The last time I checked my business mail it contained:  a signed contract, three or four generic-looking solicitations for services that might help my business, a catalog for office supplies and a Federal Express envelope with a check in it.  The check was nice, everything else was mundane and utterly expected.

Then I return home and check my personal mail box and find these gems:  the electric bill, the cable bill, a typed form letter from my HOA, a cache of neighborhood coupons, a cooking magazine and a true relic:  A hand addressed envelope with my name on it from a friend of mine who I hadn’t heard from in ages.

As visions of the Pony Express danced in my head, I headed in the house flinging the regular mail on the dining room table not caring if it landed safely or dropped to the floor – I had a REAL letter to read.  I did a little dance while pouring myself a glass of wine, made a fire, and nestled into my favorite reading chair as I eagerly tore open the envelope.  I again checked to see that it was indeed addressed to me and that there was a real stamp proudly adhered to the front of it.  Yes, it was a bona fide handwritten letter.

She inquired about my life and my family, recounting all the things she missed about me and how she hoped distance and her refusal to engage in technological quickies wouldn’t keep us from staying in touch.  She asked about my job, my son, my house, my husband and the weather in Oregon (still wet).   She shared both sad and happy news with me.  What year was this?  I checked the date – it was written and mailed in 2011.

I immediately return the gesture with a lengthy missive of my life, thanking her for taking the time to write stating that I am game to continue with our grown up version of pen pals.  Not cyberspace pals.  Not FaceBook friends.  Pen Pals:  Hand to pen, ink to paper, folded, stamped and deposited in the blue boxes you still see scattered throughout some neighborhoods.  Her letter not only lifted my spirits it stayed with me for weeks, if not months.

Hmmm, my mind ticked.  How can I use this example of personalization in my own business so that my services stay in the forefront of my prospect or client’s mind?  Would they care?  Is it passé in this day and age to hand write a note?  Will I lose money taking the time in doing so?  My answers were:  write it, it will look foreign yet intriguing in their mailbox (retro is trendy), and, it is a cost effective way for a small business to stand out in a crowd of big players.  No one recycles a hand written note without reading it first.  Let me resurrect this seemingly archaic form of communication and see where it goes.

One day after an appointment with a senior marketing manager I left his office with a semi-confident feeling that I did a decent job pitching my services, my attention to detail and the personal touch I extend to all of my clients.  Yet this particular manager gave me the old “nice meeting you.  I’ll call if we can use you” jargon.  I left him a file folder containing some writing samples, my business card and marked my calendar to follow up on this lukewarm lead in a month or two.  Then I remembered my friend’s letter and immediately embarked on a shopping frenzy determined to find some classy note cards so I could reiterate my “personal touch to clients” spiel.

Here was my note:

Dear Mr. Decision Maker,

I can’t express my appreciation enough for you taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me regarding my writing services.

I do hope that I made a favorable impression as I truly believe I can help you increase revenues on your products through concise and creative marketing copy.  I look forward to the opportunity to service XYZ Corporation and thank you in advance for keeping me in mind for future projects.

I’ve included another business card in the event you tossed or lost my original one (it happens) as I sincerely want to be a contributing factor in your future success and not get lost in the “freelance contractor” file cabinet.  I can deliver results, and hope to have the opportunity to demonstrate this for you in the near future.

Best Copy Always,

Julie Wian

Remarkably and despite what some people might consider to be unprofessional by infusing humor in my thank you note (it works for me) the prospect called me and had their very own Pony Express memory to share.  Next thing I know I was getting paid to write.  Imagine that.  We bonded over ink and my less than pristine handwriting.

Your prospects and clients receive hundreds of emails per day.  What do you think the chances are of them opening yours and remembering you after they continue fishing through the other ninety-nine emails in their in-box?  A handwritten note helps you stand out from the competition, leaving a lasting impression.  It signifies that they are an individual and their business is important to you, thus building a solid foundation for a relationship to grow.

I believe the hand written note is only considered old fashioned by those who forget that most people respond to personal attention and are not willing to take the extra time to build a relationship with their client or prospect.

