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About Cover Letters

09 How To Follow Up

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An extremely well-written and timely letter will get response automatically. People will call you. But, you'll improve your odds dramatically if you follow your letters with a phone call. (Even a great letter can sit unanswered on the reader's desk for weeks.)

In more than 25 years as a marketer, I've followed dozens of letters with phone calls. It's not at all uncommon to hear something like this: "I've got your letter right here. I've been meaning to call you."

Yes, they've been meaning to call me, but there's a 98 percent chance they never would have called, had I not called them first. Why? Because they're too busy.
How to follow a letter with a phone call
It took me years, and lots of calls during which my hands were shaking, to decide what to say after I'd sent a letter. (I always use first names when I phone, but you may prefer Mr. or Ms. for those one or more steps above you in a business setting.) The script I settled on after a decade of agony goes something like this:

"Hi Tom, this is Bill Frank calling you from Denver. I sent you a letter last week and wanted to find out if you've received it."

Simple, isn't it?

I've found that once I ask this question, two things happen. Number one, they say they've received the letter, and they launch into a fifteen-minute response to it. They tell me everything I need to know, and then they let me ask questions.

Number two, they haven't seen the letter or the mailing. If they haven't seen the letter, I tell them I'll send another one immediately and that I'll follow up after they've received it.

If they want to know what the letter is about, I don't tell them, unless I feel absolutely confident I can sell myself over the phone. Usually, I don't try it. That's why I wrote the letter in the first place. I needed an icebreaker. I want them to have some background information—exactly the right information—before we talk.

I loaded the document with crucial information. It has exactly the right appeal. It's concise and well written. It's polished. It creates a highly favorable impression. It makes me something of a known quantity instead of a complete stranger, so it's usually to my advantage to wait until the reader sees the letter before trying to sell myself.

To repeat: if they ask what the letter is about, I say, "If it's okay with you, I'd rather let you see the letter. It's complicated. There's a lot in it. I'll give you a call in a few days after you've received it. Is that okay?"

Usually it is. Callers seldom press me to tell them immediately "what this is about." They're too busy. Life is too short.

By the way, most people are friendly on the telephone. I've made hundreds of calls, and all my worst fears about being attacked, sworn at, or hung up on have never materialized. Most people are supportive. They like to help, if given the opportunity. On the other hand, I'm not pushy on the telephone. I'm friendly and helpful myself. For instance, I treat secretaries like "helpers," not like "barriers" or "obstacles to progress." I don't try to "get through them." I ask for their help and advice, and they usually cooperate.
Measure your results

How can you tell if you've truly communicated? You get a positive response. Therefore, if you don't get the results you want, you don't have the letter right yet. Work on it some more. 
Avoid mass mailings
I'm not a fan of mass mailings. By "mass mailings" I mean mailing letters by the thousands. I believe in targeted mailing, writing to clearly identified groups for a specific purpose. I can see sending 100 letters to selected search firms. Or 250 letters to targeted companies. Or 300 letters to the members of your personal contact network. I can't see mailing to one thousand companies. To me that means you haven't done your homework and you're really shooting in the dark. Yes, maybe there's a chance one of those letters will hit, but at what cost? Fifteen hundred dollars?

Job-hunters are typically budget-conscious, making every dollar count. I think you're better off writing an excellent letter and mailing it to fewer people than writing a mediocre letter and mailing it to thousands.

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William S. Frank, M.A.,
25 Reasons I love consulting.
by William S. Frank
  1. Brand. You are your own brand, and you can define it any way you want. For many years, I provided outplacement to the ex-employees of Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield service corporation. When departing employees left the company, they didn't request outplacement in their severance package. They said, "I want Bill Frank."
  2. Demand. The world will always be full of terrible problems that need solving.
  3. White Hat. I can be a helper and get paid for it.
  4. Pay. I can be paid to do things I'd gladly do for nothing.
  5. Variety. Every day is different.
  6. Happiness. At this stage of my career, I only work for people I respect and care about. If a client micromanages me or is otherwise no fun, I complete the assignment and replace them.
  7. Talent. I'm using 110% of my talents and stretching myself to the max.
  8. Change. I can change my focus any day I want. If you're a McDonald's franchisee, you don't say, "Hey, I've got this great idea for a meatball sandwich—let's try it out today." In consulting you can adjust your focus hour-by-hour, as long as your clients still understand and appreciate what you do.
  9. Income. No one else would pay me as much as I pay myself.
  10. FUN. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.
  11. Retirement. I can write and consult as long as I am physically and mentally capable. Peter Drucker worked into his 90s, and when asked which book was his best, he said: "My next one."
  12. Job Security. Although clients come and go, no one can come into my office and say, "Pack up your stuff . . . You don't work here anymore." In 29 years, I've only had one employer: ME.
  13. Travel. I don't have to travel unless I decide to. I travel if it's both FUN and profitable—or at least FUN.
  14. Commute. I live five minutes from my office, a corner office in an upscale six-story tower. In winter, I leave a heated garage at home and drive to an underground heated garage at work. There's seldom time to hear even one song on the radio.
  15. Vacation. Consulting is more fun than vacation (except on Wailea Beach in Maui).
  16. Friends. I have developed hundreds of close acquaintances and several lifetime friends.
  17. Time. I can work as much or as little as I like: four-hour days or 18-hour days. (Of course, my income will reflect that.)
  18. Employees. I can work with employees, subcontractors, partners, or alone—I've done it all.
  19. Passive Income. I've developed several products that provide "mailbox money." I earn while I'm sleeping.
  20. Ethics. I've never had to violate my values or personal code of ethics. I've never had to lie, purposely deceive or harm others, or promise things I can't deliver. I go to bed with a clear conscience. That doesn't mean there's never any conflict. But the conflict is conducted according to generally accepted business practices.
  21. Virtual. My career is fairly portable. With the Internet, e-mail, cell phone, and FedEx, I can work nationally, even internationally from my office—or anywhere in the world.
  22. Purpose. I make a difference in peoples' lives every day. I see it in their faces, hear it in their voices, and read it in their thank-yous.
  23. Experience. Every painful or joyful life experience makes me a better consultant. So does every person I meet or book I read. Grey hair can be good in consulting.
  24. Structure. I have to work very hard, and the clients expect superb results—but I get to structure my days, weeks, months, and years.
  25. Boss. Most of the time, I love my boss.
As I was posting these letters online, I realized I want to communicate my love for consulting. It's just a great business. The single letters, taken together, may create a picture of enjoyment, but in a burst of creativity I listed some of the reasons consulting is such a good fit for me—and perhaps for you, too. They are not prioritized; this is just how they came out.