In a perfect world, there are certain people that you want to stay close to. Your spouse or partner. Your accountant. Richard Branson. (Because he can buy you lots of cool swag and because he owns a tropical island) Alyssa Milano, Brooke Burke, Shania Twain, Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Shue AND your clients. Yes, I love women AND we are operating within a perfect world so why not hang with Richard Branson? I also love my clients and this is the point of this article. I digress… Let’s get back to the real world.

In the world of business, there is one thing that you need to do and that’s make sales, but more importantly you need to keep your existing clients once you have them Your existing client base can be a revenue generator on many levels and can sometimes generate more than you can adequately handle. It’s a nice problem to have so let’s look at 5 ways that we can stay “top-of-mind” with our clients and sell more.

1. Ring-em, Buzz-em, or reach out and touch-em: Whatever you do, don’t “abracadabra, reach out and grab-em“. The first on the list is the most obvious but sadly, it’s NOT the most used. (Myself included) There is nothing more effective when trying to stay in contact with your clients and customers than to pick up the phone on a quarterly basis and just say “hi”. If you have hundreds of clients then pick the top 20 or 30 and do your best to show them the love. Call them, chat, pick their brain and take them out for some sushi and beer. It’ll do wonders for your relationship and cement them in for years to come as a trusted and devoted client. Staying in touch will also allow them to pick your brain on new initiatives, suggest referrals and it will allow you an open opportunity to upsell your services and turn that client or customer into an ongoing source of revenue.

2. Get them on the hit list! I’m not talking about hiring Tony Soprano to do a drive by or take them down to the meat market and twist they’re ankles. What you need to do is implement a permission marketing system. This can be a weekly or monthly advice column, special offer notices or targeted, personalized company news that allows you to stay in front of your clients on a regular basis. Nothing is more affordable and simple than implementing a system to send information to your clients and potential clients. The best part is, they’ve given you permission to send it! Just make sure that you DON’T abuse the relationship. Studies have shown that the more frequent a newsletter shows up in a customers inbox, the lower the open rate. Make it special. Make it timely. Make sure you send it when you really have something to say or offer. If you abuse the relationship enough, they’ll just unsubscribe and that will be the end of your opportunities.

3. Remember the U.S. postal service. Due to government postal regulations, postcards were a long time in developing. Prior to postcards came the lithograph print, woodcuts and broadsides. The direct ancestor seems to be the envelopes printed with pictures on them. The first postal type card in this country was a privately printed card copyrighted in 1861 by J.P. Carlton. This copyright was later transferred to H.L. Lipman. The “Lipman Postal Cards”, as we now call them, were on sale until replaced in 1873 by the U.S. Government Postals.

My point here is that a lot of time and effort has gone into allowing you to write a quick message on the back of a piece of cardboard and send it anywhere in the country for a few cents. Use this opportunity to write a personal note to your clients and thank them for their continued business and to stay top-of-mind. Even better, design a postcard that they will want to keep next to their desk and one that reminds them of you! Postcards are cheap to send and even cheaper to print. They’re personal and they have the ability to prompt a client to pick up the phone and call you! If they don’ call you, it gives you the open door to follow up with a call of your own. What more could you ask for? Send them to thank clients for meetings, to tell them about new services, to ask them out to lunch or just for the heck of it. It only takes a few minutes to write a quick note, stick a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox. I guarantee you’ll see results.

4. Lock yourself in the secret chamber! For those of us who type on a keyboard on a daily basis, it can sometimes be hard to go out and be social. I love to be social but I have to be in the right mood and I really have to try hard to make a date when I don’t HAVE to be at an event. That said, if you own a business and you can capitalize on your fellow local business opportunities, there is no better way than to get out there and go to chamber functions. You’ll meet new people and more importantly, you’ll get a free opportunity to sip beers and eat fatty foods with your current local customers. It’s easy to join, it’s affordable to join and there are a lot of perks to being a member. Just do it.

5. Information is king. I do a lot of reading and I come across a vast array of information on a daily basis covering many topics and industries. Whenever possible, try to think of your client base and send them an article that might benefit their business. More importantly, it will show that you care and that you’re thinking about the success of their business. Make sure you have an opportunity to type a quick note as to why you’re sending the message and use it as an opportunity to get a meeting – or better yet, use it as an opportunity to upsell your products during that meeting. Articles with statistics, professional advice and industry news and happenings that support the need for your products and services are a great way to take a potential client or an existing client to the next level or simply to stay top-of-mind when the need arises in the future.

I hope this list has helped you a little. I almost guarantee that if you start using these 5 ideas today that you’ll surely find yourself engaged with the most loyal clients and customers around.

Inspired by Instigator Blog’s Blog About 5 Things Week

Be flexible

October 2, 2006

In direct opposition to my post on Friday I want to offer up a small tidbit of advice. Whenever possible, try to be flexible and it just might turn out to make your life easier and the sale or proposition easier to swallow. Let me explain.

If you remember, my partner is tight with money. I was on a mission to sell him on the idea that we should purchase fairly expensive business cards in an effort to create a fairly high end image. I believe everything that I said still holds true, but we have to ask ourselves, “Is there an easier way that just might work just as well?”.

