Approaching clients you don’t (yet!) have a relationship with.
In this episode, Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to an excellent question from designer Jason Hunt.
“I occasionally get the urge to approach a company who I think are doing their brand absolutely no favours and underselling what I know to be brilliant. I’m a designer, so approach this from a branding and design perspective (though of course their copy might also be shit!)
This has never worked, and I rarely even entertain it these days, but I have a company that I am dying to approach as they are brilliant at what they do, have a great and friendly reputation and would even probably have money to spend on all these things. I just can’t fathom out for the life of me why they haven’t upped their game?
Has anyone ever done this (successfully) and do you have any tips on how to write the initial approach to not sound like just a mansplaining twat?”
• • • • •
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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:01:18] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:01:28] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community. Do our best to answer it, but we start each episode by looking back at the last one. Last time we were talking about…
[00:01:37] – Frankie
Charlene had a great question about prioritising, when everything is a priority.
[00:01:41] – Steve
Richard Berks got in touch.
“First thing to say is that even among our priority list, we will never get everything done. Never. But accepting that as best we can and I appreciate that might not help in the heat of the moment. The way I handle this is to take a step back and work out how to allocate time to make sure all the things get done, or at least as much as one can do in a week.
On my calendar, I have time set aside for client work. Non negotiable must be done. But then I also set aside equally protected time for all the other stuff, too. Some time every week to do my newsletter, update socials, admin bits and bobs, some time every month for invoices and bookkeeping and so on. It’s not a perfect system by any stretch, but I guess having these slots already booked in my calendar means that almost everything gets done when it needs to be, and it doesn’t feel too much like there’s lots of competing priorities.
When that all fails (and to be frank, it does often for me) client work gets done first, then finding new work, then everything else but your personal fallback priority list may differ. Hope that vaguely helps.”
[00:02:45] – Frankie
Amazing comment from Richard.
Rachel Brownlow says:
“I have a few thoughts with my programme management hat on, both for long term and short term prioritising. First, in the short term, I find it’s useful to ask the question: what will happen if I don’t do this today or this week? Depending on the severity of the impact, you can work out what to work on first.”
“In the long term, I’d advocate for having some kind of long term project plan in place that works alongside your everyday task list. This will help you see forward to your big goals, work backwards to plan your timelines and therefore know what you need to work on week by week. I’d recommend including the big key milestones and the date you’d like it completed.
For example, redecoration of the stairs to be completed by 30th March. Then you have the main deliverables that will help you achieve that milestone: e.g. Strip the paint from the banisters by the 31st of January. Sand and prep by the 28th of February. Paint by the 30th of March. Your to do list then needs to be the individual tasks that help you complete those deliverables. e.g. For January, you need to go to B&Q to pick up supplies, clear prep the stairs, strip the paint, tidy up, etc.
I could go on all day about planning and tracking timelines!”
[00:03:53] – Steve
By the way, I noticed on Charlene’s Instagram she has now stripped the paint on the banisters, so clearly that’s…
[00:04:01] – Frankie
[00:04:01] – Steve
…a priority of some sort.
Tilly Kyle got in touch.
“We need to talk about reclaim.ai. It has literally changed my life. It’s free and it’s so fucking intelligent. You can open your schedule and then add tasks with the time it will take and it’ll prioritise it and then arranges it onto your schedule. AUTOMATICALLY. Life changing, I tell you. Life changing!!!!”
Life changing! That’s probably how that was meant to be said.
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:07:16] – Steve
Okay, we’ve got a question from Jason Hunt, who is a designer at See Think Do – seethinkdo.co.uk.
“I occasionally get the urge to approach a company who I think are doing their brand absolutely no favours and underselling what I know to be brilliant.
I’m a designer, so approach this from a branding and design perspective, though of course their copy might also be shit. This has never worked and I rarely even entertain it these days. But I have a company that I am dying to approach as they are brilliant at what they do, have a great and friendly reputation and would even probably have money to spend on all these things.
I just can’t fathom for the life of me why they haven’t upped their game. Has anyone ever done this (successfully)? And do you have any tips on how to write the initial approach to not sound like just a mansplaining twat?
[00:08:16] – Frankie
It’s a great question. Have you ever done this, Steve? Done like a cold…
[00:08:18] – Steve
Cold emails? Yes, I have. My biggest client, who I have worked with for like, nine years.
[00:08:26] – Frankie
Oh, really? You just approached them?
[00:08:28] – Steve
They came from a cold email.
[00:08:29] – Frankie
Good for you. And what did you say?
