I've lost count of how many solopreneurs and small business owners have told me one of their "missing links" for success is NOT having a system to follow up with potential customers.
They often have that place where they store the business cards they’ve collected, their only-means-of-contact –in a shoe box, an envelope or … a drawer – which only gets opened AFTER the next networking event!
To be honest, I have been guilty of the same behavior. When I was starting out, my overly optimistic mindset was “They have my card so when they are ready, they will let me know!” Or “I don't want to be pushy or sales-ey or, worst of all, I don’t want to look like I NEED their business!”
Over the years that perspective has matured into a more appropriate understanding that when a business card is handed over (with a few of those “call-me-tomorrow-I'm-ready” exceptions), it really just means they are interested in getting to know more about my style, competence and, ultimately, the specifics of what I offer.
Now fast forward to a mere [two/three/six] months ago. I had rebranded to Savvy Office Systems and it was time to announce it to my contacts. I went to my drawer and compiledmy list of roughly one thousand people. But I wasn't sure about the source of some of these contacts,I couldn’t know their point of interest, and I wasn't even sure that I had listed everyone!
It didn't seem professional, let alone consistent with my brand, to take the scatter shot route. Each and every person deserved a message that addressed their objectives –without being generic or watered down.
SO ... I went through the painstaking, time-consuming process of sorting it all out, regrouping the entire list, and updating/clearing it out for those who are not my target market. Then and only then could I craft a meaningful plan to re-establish the relationship (and easily track the progress).
SOME WAYS TO MINE THE “BURIED TREASURE”
First: not everyone who hands you a card expects to be on a mailing list, so incorporate a quick and easy way to ask permission – "I'm launching a newsletter soon, can I include you?" or "I have a nifty PDF on the topic of X - can I include you?"
Second: Call them and touch base.
Here's how to process the cards and then throw them away. Make room in that drawer for the REAL junk.
1. Treat this process like a project:
- You might want to make a reverse-order list of events at which you attended or spoke– it can help to give you context for where you met people.
- Sort through your cards. I have no doubt you will run across a few that make you say "I’ve gotta contact this one!"
- Include the steps below in the project list ...
2. Set up a “consolidation” tool:
- Start with a spreadsheet. It should have (at a minimum) first name, last name and email address (see CRM below for other information). Label the sheet for the event at which you met the contact OR the service/product they might be a good candidate for OR whatever is a meaningful (memorable for you) way to customize your message.
- Pace yourself, if necessary, to do the data entry or – better yet – outsource it! I suggest pacing yourself to spend a little time each day entering the information, instead of planning to do it all at one time. You may end up avoiding it altogether because it seems like a daunting task.
- A spreadsheet can be a stand-alone tracking tool for you if you circle back and update your contact history. At the very least, you will have a snapshot of everyone.
3. Get an email provider account:
Why? Because when you get serious about being in communication with your people, you want to do two things: track their response to your campaigns AND offer them a way to opt out –a legal imperative.
You can go to Trustradius for a review of each of them (as well as just about any other business software choices you have to make ...). The popular, inexpensive options are:
- Mailchimp offers a free service for up to 2,000 contacts and 12,000 emails a month. You can check out the features.
- ConstantContact has a 60-day free trial, but with an immediate price tag of $20/month for 500 or less contacts and the price jumps to $40/month for 500-2500. I suggest you have a real ROI intention if you go for this one; you can check out the features.
- Whatever you choose, as long as you have your spreadsheets set up, you can easily import to a different system –just make sure you delete any opt-outs.
- Plan out some campaigns: draft ideas that are consistent with letting people get to know you, provide educational value related to your offerings and, from time to time, make an offer!
- There is a lot more to say about email campaigns –this is just a jumpstart to get you "out there"!!!
4. MAYBE use a CRM:
Why? Customer Relationship Management software can show all sorts of detail that’s not necessarily available in your email provider service, including a snapshot of all the activity for each person (some do offer this and/or sync with CRM systems).
Also, in being intentional about “making the sale,” it helps to have a paper trail of communications, like being able to make note of specific conversations, scheduling, and being reminded to follow-up.
At this moment I am testing out Hubspot’s free CRM. It seems a little complicated, so I’ll update you on that in a month or so (in the Resources section of my monthly newsletter!).
A great, low cost and user-friendly system is Less Annoying CRM and they have a free trial. Take the tour.
Yes, there is a bit of “heavy lifting” to get this going ... but weigh that against your bank balance. Wouldn't it be great to know you’ve done a thorough job of accounting for all your hard-earned contacts?
A high-tech bit of advice: Stop squirreling away those cards!Schedule your data input after EVERY event, and create a welcome email campaign you can send to your new tribe member.
And finally, if you'd like some help in planning your back office procedures, please consider using Savvy Office Systems!