Following up with potential clients or referrals is one of the most important marketing tasks for any (creative) business.
It doesn’t get as much attention as networking (for many it is far more exciting to focus on attracting new contacts and gathering more and more business cards), but following up is an essential step to build a relationship and move your connections further up the sales ladder. (You can read here more about the 4 essential stages in the selling process.)
If you don’t follow up with people you meet (at networking events, trade shows, fairs, …) then you are wasting your time, energy, money and effort that you put into meeting them in the first place! You will be having a lot of ‘dates’ but very little will develop beyond the first stage.
OK, it might happen that somebody calls you ‘out of the blue’ 3 years after meeting you at an event, but if they only met you once briefly then it is more likely that they have forgotten about you within a week of meeting you (and who can blame them? Be honest here … You are probably exactly the same!)
They got to ‘know’ you a little, now YOU need to work on building the ‘like’ and ‘trust’.
(Remember our marketing mantra?
People only buy from people they know, like and trust.)
Don’t assume that ‘they will call me when they need me, they got my card’. Your card is probably lurking in their hand bag …
Many non-marketeers worry that they become a nuisance or come across as desperate when they get in touch with potential clients. They might send one email to a very important potential trade client, and if they don’t hear anything they give up (all together).
The reality is that your important client might be a very busy person with an overflowing inbox, or you got the wrong email address or they are just a human being with too much to do and who doesn’t has the time to respond to emails of strangers …
You need to follow up!
Potentially in different ways by email and phone.
And build your profile and credibility in general to become more recogniseable in the first place, so that they will open your email (the first big hurdle in the process).
What is for you a very important email, might have been missed completely by your potential client, or might be sitting in their ‘to follow up’ list for weeks.
The truth is that if you approach a potential client in a professional, personal and timely manner, with something that genuinely might be of interest, you will NEVER be a nuisance!
If you send a short and professional intro email to the right person (no spelling mistakes, and definitely no ‘Dear Sirs’!), at the right time (so not just before major events) with either a specific request or question or with something that’s of interest to them, then they are far more likely to respond.
If you are sending irrelevant info or send info too often, then it becomes a nuisance.
So, here are our 15 top actions to follow up without becoming a nuisance:
1. Have always something to invite people to
In general, people don’t like to be sold to, but they love an invite! (This is one of my favourite marketing tips ever! – provided by Michael Port in his popular book Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even If You Hate Marketing and Selling)
That’s why it is so important to regularly (throughout the year) to organise or take part in an event, presentation, product launch, trade show, craft fair, Open Studio, Art Trail, talk, workshop etc. I suggest that you have 3-4 events throughout the year. You can find more tips for last minute marketing for your upcoming event here.
These events obviously increase your profile and selling opportunities, but they also will keep you in the minds of the people on your ever growing database (even if they are not able to attend, they will be reminded of you and your work, and will see your progress).
So, send an (email) invite to everybody on your database, and to your top priority contacts send a highly personalised invite to see you and your work.
2. Follow up immediately after an event
When you get a business card at a trade show, networking event, workshop or wedding (yes, these are often good for networking opportunities!) make sure that you make a little note at the back of it with details of the enquiry. When you are getting loads of business cards at once you will be surprised how easy it is to mix people up!
Get in touch within 2-3 days after the event is finished (probably by email but could be phone too) and make sure that the subject line and first line of your email refers to your meeting and their specific enquiry e.g. ‘follow up from Top Drawer’ or ‘Thank you for your visit to 100% Design’.
Then explain (in general terms) how you might be able to assist. This might be about introducing your work and how you can work with them, or it might be about solving an issue or challenge, or to introduce somebody to them.
If you don’t hear from them within 1 -2 week(s) follow up with another (very polite!) email saying ‘Just wonder if you saw this email I sent two weeks ago?’, or follow up with a phone call.
Don’t forget that following up quickly after a trade show or selling event is crucial. Many established designer makers tell me that they get the majority of their orders after the event ( and not during the event). Following up in a professional manner (and sometimes given them an incentive such as ‘if you order by 10 February we deliver in time for your Mother’s Day’s period’ or ‘if you order by 1 September you get free p&p’) can make all the difference, and turn a good show into a brilliant one!
3. Follow up with a personalised intro email or letter
The best way is call – email – call: so first call (and get all contact details right, check if they are interested in your work, and let them know you are sending something), then send or email your info, and then to call again (2-3 days later to see if they received it, and to start the relationship).