[00:08:31] – Steve
“I love what you’re doing. You’re just down the road from me. I walk past your offices all the time, so clearly I could bring in some cakes, but have you considered using videos? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
But, and this is key, you need someone who wants to hear that message. Fortunately for me, the marketing person at the time…
[00:08:51] – Frankie
was open to this?
[00:08:52] – Steve
Yeah, they were passed the email and they were like, “Oh, yeah, why not?” So it did work, but you know, crucially, I wasn’t picking apart their company, was I? I was bigging it up.
[00:09:02] – Frankie
Does he say picking apart? I mean, he’s saying he wants them to be… he can see that they can be great, or better.
[00:09:08] – Steve
I know, but if somebody sends you an email and says: “Hey, I really like what you do.” Right, that’s good. “But have you thought about doing X, Y and Z to your website?” You’re going to go, “oh piss off”.
[00:09:19] – Frankie
I would have already deleted it. It’s true.
[00:09:23] – Steve
I think maybe, Jason, it’s better to think — how can it become not a cold approach? How can I warm myself to them?
[00:09:33] – Frankie
Yes! When I think about this in day to day life — say some random bloke comes up to me in the street and is like, “You look like a nice person, but I think you could be better if I help you with, you know, your posture or whatever it is”. I would be like, “Please fuck off”. Right?
[00:09:50] – Steve
Isn’t it funny, though, whenever somebody mentions posture, you sit up straight? You said that word and I’m like… *sits up straight*
[00:09:55] – Frankie
Yes, so true.
[00:09:56] – Steve
I can’t help but do it.
[00:09:59] – Frankie
But if a friend that I know really well said, “Do you know what, Frankie. I think you could be a better person by being less of a dick, by doing the X, Y and Z”. Actually, I’m much more open to that concept and for them to help me to see how I can be a better person.
[00:10:15] – Steve
Oh, in that case, I’ve meant to say this to you for ages.
[00:10:19] – Frankie
So what I concluded from, you know, thinking through that real world example in my head, was: How can you make that potential client, maybe not a friend, but at least an acquaintance, before you start going “Yeah, maybe you could be doing things a bit better and I can help you to do that”?
So, like you say, warming them up.
[00:10:37] – Steve
Okay, So how can we sneakily become their friend?
[00:10:41] – Frankie
I’m here for these tips in normal life as well. Please continue.
[00:10:45] – Steve
You can go on to LinkedIn and find out who works at that company because it will show you the list of employees. Maybe start connecting with them or following them so that you are on their professional radar. And don’t go creepy weird with it, I’m sure you won’t, Jason, but you just need to gradually become known to them, I think.
[00:11:08] – Frankie
I actually think LinkedIn is brilliant for that. Because even if you don’t connect with them, they’ll get a notification that you’re following them. That immediately is like, “Oh, who is this person?” Even if they don’t then choose to connect with you.
And yet if you’re in a similar sphere — say you work with a lot of people in a similar industry — you’re bound to be connected to, you know, at least one or two of the same people. And so if you start commenting on those people’s posts you’re just going to become a name that keeps popping up in their world without them necessarily noticing. So when you do finally come in for the like, “Hey” you’re not a total stranger, even if they don’t know it yet.
That’s kinda weird isn’t it?
[00:11:51] – Steve
God, it all just sounds so weird. But the fact is this shit works. And of course, if you are creating content… Now, I’m going to pick an example from the Doing It For The Kids community. Like Tom Garfield, absolutely smashing it on LinkedIn by writing stuff which is helpful and shows what he knows. So if I’m now connected to him and I keep seeing that stuff, I might start thinking, “Actually our website isn’t getting enough leads…” — it starts to trickle in.
So maybe further down the line when you send that email or you’ve made that connection,or yeah I mean… it just sounds so conniving. But I feel like it’s a longer game than sending that email.
[00:12:34] – Frankie
Yeah, I think the cynical in me is like, “It sounds a bit gross” but actually it’s just building a human relationship with somebody.
[00:12:40] – Steve
[00:12:40] – Frankie
We have to earn trust, earn time with people. If you’re in that person’s sphere — and maybe you will start chatting just naturally in DMs or on other people’s posts and then that it’ll be like, “Oh, this is my in. Now I can email this person direct!”
It doesn’t have to be gross. Social networks are social, right? So talk to people, interact with people, even if your intention is to ultimately work with them.
[00:13:09] – Frankie
So we’ve talked about making them warm. Sounds so… grim!