Handwritten notes are personal, professional, classy, and for the most part, unexpected:  So go out and buy a nice ink pen and some professional yet visually enhancing thank you cards, and start writing.  “Thank you for your business”, “ I look forward to working with you” or “ Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns”……and don’t forget stamps.  Yes, stamps.  It goes hand and hand, or should I say, hand to mouth, with the whole handwritten note concept.

“A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Handwritten notes will add a lot to your life. You can still use the telephone or the Web for the daily chores of staying in touch, but for the words that matter, it’s courteous, classy, caring, and civilized to pick up a pen.” – Margaret Shepherd

“Well done is better than well said.” – Ben Franklin

Eleven years ago I moved to Portland for a job and found myself exploring the westside suburbs looking for housing. As I was driving through Tigard on Hwy 99 I suddenly hear a loud “tap, tap, tap” coming from the front passenger tire.  Luckily, I spot the large Yellow, Red and Black Les Schwab sign and roll in seeking assistance with my tiresome tapping tire, praying they are not going to try and con me in to buying two new tires which typically has been my experience with any type of auto repair shop, and, I was solo this time.  A woman with no Man-Stand-In to ensure they don’t take this woman to the rubber cleaners.

Turns out I inadvertently ran over a railroad nail and was informed they could actually plug the offending culprit and was told my tire would be as good as new.  Perhaps, they suggested, I might kill some time reading in their waiting room as the repair would only take about 15 minutes.  Groovy, I think to myself, give my feet some time to dry out and I always pack a good book for emergencies like this.

Fifteen minutes to the second a stout and suspiciously clean-looking, optimistic technician appears waving my keys around as if I’m driving the lead float in the Rose Parade declaring “she’s ready to roll!”….tire humor, no doubt.  Smirk-smiling I reach for my wallet asking what I owed for the repair and I could have sworn I heard him say ‘Oh, nothing’?  “Oh nothing my damp left foot, what’s the catch?” I queried.  “Les Schwab is grateful you thought to stop in and ask for our help.  There is no charge for today’s service.  We hope that in the future you will return to Les Schwab for your tire repair needs.” Mr. Clean chimes back.

My mother’s voice echoed in my head “Julie, shut your mouth before a fly takes up residence” because I’m 98% sure my mouth gaped open a good five seconds before I was able to fully compose myself “Wow, that’s terrific.  Let me give you a tip.” “Ma’am, we don’t work off tips, this is a tire store.”  Red faced I make my exit, and don’t visit them again for another two years – although I retell this story to any non-Oregonian who will listen, and here I am, spouting it off again.

Over the past 11 years I have purchased new tires, snow tires, received free snow chains, aligned and balanced wheels and observed with utter amazement Les Schwab’s consistent demonstration in their commitment to all customers, big and small.   Seven years later I witnessed them helping out a struggling young man who drove in with an older car (one we might call “a beater”).  He could only afford a used tire, and it had to be under $50.00, his total cash in hand.  The Les Schwab team not only called around to find a used tire that would meet his needs, they threw in a comparable second (albeit used) tire, so he would be “balanced”…all for $43.78.  Additionally, they treated this young man with the grace, charm and respect one might assume would be reserved for the “newer car” crowd, or those with more than $50.00 in their pocket.

Last year I replaced my Man-Stand-In with a real life husband (who also restores classic cars) and in seeking tire sales he insisted we take our car to Costco since their price beat Les Schwab’s by a whopping $22.00.  Real husbands, unlike the Stand-In kind, like to take control with the car repair stuff and I’m usually OK with that.  Unfortunately for real-life-man I had been having a 9 year emotional affair with several of the Les Schwab services centers so there was no way I was not going to honor them with the same level of loyalty they extended to me.

Loyalty is not purchased, it’s earned.  Give something away, it will come back.  Call back when you say you will.  Treat small fish as if they are big fish.  Say “Thank You, Come Again”, and actually mean it.  Let your customers taste, touch, feel and hear you.  All prospects are potential customers.  Customers are always listening, question is, are you?