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Forget about remembering the Alamo. Your battle cry should be, "Remember the IP!" Even if you did work for a client, or a prospect showed an interest in your services, unless you occasionally remind them of your existence, you're likely to be the last thing on their nine-to-five-besotted minds.
The best way to keep your smiling face in front of your prospects and clients may be with that antiquated institution, the post office. So set a schedule -- every one or two months is ideal -- and set up your marketing database to spit out stick-on labels for these suggested mailings.
Holiday cards are fraught with landmines! Simply fraught!
First of all, you may be tempted to send Christmas cards to your clients. This is a nice thought, except for the fact that the majority of people on the planet don't know Santa from a hole in the ground. I send non-denominational, angel-free, non-reindeer holiday cards to clients and editors I've worked with over the year to thank them for their business and wish them the best in the new year. It takes a bit of searching, but you can always find a card that depicts multi-racial kids holding hands around the globe and a nice, inoffensive message about world peace on the inside.
Here's a tip for frugal (i.e., tightwad) well-wishers: buy your holiday cards in January, when you can typically get them for half price. I do this myself.
Some IPs like to stand out from the hordes of December card-senders by mailing cards for traditionally non-card holidays like Thanksgiving. IP PR master Jane Dvorak, for example, often sends her clients St. Patrick's Day cards (and has even, on occasion, had them delivered by a leprechaun). However, this tactic may look to your clients like well, a tactic. Unless you play your cards right, the client will see your non-traditional card as just a way to get in his face while all the other IPs in the world are sitting on their Christmas laurels. Be sure that if you send non-traditional holiday cards, it's because the holiday really means something to you and that you truly want to wish your clients well. Dvorak has been hosting a St. Patrick's Day party for friends, family, clients, and vendors for 17 years, so no one's likely to view her St. Patrick's Day cards as a marketing gimmick.
What do your clients think of you? Are you sure? Are you really sure? I didn't think so.
Evaluation forms serve a dual purpose: they remind the client that you're still alive, and they let you find out where you can improve your service. (Yes, as unbelievable as it may sound, there's always room for improvement.) Just make up an evaluation form and send it to clients after you've completed a project for them. And be sure to invite comments good and bad. No fair asking your clients to rate your services as "(a) wonderful, (b) drop-dead spectacular, or (c) orgasmic." And just make sure you can take the criticism gracefully.
News Clippings and Articles
Seen an article in the business section about your client going belly-up? Hire a collection agency. Seen an article about a client or prospect moving to a new location, hiring employees, winning an award? Clip and send, baby.
Sending prospects news clippings about their companies shows that you care about their industry, that you're interested in their business, and that you can read. Spend a few minutes each day perusing the business section of the nearest major newspaper, and you'll turn up lots of things to send your prospects. And don't forget to pass along your own articles -- a how-to business article with your byline on it lends you a good dose of credibility.
What better way to keep in touch with your clients and prospects on a regular basis than to send them something month after month after month, for the rest of their lives? If you want to get slapped with a restraining order, you can send gooey love letters. If you want to get assignments, make it a newsletter. Just be sure that if you start a newsletter, you can stick with it -- forever. I was cocksure when I started a marketing newsletter that I'd be able to whip one out every other month -- but lo and behold, a year later my attitude changed. I was too busy with paying work to bother writing up some freebie newsletter for prospects who were too cheap to pay for my advice, gosh darn it.
Think your job is done once you've sent the invoice? Not quite. Now is when you send a thank-you note to let the client know that you love and cherish him, and look forward to the day when you can be together always. It's polite, and it's a gentle reminder that you exist.
Well, fellow 1099 columnist Nancy Austin and I got into a knock-down, drag-out cat fight over this one, so you'll have to decide for yourself whether your line of work, your client base and your cheese tolerance level suit you for the sending of premiums. A mug or some candy might make a nice thank-you gift for a client who'd unloaded a lot of cash on you, while little things like imprinted pens or sticky notes might make a good "Hey, remember me?" mailing to prospects and old clients.
Give It Up
It's a sad fact of life -- some clients and prospects will simply bask in your attention, knowing deep down that they'll never return the favor with paid work. How do you tell the difference between the prospect who's on the very verge of hiring you and needs but one more newsletter to help make up her mind -- and the prospect who's dead in the water, who has no money, and who wouldn't spend it on your fine services even if she did?
Most IPs give up if they haven't received feedback from a prospect in, say, six months. Former clients deserve a little more time. "I've had several prospects that I have stayed in touch with -- checking in on them, even occasionally giving them a free PR opportunity to get them excited," says solo PR practitioner Michele Brownstein. "But I've learned that after several months, it's best to let go, unless I really want the client and know that they would be great for my business. But generally speaking, the ones who have strung me along probably wouldn't be good clients -- they're looking for 'free advice.'"
So stock up on stamps and be nice to ye olde postman -- because he's the guy who'll keep you in touch with your prospects and clients.
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