Will prospects remember that you’re alive? On word-of-mouth marketing (with a nod to Michael Katz) . . .

Last week, I sent off a spate of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and secular holiday cards, each with a personal note for the recipients. These included former hair stylists, college roommates, church ministers and a slew of other friendly folk.  I selected stationery carefully, thinking and writing in it about these individuals’ professional and personal attributes. I felt a surge of accomplishment in sealing them and dropping them into a high-traffic postbox nearby.

I happened to mention this activity to a non-entrepreneurial friend, who commented that she had “long ago” stopped sending holiday mail, citing the “waste of paper,” soaring cost of postage and looming overseas postal strikes. I countered that holiday card preparation was part of my periodic “marketing” plan, but she still doubted the sense.

The same day, in his illuminating (not to mention always hilarious) newsletter (much like a blog posting), Massachusetts marketing expert Michael Katz wrote that in life, “most things left unattended get steadily and progressively worse.” Instead of the progress we hope for, we regress–especially in the minds of others.

Katz cited the downward pattern of events like “after your car gets dinged, or your computer gets a virus, or you tell your brother-in-law [at a family gathering] what you really think of him and his know-it-all wife . . . it’s clear that most things in life do not recover with the simple passage of time.”

anxiety and interview

And when it comes to professional services marketing, your prospecting efforts are proof: “Left unattended, they wither and die, along with whatever value they might otherwise provide.”

Start the elegiac violin music: Approaching the end of 2022, we might feel depressed by this. If we get preoccupied by a steady flow of work and/or family or other commitments, we can work steadily, even happily, but still put off making those cold or warm calls. We may procrastinate over reaching by social media or writing that card. Before long (and in Covid times, all the more so), the proverbial phone stops ringing. Our name regresses from being “top of mind” to our prospects, to lost in their mental rolodexes.

And yet we might be very well-liked and well-regarded for our skills, knowledge and personalities–as Jane Austen wrote, a perennial “flower, born to bloom unseen.”

So, as we wind down the work of 2022 and launch the new year, Katz reminds us self-employed folks (regardless of your niche) to “use a system” that consists of simply two steps: First,make a list of everyone you know. Not just ‘potential clients’ or ‘influential people.’ Everyone,” including your college roommate . . .  your friends from your professional associations, your brother-in-law (maybe wait until things cool down).”

Secondly, devise a method to reach out to these people “at least three times a year. Send an email; say hello on LinkedIn; send a birthday card; call them up. It doesn’t really matter.  [So] they remember you are alive.”

Of course, we could all make much greater efforts in the self-marketing department. I have two book ideas that would enhance my reputation among my prospects, if I could only find the time to write them.  A fellow facilitator at the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship frequently criss-crosses the country (even in pandemic times) to speak professionally about her services. A large-scale, local networking organization regularly encourages its members to recruit other entrepreneurs. . . . As a self-professed stationery collector (obsessive?), I keep a record of prospects’ birthdays and send those individuals personal notes, on relevant days.

To Katz, the “word of mouth” method remains (in his words) “the best, most cost-effective means of professional services marketing.” But it will only work “if you come to mind when the moment arises.” That requires repetition and effort on our parts.

So while I will join in this season at parties with non-entrepreneurial (often skeptical) friends and family,  you can be sure I’ll be at my desk, writing or responding to prospects’ mail to me, on and after January 1st.

So they’ll remember that I’m alive.

And now it’s your turn: as a professional service provider, what prospecting methods do you use to stay “top-of-mind” in your niche?