I think the alternative is you go in, but you go in like hard. So when I did my graphic design course, there was a lot of talk about how to get seen. And one of the things that came up a lot was approaching agencies, but being absolutely ballsy with it and often designing like a physical thing that you would send to people.
So rather than just an email that’s probably, as you said earlier — once they get to line two is going to be deleted. Might even piss them off which is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve! Maybe there’s something else you could do that’s more creative, that you could design, that you could physically produce, print and send to that person? Something that’s funny, that’s memorable.
Again, they might think you’re a dick and they might not want to hire you, but I feel like the reception is going to be warmer already by the pure effort and sense of humor and whatever it is that’s gone into it.
And at least they’re going to remember you! Emails are so throw-away and so easy to do and so easy to ignore. Give them something that’s harder to ignore, even if it annoys them still.
[00:14:30] – Steve
Funnily enough, I sent a cold email just last week to a podcast production company. Something I did was I decided I would keep that email really short because I don’t want to waste their time. If it’s too long, they’re probably never even going to read it. I made the subject heading kind of like a clever twist on one of their most popular podcasts titles.
[00:14:51] – Frankie
Done your research!
[00:14:52] – Steve
Yes, this email was clearly just made for them. It wasn’t a blanket email. I then went in first line praising them, then quickly said what I’ve done, who for, and then I screen-shotted a LinkedIn referral from a well respected producer in the industry who’s worked with me. Put that in.
[00:15:10] – Frankie
Nice, social proof.
[00:15:12] – Steve
Another tailored, customisable, fun sort of line at the end.
Anyway, guy got back to me by the end of that same day.
[00:15:19] – Frankie
Same day? There you go!
[00:15:20] – Steve
So, yeah, anyway. Flatter them, customise it so that it’s obvious that you actually do care about their company. We’ve all had those emails, haven’t we, where people clearly haven’t dont their research. They don’t know who we are.
[00:15:35] – Frankie
It’s true. If Jason is looking for lists of things to do, attention to detail is definitely one of them. Personally, I know I’m a big fan of this, clearly, but I think a sense of humor is really important. Like, coming across as a human. Because I get some emails where I’m like, “Did a human even write this?” It just feels so automated and impersonal.
[00:15:53] – Frankie
What about things like video? What do you think about that? Because you know a lot of people… I’m just thinking if somebody sent me like a Loom video and it was like, “I’ve been on your website and you could be doing X, Y and Z”. I think I would still ultimately delete it. But the effort…
[00:16:12] – Steve
[00:16:12] – Frankie
…I would have gone, “Wow, they’ve actually gone through my site, personally, recorded a video and sent it to me”. I don’t know.
[00:16:19] – Steve
I mean, for every cold email I send… I might have sent 20 and 1 might have replied at all. I think if you’re ever going to do this approach, then you need to be ready for rejection. In fact, not just rejection, just silence.
One of the things I was going to suggest — and I still wouldn’t do this cold, I would try and warm the bed before you jump in it — can you offer a service which is essentially like an audit? So you make a load of marketing suggestions or website suggestions and so on? Like, take something that they do and then say, “This is brilliant, you could do this a bit better. Have you tried this tool?”
Again this was something I tried really early on.
[00:17:05] – Steve
But the thing is, of course, you need the person running this company, Jason, to recognise the flaws in their stuff already. Now, they might have done, but equally they might think it’s fine. So it’s by putting out that content on LinkedIn or a new website, or a combination of the two. drip, drip, drip. Make them think about their business differently.
[00:17:27] – Frankie
That’s a really good point. This sounds really cynical and dirty…
[00:17:31] – Steve
Brilliant, let’s have it!
[00:17:34] – Frankie
But if you are connected with them on something like LinkedIn — even if you’re not, even if you just can see any public posts or on Twitter or wherever else, you can see what these people are saying. Now, this won’t happen in most cases because people aren’t public about this stuff, but some people ‘build in public’ and are open about their business and the challenges and whatever.
If they are sharing information about their challenges, their plans for the year, or any kind of information where you can go, “Oh, hang on. I see their intention to do X, Y and Z, and I can help them do those things!” Then when you email or you get in contact, you don’t even have to outline those issues because you know they’re already thinking about them. You just have to offer the solution to those issues.
I mean, that surely is the money…? The money spinner…? No. Money winner…?
[00:18:21] – Steve
The money shot.
[00:18:22] – Frankie
Money shot. That’s what I’m thinking of. Thank you.
[00:18:24] – Steve
Are you really thinking of that?
[00:18:25] – Frankie