Follow Up To Build Relationships and Create Opportunities

When I was in college, I was working at a small ad agency as a designer, gaining valuable real-world experience. But I knew I also needed to do internships to build my resume and expand my knowledge of the industry I was so excited to build a career in.

But there weren't a lot of internships, they were hard to get, and well, you needed to have an “in.” So I asked around, did my homework, and created opportunities to be around and meet people who offered internships.

By the time I graduated, I had completed five internships.

When I first ventured out on my own, I knew I needed clients to survive. Without clients I would have no income, and without income, we'd be in trouble. The first thing I did was reach out to everyone I knew that worked in industries or at companies that hired and worked with freelancers and I asked them to hook me up. I asked for an interaction to be made to the person who hires freelancers, and then I asked for a meeting.

Soon my business was overflowing with clients.

Later when I wanted to up level and shift my client base, I knew I needed to surround myself with these types of clients and put myself in the rooms where these clients were. I asked around, found out where I needed to be, showed up, and met some amazing people.

Soon my business was again overflowing with higher-paying clients.

Down the road, I wanted to up level our client base again with authority-level clients, and I wanted to connect with other thought leaders to up my own game. So I did my homework, figured out where the key people I wanted to build relationships were, I showed up, and I made meaningful connections.

Again, I was successfully able to again fill my business completely with even better clients and even higher rates.

This has process repeated itself over and over. It's how, over the last 10 years, that we have built Bourn Creative to the successful design studio it is today — and we're still growing and up-leveling everything we do.

And the question I get asked most often is “How did you do it?”

For a long time I didn't know the answer to that question. I just did it. But the more I thought about it, the more the answer became clear. I did it — and still do it today — with preparation and follow up.

The answer isn't sexy. It isn't some big secret or magic pill. It's actually a lot of work.

Understanding Preparation and Follow Up

The key to a successful outcome is preparation and follow up. In every example I gave above, I first did my homework — I prepared.

  • I asked others for input and advice and suggestions
  • I did my own research online and offline
  • I asked for help and for introductions and connections
  • I searched for and identified the key players and groups of people in advance

Then I showed up.

I had always heard those old sayings, “80% of life is just showing up” and “it's all about who you know,” but I didn't pay much attention to them — until now.

Showing up and being present in the right places has made a huge difference in my life and my business. Most of the biggest opportunities that have ever come my way did so because of someone who knew me. Likewise, most of the greatest things that I have ever experienced came to be with personal, heartfelt, authentic follow up.

But enough about me. Let's dive in to how this can help you and how you can create the same successes in your business.

Creating Opportunities

Incredible opportunities don't usually just fall in your lap for no reason. Usually they come from someone who knows you already, knows of you, or has been referred to you.

That means that before opportunities can present themselves to you, you need to put yourself in the position to build strong relationships with key players, build your personal brand and business brand, and become known — No one can offer you an opportunity if they have no idea who you are. 

Here's how to make that happen:

    Make a list of three big opportunities you'd like to have, like getting the right internship, landing a new client, or speaking at an event.

  • Do you homework and research everything. Where do the decision makers, the people who can provide you with these types of opportunities hang out? Is it a networking group, a charity event, a non-profit board of directors? What do they care about?
  • Go where they are and go a lot. One time isn't going to cut it. You need to show up, be yourself, build relationships, and give it time.
  • Get involved. Join a committee, volunteer, help out, step up and be seen, be helpful, and do the work to help people get to know you and know of you.

Over time, some of these relationships will create opportunities.

The idea here isn't to be fake or inauthentic, or to only get involved or show up for personal gain. Instead it is to ensure you are spending your time in the right places with the right people, helping them get to know you and you to get to know them. The better they know you, the easier it will be for them to help you, and the better you know them, the easier it will be for you to help them. Win win.

Leveraging Follow Up

Once you are in the room with the right people, slowly building strong relationships and building your name and brand, it's time to take it one step further.

Real, personal, heartfelt, authentic follow up will help you stand out from the crowd, gain respect, and be remembered.

Simply based on my follow up efforts, I have received invitations to speak at events, to be featured on podcasts and radio shows, to guest host webinars and teleseminars, and to write for other blogs like this one, as well as inquires from potential new clients.

There are lots of opportunities for meaningful follow up that happen every day in business that most business owners overlook, ignore, or simply don't see. Follow up can happen:

  • After an event
  • After a call or email, after a meeting, or even after a social media interaction
  • Before, during, and after a sale
  • After a referral
  • After an opt-in
  • And more

Event Follow Up

Post networking event or conference follow up can create huge opportunities. Most people forget to do any type of post-event follow up, so by taking action, you're already ahead of the game and your competition.

