A Pocket Full of Business Cards

Meeting new people in person is still one of the best ways to market your services. If you do a good job at this, you will quickly end up with a desk drawer filled with business cards. But then what do you do with them?

Timely and consistent follow-up is the key to successful marketing. Meeting someone once is rarely enough to bring you business — repeated contacts are what do the trick. You always want to follow up with prospective customers, of course, but you should also follow up with potential referral sources.

A good referral source is someone who interacts with your desired customers on a regular basis. For example, as a business coach who works with many start-ups, I look for referrals from career counselors and people who teach small business classes.

There are three avenues you might choose to follow up with people you have met: by phone, by mail, or in person. Let’s look at the uses of each one.

With prospective customers, you can phone them to see how interested they are in what you do and try to set up a meeting. The meeting might be in person or by phone, depending on the nature of your business. You can mail them a marketing letter, or a brochure with a personal note. You could also call or write to refer them to your web site or invite them to your next presentation.

The most effective way to contact prospects is usually call-mail-call. Call first to develop interest, and if you can’t reach them to set up a meeting on the first try, send them something by mail or e-mail. Then call again to see if they are ready to take the next step.

If someone is a potential referral source rather than a prospect, your best approach is to establish a reciprocal relationship. You might call to begin getting acquainted, exchange information about yourselves by mail, or arrange to meet in person to find out more about each other’s work.

It is completely appropriate to call another business person you have met and say, “I think we might be serving the same type of customers; could we get to know each other better so maybe we could exchange referrals?” Another easy and friendly way to follow up with anyone you meet is to send a handwritten “nice to meet you” note with only your card enclosed.

Be careful when making contact by fax or e-mail. Many people are offended by faxes or e-mail messages that are essentially generic marketing letters. It’s more advisable to use these media as tools to communicate more personally with people you have already opened a dialogue with.

After your initial contact, think of ways to keep in touch on a regular basis. Call to see how people are doing, or to tell them what’s new with you. Send a note with a clipping or cartoon, or email a link to an interesting web site. Don’t forward email jokes or inspirational stories, though, unless you know for sure the recipient will appreciate them.

To follow up in person, schedule lunch or coffee, or invite your contacts to an upcoming event you plan to attend. Once you have a large follow-up list, consider a regular newsletter, ezine, or postcard mailing.

To manage your follow-up activities, you need a contact management system. When your list is short, you can use contact sheets in a notebook, or 3 x 5 cards. You will quickly outgrow a manual system, however. By the time you reach 200 contacts or so, you’ll be ready to graduate to a computerized system designed for contact management, such as Microsoft Outlook or ACT! 2000.

However you choose to keep track of your contacts, the important thing is to stay organized. Always have one central place where you record who you meet, what contact you have had so far, and when it will be time to follow up next.

If a business card you have collected doesn’t belong to a prospective customer or referral source, throw it away. There’s no point in keeping the card of someone you don’t plan to follow up with.

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