A year after the Great Recession reared its ugly head, my biggest account of nearly three years terminated our contract. At the time, I was the head of news, principal feature writer and editor-at-large for IDG’s second-largest media property.
During my tenure, I managed a small team of remote reporters, oversaw the production of thousands of stories and grew web traffic by 15% in a saturated market. But it wasn’t enough to save my job. When the going got tough (i.e. when the print business failed to transition to digital in time), I was an easy person to let go, despite my page view gains.
One reason: I only visited headquarters twice during my term. I knew management liked me, but they didn’t know me well enough to realize that I, too, had mouths to feed; that I was a peer, their equal. To them I was an impersonal guy that did good work from afar — an easy name to let go that didn’t evoke much emotion.
“Sorry, Blake. We’re cutting back.” That was it.
It hurt, but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. From that day forward, I’ve substantially increased the amount of face time, in-person visits and personal interactions I make with clients and others. While said behavior hasn’t been a cure-all in preventing lost contracts, it’s had a significant impact on keeping and extending my best customers and referrals.
I attribute that success to the following actions; specific things all work-from-home professionals can do and build upon:
1. Set goals for in-person visits. If you don’t plan and schedule in-person visits on your calendar, they won’t happen. I speak from experience. Obviously, each client is different. But as a general rule, I try to visit all major clients four times a year. I also make a point of visiting friends and colleagues for lunch, which often inspires unrelated work. Then I fill in the gaps with the below:
2. Video call over voice calls. In my experience, Europeans are much better at this than Americans. Either way, video calls are an excellent way to add a personal touch and body language to your interactions — something voice calls can’t do — while keep travel costs down. I try to do this once a month, and when I do, I dress up for the occasion (i.e. showered and collared), smile and use a nice HD webcam against the most interesting and well-lit wall in my office — something that’s not lost on callers. “Your setup adds to the realness of the interview,” one prospect recently told me.
3. Physically mail “thank yous,” letters and postcards. If you want a client to potentially overlook your correspondence, send an email. If you want to delight and surprise them with something they don’t see very often, mail them. Since 2008, I’ve mailed customized postcards once a quarter to my professional (and personal) contacts, either thanking them for their business or wishing good fortune upon them. Every time I do, I get several compliments. Like HD video calls, this is a cheap and easy way to make a lasting impression.
4. Don’t have meetings just for meeting’s sake. By now, hopefully you’ve decided to plan more meetings and interactions. But remember: Do so with purpose and substance while respecting others’ time, because wasting one’s time is the fastest way to turn someone off. For me, some of the best meetings I’ve had are hyper-productive but refreshing 15-minute video calls. Or the time I won a contract after flying 1,000 miles just to meet a prospect, shake his hand and chat for no more than five minutes. Get in, get out. It works.