by Jeff Zbar
Updated 11 months ago
A former housewife who entered the business world late in life, Smith knew her shy demeanor wouldn't win her customers. Keen to overcome her introverted ways, Smith joined the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce and Business Network International, a professional networking group. Both groups helped her to rub elbows with prospects -- and bring her out of her shell.
From 7:30 breakfasts to after-hours receptions, she hit the circuit. She worked up the courage and character to become a central player in those organizations. She's been named to Leadership Tallahassee -- a group of 40 top professionals in the city. And today her firm has five staffers and a stable of trusted clients.
"The personal networking was an acquired effort," says Smith, president of Technology Services Group, a Tallahassee-based computing and network support firm for small professional offices such as law firms and associations. "I said to myself, 'I've got to do it. I've got to suck it up.' "
Between chamber and business groups and associations, small businesses can boost their visibility and contacts just through building allies.
Yet more than leaving these meetings with a stack of business cards, Smith seeks to develop strong bonds with the prospects. She gets to know them during the networking event and promises a specific task in the coming days. That could be as simple as a solution to a computer problem or a formal proposal for work. Once back at the office, each lead is entered into Novell GroupWise, the firm's contact manager software. And Smith follows up on the action -- and the lead.
Smith, her partners and employees each work closely with existing clients to build relationships, personifying the company and fostering referrals.
When contacts go stale -- as some invariably do -- Smith will send out a postcard "reintroducing" the client and the TSG engineer. A recent mailing of 150 cards yielded five contracts, she says.
Smart move, says Karen Fredricks, president of Tech Benders, a Pompano Beach-based consultancy focusing on using Act! contact management software to improve business relationships. It's cheaper to keep a client you have than to find a new one, Fredricks says.
Use What You've Got
New business prospecting sometimes is about capitalizing on the leads you already have, says Karen Fredricks, president of Tech Benders, a Pompano Beach-based consultancy.
No matter what contact manager software you use, simple strategies can keep you in touch with clients and prospects. Use a business card scanner or type in the information from those business cards you grabbed at the chamber meeting. And set reminders in the database to tickle you to call on contacts. Among other tips:
Pay attention. Really listen to what your contact says and keep notes from every conversation, Fredricks says. This will help you to deliver on promises made.
Fill out the fields. Most contact management software has fields for the contact's assistant, cell phone number, spouse's name or even the contact's date of birth. Noting this information helps build that relationship. "People buy from friends," Fredricks says.
Revisit your database. Stale information is worthless. Frequently revisit the contacts in your database, and call on them. After all, Fredricks says, it takes 12 "hits" -- calls, correspondence or e-mails -- to convert a cold prospect into a customer.