The answer turned out to be “yes”. With a little creativity, I started to look at ways to reduce the cost of our business cards without sacrificing quality. I found out that the reason the cards were going to be so expensive was because of the colors on the logo. For technical reasons it was going to cause the printer a lot of time and trouble and they would have to use higher quality print plates to pull off my design. So, I started to look at my options.

What I decided to do was simplify the logo colors a bit. By doing this I was able to cut $150 off our total bill. And guess what? My partner agreed immediately to printing the cards the way I wanted.

Moral of the story? Look for ways to be flexible without completely compromising what you want. It just might make your life a whole lot easier.

Quote of the day: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

   

Albert Einstein

Have you ever wanted to take your business writing to the next level or just get down and dirty with a great intro course in journalism? God knows that I need the help! A lot of web “bloggers” have never spent a minute in a journalism classroom and the only thing they remember about English is left over from their time spent sleeping through highschool or college English 101 class with a hangover. Honestly, there are a lot that just don’t need help too. But if you’d like the opportunity, I found some great course offerings online for FREE and you can still sign up for spots before the fall deadlines. The school is the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism and the courses include:

Intermediate Business Journalism
Oct. 16 -20

Covering Private Companies
Oct. 30 – Nov. 3

Advanced Business Section Design
Nov. 11 – 17

Business Writing
Dec. 4 – 8

Business Journalism Boot Camp
Dec. 11 – 15

What I’ve come to learn over the years is that you need to plan when dealing with people. If you want the results of a meeting or decision to go your way, you need to think straight through to your desired conclusion, anticipate hurdles, frame your argument and put a plan in place to get to your desired result.

I’m telling you this because I haven’t addressed the money issue yet with my partner. I need a plan. I don’t even have business cards designed yet. Plus I’m extremely busy with other things so rushing into a heated discussion before I’m ready is probably not the best thing to do. Anyway, he could still come around before I even bring it up. Slim chance but at this point, time is on my side.  It’s Friday and I have the weekend to think through the scenarios and figure out how to get to my desired outcome. This should also give me some time to work up some designs and use them to broach the subject.

I realize that my problem is a small one. That doesn’t matter. We could be talking about closing a million dollar deal or deciding who is going to go pick up office supplies. If you want the tide to flow with you and your desired outcome you need to have a plan and have the facts on your side.

Regarding my outcome, my desired goal is to be able to purchase my ideal business cards. First, I need to look up pricing data and compare what I want vs. what I expect my partner to want. I’m expecting him to choose a cheaper set of business cards and save $150 so I need to have a fairly firm grasp on pricing options. That price should consider time, taxes, shipping, turn-around time and quality.

Next, I need data on my thought process. Why does my company image matter? Why should we spend an extra $150 on our image?

Thirdly, I need to determine if there are technical reasons why we need to go my route. These are reasons that demand going with a service provider and a higher quality product because it just can’t be done any other way.

And lastly, you need some general trump cards and you need to plan how to present them. For example, I am the creative person, he is technical. I know more about these things and it should be my decision. Second, the printer that gave me the quote for the higher priced cards is a friend from our local chamber. It’s an investment in a relationship and will surely pay off in the future. Lastly, you can focus on the real value vs. the money. Is $150 more for business cards really worth fighting about? Is it even worth the time talking since our time is normally billed at $100 an hour each? Make the time vs. money argument if you can and it might turn things in your favor.

A powerful tool is finding a way to frame the debate so your opponents opinion looks like it doesn’t make sense. You can use this framing technique in any aspect of your business relationships. It can explain away objections to your service, actions, price and many other areas that affect sales and relationships. Knowing how to frame your argument is a very powerful tool if you can learn to do it right.

Anyway, I am going to take the weekend, plan my attack and get all my materials together – as well as my business card design suggestions. Then, when all is ready and I have my argument framed properly, then I’ll call my partner and address it with him unless he brings it up first.

In closing (and on a separate subject) I’d like to close with a quote. It’s a very simple quote, yet one that sums up a lot of what I’m trying to do with this site. As I work through my problems here, I’m trying to think through my plans and strategies so I can poke holes in my path to success and get to my desired goals. To run a successful business you need to be a leader. You need to lead the company, your employees and lead your competition, in the sense that you’re always one step ahead of them. We’ll talk a lot more about leadership in the near future.
Have a good weekend.

In simplest terms, a leader is one who knows where he wants to go, and gets up, and goes.” John Erskine

   

Yesterday I mentioned that my partner and I are dealing with money issues. Just like any relationship or partnership, money weighs heavy on your ability to remain civil. My partner makes it extra hard because he’s obsessed with money. He’s as tight as a sixteen year old on a first date and he’s aggressive about holding on to every last penny.

So of course, yesterday, when I approached the subject of getting new business cards for our operations, he didn’t respond to my email. The reason for my concern is that I’ve suggested that we order some really nice business cards that will run us about $360 for both of us. They are really nice and should convey a nice message of quality when you hand one to a potential client.

