-point. Be considerate and do your research. Use the entire who, what, how, when and why, giving the recipient a definite sense of “who the hell are you, why are you here and what do you want, when?”
Be realistic about your rate of positive responses. It’s kind of like fishing: if you throw a bit of general bait into a random body of water, you might pull something up. If you’re really specific about the bait, hook, line, area and weather; to the exact fish you plan to eat for dinner, your chance of a good meal goes up. If it isn’t working, move on.
The creative industries are full of colorful characters and unique gigs. There’s no such thing as “one size fits all” in our world. There’s a lot of great advice for communication techniques out there, but not all of it will work in the film & television industry.
My advice is based on more than 20 years of reaching out, failing, experimenting, persisting and eventually getting really good at reaching the right people, the right way, and getting a positive response. I hope this Insight helps you.