Are you wondering if you should send an email or letter? Obviously e-mails are one of the most common communication tools in business, but that means that you need to stand out and be very professional.
Many people in business and the media get 100+ emails per day, and often your e-mail might just be sitting in an inbox or spam folder or get deleted. Make sure that you don’t send an email over the weekend or Monday morning or Friday pm as that’s a very busy time and your email might simply get lost.
Give a good indication in the subject line what the email is about.
Add no more than 3 images or attachments, and avoid sending very large documents, in case it would block their email inbox (not the kind of impression you want to leave!).
As people are getting less and less snail mail, sending something interesting and exciting by post might be the best way to get noticed! Use an interesting colour envelope or package, hand-write the address, use lovely paper, include a small sample, and be creative!
Editor Grant Gibson of Crafts Magazine who gets over 100 press releases per day!) mentioned this tip in our Design Trust dialogue interviews (Our Business Club members only can watch this 15min interview here.).
4. Follow up (and hash tags) at a major creative event
What are the major events, conferences or trade shows in your niche? If you are going then these events are great way to reconnect with people! Drop them an email or send them a Linked In message simply saying ‘I am going to x, fancy a coffee and a catch up?’
Or when you are at an event check out the event’s #hashtag on Twitter … A great way to start networking online and follow up (immediately) at the event off line. Just tweet: ‘I am going to #TopDrawer on Monday anybody fancy catching up?’ Increasingly I find people I know at a major event through Twitter # and not my own eyes …
Especially international events are great for following up. For example when I worked as Studio Manager at Studio Levien we would catch up with many international and national contacts over coffee or dinner at the international gift & tableware trade show in Frankfurt.
(Tip: you don’t need to have a stand at a trade show to be able to promote yourself. Very often it’s far easier, more flexible and less expensive to go without a stand, but be well prepared and researched, and book appointments in advance)
When I co-ordinated a group show for New Designers In Business at the Salone de Mobile in Milan we connected with many established UK designers, buyers and press prior and during the show. Often it’s easier to get together overseas then in your own country!
5. Follow up with regular newsletters
Newsletters are becoming increasingly common as a way to stay in touch. People can sign up to your newsletter on your website with a database management provider such as MailChimp, aWeber or Constant Contact.
But what to put in your newsletter? If it is all about you and you wanting to sell you and your work, you will not get that many readers.
Creatives often send a short email invite with some great images about their upcoming trade show or exhibition (see tip number 1!). Or they send info about other news such as a new commission, major project, new retailer or grant or award they have won. Some creatives announce competitions (to win tickets for events or win their work) or discount sales, often linked with Facebook, Twitter and their online shop.
More personal are newsletters that share the ‘designer’s story’ for example with images of work in progress, or insights into how the designer works or their interests e.g. Images of a trip to South India or an exhibition that excited them. These more personal newsletters are often shared through blogging.
Some newsletters are helping or advising the readers/clients with their challenges e.g. A wedding fashion accessories designer can include tips from a photographer and a wedding stationary designer in her newsletter, as well as some upcoming local wedding events, and a recent press article about her own work.
Our Business Club members can watch a very practical webinar with Tamsin Fox-Davies of Constant Contact here about how to use e-newsletter to grow your small creative business, which also include details on how to create a newsletter and what content is great to share as a small creative business.
PLEASE make sure that people on your database have given you permission to get your newsletter. It’s not just irritating to get unwanted newsletters, it’s actually illegal! Email management programmes like MailChimp, Constant Contact and aWeber will ask for this confirmation from people who sign up, which is compliant with the law.
Are you registered with the ICO?
Make sure you have registered your database with the Information Commissioners Office – it is a legal requirement! Did you know that any business that keeps data information is required by law to sign up with the data protection register? This is to ensure that they know where to find you when somebody complains about spamming and to ensure that you keep your data safe and protected.
6. Warm calling
Do you hate the idea of ‘cold calling’? Me too, and so do most people!
But instead of phoning somebody you know, what about calling them if you know that they are already interested in your work? That’s ‘warm’ calling!
When you call there are only two purposes – to find out that:
- They are indeed interested in what you have got to offer?
- What is the best next step? E.g. An intro presentation on the line there and then, a pre-arranged call in the near future, a meeting or presentation?
7. Give professional introductions & referrals (and get some yourself too)
A great way to stay in touch is to connect people, or to refer people to others if you aren’t a good fit. Have a look through your database and see if there are two people that should be connected with each other, and do an introduction.
If you introduce people to each other, then they very often will start to do the same for you. And if you know and communicate what your niche is then it becomes far easier to refer people to others or to be referred.