Now, in my mind, $360 is worth the investment. I firmly believe that a first impression goes a long way when trying to make sales and you need every bit of ammo on your side when running your business. High quality, heavy weight business cards are a necessary first step. I always laugh when someone hands me a card that you know was printed on their home printer. It just shows that they’re not successful enough or serious enough to invest money in this necessary first step.

So, back to my partner. I have a feeling that since he did not respond to my email that he’s not too hip on spending the money. He’d rather get the cheap, glossy cards that you can pick up for about $200 at the bulk printer and save us $150. I could be wrong and I’ll be sure to let you know IF I am wrong. I just have a feeling.

So, how do you handle this? Well, my first thought is to fire off an email this morning and say “wtf” man!? Did you not get my email asking your opinion about the business cards? This is a necessary first step to ramping up our sales effort for 2007 and we just wasted another friggin’ day!

Well, as you can guess, this is not the way to handle it. It’s the easiest way to handle it but obviously not the best. I’m going to get on the phone today and discuss it with him because he’s more apt to back down and go down the correct path if confronted directly. My point is this (and I’ve made this mistake 1000 times). NEVER fire off an email when you need to confront someone directly in business. Do it on the phone or in person. (Instant messenger DOES NOT COUNT!) Nothing good can come from a confrontation via email. Learn this lesson early as you work through your business dealings. Always remember it. Have the balls to pick up the phone and talk through issues like adults. The outcome will always be better than trying to interpret an email. Plus, I believe people are less likely to stand up to you if confronted directly. It’s much easier to get cocky via the keyboard.

Now, just for laughs, here’s a totally stupid video that sums up the saying “Nothing good can come from it.” This is just a little less productive than dealing with confrontations via email. Enjoy.

Dropping a 50 pound ball of silly putty from a building

U.S tech jobs grow in 2006!

September 27, 2006

Quick business news note: The U.S. high-technology industry added more than 140,000 jobs during the first half of this year, nearly doubling the growth during the same period a year ago, according to a report released today. The sector employed 5.8 million people as of this June, the largest number since 2002, said the analysis by the American Electronics Association.

It’s all about the cash flow

September 27, 2006

Making sure that you have enough money when running your business is always a struggle. I’m not talking about the money you pay yourself with, buy kids toys and groceries with. I’m talking about the money you need to effectively compete, sell, promote and grow your business. My partner and I are always at odds about this because he’s obsessed with running the company as close to the black as possible. Doing this makes it very hard to pay yourself and pull money from the pot when you need materials to make money. For us, the old saying “It takes money to make money” really holds true.

So, what to do? During our first year we just used a credit card. At one point our credit card bill was over $17,000. Fortunately we have been blessed to pay ourselves and pay that down completely. So, we’re debt free again. Now, at this point we’re regrouping and planning for the next 12 months and 2007. We need money.

So what are our options? My partner wants to go after investors. Personally, I don’t think we need investors because I don’t want to lose control and second, I think with the same amount of effort in sales we can come out better in the end. Neither of us has the experience, connections or personality to woo investors into bed on top of it all, so I’m suggesting that we look at other avenues. I just firmly believe that going after investors is going to be a serious time suck and we need to move forward and ramp for 2007 ASAP.

So, here’s whats left. 1) rob a bank 2) take out a loan 3) charge it and agree on a 6-12 month payback schedule 4) borrow the money from friends or family 5) Kick in a personal investment by the partners and we agree on interest and a 12 month payback. that might be another option to keep all money in our pockets but I don’t believe that I’ll have the money and my partner is obsessed with his own money and I don’t think he’ll be willing to go this route. If at all possible I’ve read that you should NEVER use your own money to run your business. NEVER. So this will probably be our last option.

I think we need a MINIMUM ($4-5k) to have a decent sales effort and go to one trade show convention.

1) A nice tradeshow display ($600-$1000)
2) Tradeshow, travel, food, hotel, etc. ($500-$1000)
3) Kick ass brochures ($1200)
7) Demo Equipment ($2000?)

To have the ultimate presence for 2007 I think we need about ($10-$12k) to have an impact.

1) A nice tradeshow display ($600-$1000)
2) Money to go to multiple tradeshows, travel, food, hotel, etc. ($3000?)
3) Kick ass brochures ($1200)
4) DVD’s ($2200)
5) Biz cards ($200)
6) Misc Travel ($1000?)
7) Demo equipment ($2000?)

So, what do we do? Since we’re debt free I like the idea of just charging what we need for the year. Our prospects and potential for this year are going to return a lot more than what it’s going to take to pay this debt down and we had no problem paying down our debt this year. I firmly believe that every dollar you invest in marketing is easily returned 10 fold if you play your cards right. So I have no problem just getting what we need ASAP with a credit card and moving forward to kick some ass as soon as possible. The good thing about our business model is that once we make a sale, the money comes back every year. So we’re in a good position. (More on good business models in the future)

Having a partner complicates things though. I’ll go into this more in the future too. In the end, we both have to agree on a plan and how we spend our money and it’s never an easy battle.

At this point I’m ready to get my sales materials and start making sales. But I feel a battle coming on with my partner. We’ll be addressing our plan over the next couple weeks and I’ll be sure to document all the fireworks right here.

Have a good one!