A thriving network of customers, vendors, and industry peers are essential to small business owners and other professionals. Small business owners with limited resources can reap many rewards from such networks. One reward is the recognition that word of mouth often provides the best leads. Keeping in contact with past customers will facilitate those word of mouth leads. Regular meetings with vendors may also help with leads or business discounts with vendors. For professionals regular contact with associates may open new opportunities or insulate you if changes arise in your current business environment.
How can technology help cultivate those relationships and keep communication channels open?
Commonly and readily available tools such as those provided by Google, Microsoft, or other providers can easily be configured to help you keep your network active. Since Google Calendar, Contacts, and Docs are readily available they will be used in my examples.
First, you need to enter contact information. Google Contacts offers this capability and can be synced with your smartphone. While storing pertinent information such as name, address, email, and phone number consider capturing birth-date (usually a field is offered for this) and other notes. Within the notes, add details of how you met or shared topics of interest. Also add spouse and children names and ages in the note field, over time as your relationship grows be sure to ask about their children’s achievements.
Pertinent contact information and notes may be stored in Google Sheets and/or Docs. Storing such information in Sheets (spreadsheet application) provides the ability to track information in columns for future sorting. A Doc file could be created to jot down any notes related to your previous conversations.
Most integrated Personal Information Management systems such as Google Calendar, Contacts, and Gmail make data available in different views. For example, when entering a birth-date in the Contacts App, a reoccurring entry is automatically created on a birthday list calendar. As your contact’s birthday approaches reach out with a quick call, or even a personalized email to send your wishes.
Second, having contact information recorded and stored is helpful but isn’t actionable. This information needs to dance in front of you at a predetermined time. Besides creating and storing events, Google Calendar can also create tasks and more importantly recurring tasks. This could be done as an event/appointment if your system doesn’t offer a task feature. Use these tools to setup recurring reminders to check-in with chosen contacts. Make a phone call, schedule a coffee meetup, if you can’t meet in person send an email.
Third, setup recurring events on your calendar to time-block in your week for reaching out to your network. During these blocked out periods pick up the phone and call members in your network. Building relationships is still best in-person or on the phone. Text messages or emails can be sent out to setup in-person meetups. Also sending personalized emails that share a relevant blog post or other article will keep the relationship active until you meet in person next.
During these blocked out periods of time review and adjust your spreadsheet if that is your primary contact management method. Within the spreadsheet add a column to indicate your desired contact frequency for each contact. A simple ABC method can be implemented. An A in the column indicates monthly, B quarterly, and C semiannually.
Besides setting up the technology you need to consider the appropriate frequency schedule. Closer contacts should be more frequent, perhaps monthly. Keeping your brand on your contact’s mind should also be considered when choosing a recurrence pattern. How likely are they to refer your business to a friend or associate?
Keeping regular and consistent contact with customers, vendors, and other industry associates will make you a trusted source that people will want to do repeat business with and refer friends. A little time and preparation with your chosen personal information management system will pay off in dividends later.