I fairly often write and get short emails headed ‘introduction’, with the name of somebody, what they do, what they are looking for, and same info about me, and then the suggestion that we might be interested in connecting. That makes the referrer look good, and indeed, introducing and referring others is a great way to get more referrals yourself too!
8. Regular tweeting with a stand-out avatar
Twitter is a great way to stay in touch. You can reach a wide range of followers in a pretty low key way.
People and businesses that are out there tweeting on a regular basis, with interesting ideas or images, who share knowledge and news, and RT or comment intelligently, will get noticed.
And with a good, easily recogniseable picture and name, I just might spot you in my time line and remember that I need to be in touch with you about something. (This happens very frequently to me to be honest!)
9. Stay in touch with ex-clients (and ex-colleagues too!)
Get in touch again with previous clients to keep them up to date with what you are working on. People who have purchased from you in the past are far more likely to buy or commission from you again. And also they are great ambassadors for your work, and can refer you to their friends and colleagues.
Especially with trade clients (think Marketing Managers, buyers etc) it is very important to stay in touch, as they move often from company to company, potentially doubling the companies you can work for! A great way to follow them or stay in touch with them is through Linked In, and to connect with them or get their referrals or endorsements.
Send past clients a personal invite for your exhibition, or invite them ‘for a coffee’. You can send them a personal birthday or Christmas card. Or when you are working on updating your portfolio or website ask their permission to be mentioned as a client. You also might want to arrange for additional images of the work you did for them (even years ago), or ask for a testimonial for your site. All of these are great ways to get back in touch.
I recently worked with a furniture designer maker who hadn’t stayed in touch with his ex-clients for a couple of years. I worked with him on updating his websites and to generate more new commissions. When he got back in touch with his previous clients to photograph his work in situ and for recommendations, one of his ex-clients offered him a new commission and another one referred him to a friend who then commissioned him!
10. Keep in touch with your ‘teachers’
Think about people who have contributed (significantly) to your success so far (e.g. Ex-tutors, mentors, business advisers), and get in touch with them to say a specific ‘thank you’ but also to keep them up to date with what you are up to.
This isn’t big-headed! Rather the contrary, as most ‘teachers’ love to hear about your progress as they contributed to your success in the first place. Don’t expect anything in return immediately, but they might remember you for speaker engagements or refer you for other opportunities.
11. Keep in touch with ‘connectors’
There are certain people you might know that are natural connectors e.g. Business advisers, journalists, PR agents, your ex-tutors, galleries, accountants – people who seem to know a lot of people in your field.
If you work or have worked with them, then do stay in touch. They love to hear what you do, so be specific about your niche, and give them the latest news of your new website or product launch. Networking and connecting people is (part of) their livelihood!
Even better is to ‘invite them for a coffee’ or meet at a major trade show or event (see above) to catch up and update them in person on what you are working on or what opportunities you are looking for.
12. ‘I saw this and thought of you’
This is a great one! If you are reading an interesting article, blog or post, or you went to an exhibition or trade show, then think about sharing that with somebody. If you do this in a genuine way, it’s a great and very personal way to get in touch with people again.
I do this regularly and people often find it really helpful.
13. Take your tweets off Twitter
Started an interesting connection with somebody potentially important on Twitter and nothing came from it?
Next time ask open questions to keep the Twitter conversation going. Then ask publicly or via DM (direct message) for their e-mail and follow up. Refer to your tweet in your subject line and in your first lines of your email to remind them. From email you can move on to a phone conversation and potentially a meeting.
Twitter is a great way to connect and start conversations, but there is only that much you can share in 140 characters!
Through Twitter I met many of our experts and guest bloggers for the first time.
14. Catch up with your Linked In contacts
Once a month or when business is a little slow work on your LinkedIn contact list or half an hour or so. Have a look and see if there are people on there that you should be in touch with.
Just scrolling through my contact list reminds me of people I haven’t been in touch with for a while. I send them a quick email saying ‘How are you?’ with some info on what I am working on or I ‘invite them for a coffee’?
Can you ask them for a more personal recommendation for your Linked In profile? LinkedIn is a professional networking tool so people expect you to use it to get in touch.
15. Creative subscriptions work
One of the most creative ideas for following up I have recently come across was by jewellery business Tatty Devine. They get their clients to sign up for a special subscription whereby the receiver gets every month or so a unique jewellery piece. It’s a great way to help with cash flow, to build a fan base and to be in touch regularly with your clients.