Business Beyond Freelancing

the 4 lists you should be building

4 lists

We’re writers, so we should be able to work without any kind of strict regimen, right? Who needs any kind of a business system? That’s for corporate types and hardcore salespeople, isn’t it?

Well, I started my career in corporate America in direct sales, and I did quite well.

So I’m big on lists. I love writing things down, having a plan, and executing it.

I also love the sense of accomplishment from checking items off and watching the results pour in.

Can you relate?

If you’re an Independent Creative solely for the creative side of things, by all means, be a free spirit as you work.

But if you’re also seeking a steady, solid income as a copywriter, and trying to build a true business (which is much more than being a freelancer), let me suggest something.

It’s not any kind of complicated system, just a simple way to operate a successful copywriting business using four lists, including these three:

  • Prospect list
  • Email list
  • Short list

I’ll go into detail on each of these in future posts. Today, let’s just talk about the value of having a big prospect list.

Until your schedule is booked solid, you need to be connecting with good prospects and converting them to paying clients. How to do that exactly is a topic for another day.

All I know is when I was in direct sales from 1986-2002, I worked exclusively from four lists, and it worked out quite well.

I was usually in the top 10-15% of all salespeople, made a good income, and earned numerous incentive trips to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and other places.

For some reason, though, when I became a full-time copywriter in 2009, I didn’t hear anything about this concept.

Experts told me to find my niche, go after “dream clients” in that niche, and network with people I knew.

Nobody ever told me to develop a big prospect list. When I’d ask other copywriters about theirs, it was usually a list of 10-30 or so businesses that they wanted to write for.

Big mistake.

Why you need a big prospect list

1. You’ll be more productive

When you have 371 (or whatever number it is) prospects to try to connect with, you’re going to work with a serious sense of urgency. You’ll be uncomfortable if you don’t work hard every day.

2. You can “sift and sort” instead of selling with pressure

If you’re anything like me, you don’t like high-pressure selling, do you? Yet that’s exactly what we’re doing if we only have a few dozen people on our prospect list.

You may not realize it, but prospects can sense when you’re hungry for their business.

It actually repels people. That results in responses like “we’ll get back to you” (yeah, right), or “why don’t you send a proposal over and we’ll take a look at it” (and…then what?).

When we have a large number of people to connect with, however, it takes all the pressure off. We know that if we don’t get this one, there’s plenty more.

You can say things like, “If we’re a good match for each other, I’d be able to start in four weeks. Would that be soon enough for this first project?”

3. You’re in control

With a large number of prospects, and this “sifting and sorting” process of figuring out who’s a good match for your services, the positioning is much better.

You’re putting them in your system, versus reacting to random inquiries where they tend to have the upper hand.

4. You can get ahead

When you’re connecting with a lot of people from your big list, you can finally start booking your schedule a month or two (or more) in advance. No more of this week-to-week or month-to-month stuff.

It positions you as much more of a professional when you say, “I’m currently scheduling for the end of next month. Does that line up with your objectives for this campaign?”

Bottom line: a large prospect list drives your business.

You’ll start treating your business like a sales business, which it is.

Instead of putting pressure on prospects, you’ll put the pressure on your work ethic, your systems, and your list.

You’ll no longer rely on chance occurrences, random networking, or sporadic inquiries.

So how big is big enough? Next time I’ll go over how big it should be, and how to develop a prospect list.

For now, one takeaway:

Build a big prospect list, which will feed your email list, which will create a short list, which will fuel list #4…a victory list.

And then you can start on a fifth list: a reward list.

Stay tuned for future posts. I’ll explain all five.

Everyone has a different opinion on this idea of having a big prospect list, so I’d like to hear from you.

Do you have one? If so, how big is it? How often do you update it? And has it helped? If you don’t currently have a prospect list, are you open to creating one? Tell me and our readers here.

Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (33 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers create profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and live, in-person business-building workshops. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

More posts by Steve Roller

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Ed Estlow says:

    Steve, do you further break down the Prospect list into “Suspects” and “Prospects”? (Suspects being those you have not yet qualified at all, beyond their being members of a target market of yours.)

    Or perhaps that’s the distinction between your Prospect list and your E-mail list?

    Also, will you be covering your detailed process for working with your Prospect list?

    Thanks! Keep up the great work!

    • Steve Roller says:


      I’ve heard those terms and used them in sales, but I don’t in my copywriting business. For me, as long as they’re on my email list they’re a “suspect,” if they ever unsubscribe, they’re not.

      My “short list” is what I’d consider my hot prospects. I’ll try to connect in extra ways with them – send them an article related to their business, maybe a book, try to arrange a third-party introduction, that kind of thing.

      I will be going into detail about my process for working with my prospect list, yes.

      Thanks for reading.

  • Jen Phillips April says:

    Thanks Steve. Great stuff as usual. I did a snail mail campaign last fall to a list of around 200. Got a couple of inquiries and landed a solid gig with a nice size client.

    I also learned a lot and refined my “ideal client” from this process which was just as valuable as actually landing the project.

    Thanks for your help.

  • aliciajoy says:

    This is great, Steve. Thank you for sharing. It’s such a simple concept, yet I can see how well it would work.

    I’m starting my lists. Today!

  • Rose Dallas says:

    ••• Great Post Steve and I truly enjoyed reading and will re-read and take a couple key notes. Sincerely appreciate the “Take-Away”. I laughed as I read that take-away. I personally love to make lists for my Direct Sales Business. I’m currently growing my email list by adding 70 new Prospects a day. Again I appreciate your System and I will copy it. 🙂 •••

  • The idea of a PROSPECT LIST crossed my mind once, but was never executed. Maybe it’s because of relying comfortably and lazily on a steady flow of monthly income from agency. Thanks for sharing this.
    These 4 mean a lot to me:

    which feeds an EMAIL LIST
    creating a SHORT LIST
    to fuel a VICTORY LIST!!

    Awesome Steve. Great Teacher.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Maxwell. It almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? How can that work? It does, and it gives you a plan to work from.

      Best wishes. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

Leave a Reply