Of the post-event follow up that does happen, most of it consists of a quick email — and you know how much people love email. This approach may be used the most, but it's only because it requires the least amount of effort. Unfortunately, it's also the approach that gets ignored or deleted the most.

If you really want to stand out and get someone's attention, send them snail mail. Often this is going to require some sleuthing to find mailing addresses — but trust me, it is totally worth it.

People love getting mail — especially mail that doesn't look like a bill. It makes them feel special and it sparks curiosity.

You can invest in high-quality branded stationery or note cards and use them to send a personal handwritten note to those you connected with at the event with whom you want to continue to build a relationship with.

Or, you can take it a step further like Curtis McHale did after PressNomics. Curtis and I discussed Legos at length at the event. A few days after returning home he sent me a follow up email and a quick shout out via Twitter. Then a couple weeks later, I received a custom Lego Mini Figure in the mail that looked just like me — she even had a laptop!


Curtis went out of his way to create a completely unique follow up experience that I will never forget. As a result, I'm giving him some promotion here, I shared a photo of it and mentioned him via social media, and I've got a blog post on my own site coming up. I'd say the investment on that unique, totally customized follow up definitely has a positive ROI.

Here are a few tips to make this easier:

  • If there is an attendee list posted, you or a member of your team can research mailing addresses for key people in advance
  • Address and stamp the envelopes in advance to ensure your follow up is prompt
  • Print high-quality, branded note cards and bring them with you to conferences so you can write your thank you notes on the plane ride home
  • Talk about personal stuff. Really take the time to get to know people and what they are into — what they do in the non-working time and find unique ways to follow up with them in a way that would knock their socks off

Post Call, Email, Meeting, or Social Media Interaction Follow Up

A great follow up plan includes post phone call, meeting, email and even social media interaction follow up.

  • Post Phone Call: This could include a recap of the conversation, links to resources you mentioned, a connection or introduction to a person you mentioned, or the actions steps from the call.
  • Post Email: Follow up on any promises, suggestions, or action items discussed by email. Try following up with a quick phone call instead to make a more personal connection, or send them the data promised. Don't let promises or opportunities that present themselves by email fall by the wayside because your inbox is too full.
  • Post Meeting: After a meeting, send the meeting attendees a follow up email with a meeting recap. If any action items were discussed, take care of them right away. Follow up by email with any promised information, introductions, or referrals.
  • Post Social Media Interaction: This is a golden opportunity. If you see someone searching for a referral, information, advice, or help through social media, reach out! Let them know you can help and then follow up with them by email or phone. Or if someone is having a tough day or down in the dumps, send them a quick email a silly card to help give them a boost. Be the person that goes the extra mile.

Before, During, And After A Sale

Follow up is critical to closing a sale.

Most WordPress service providers who are any good are always busy and that causes us to sometimes get lazy in the sales cycle. Often after speaking with a prospect, we put together a proposal, send it over to them, and wait to hear back. We tell ourselves that we don't want to nag them or bug them, but really we're just busy and lazy.

The service providers who follow up through the entire sales process are the ones who win the contracts. After you send a proposal to a potential new client, add a reminder to your calendar to follow up with them the next day to confirm they received it. Add another calendar reminder for 3-5 days later to check in and see if they have any questions. Add another for two weeks later to follow up and see if they have made a decision.

If they say they need to discuss it with a team, a board, a committee, or other people, offer to be part of the discussion. Offer to come in and meeting with them to answer any questions, and to help them make the best decision for their desired results. Continue to follow up until they have either hired you or let you know they decided to go another route.

This same pursuit must continue after the sale. Never just rely on an automated receipt. Get a solid new client onboarding system in place that communicates with them regularly to let them know what's next, what to expect, how things are going to work, what they need to do, and more.

Then once your project is complete, add reminders to your calendar to follow up and check-in with your clients at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months — stay top of mind, show them you care and want them to succeed, and offer additional services. It's much easier to upset an existing happy client than sell to a new client.

Post Referral

When someone refers a potential new client to you, it's like winning the lottery. Their vote of confidence is the best feeling ever.

Show them you value their referral and appreciate them. Email them a thank you right away and keep them posted on the status of the referral, letting them know if you closed the sale, and how the project went when it's done. This can create amazing results and many more referrals especially if the client is thrilled and you can report back great news.

I also suggest if the referral does result in a new client, sending the referral source some type of thank you via snail mail depending on the size of the referral or the referral source, this can be a simple personal, handwritten thank you note, or a thoughtful gift. I often browse through the social media feeds and bios prior to selecting a gift to see if they have any favorite brands or companies.

Post Opt-In

When someone opts-in or signs up for your newsletter for a free offer on your website, they are telling you that they are interested in what you have to say and what you have to offer. They are primed for additional information.

Don't throw this opportunity in the garbage. Create and setup an autoresponder or follow up system to drip out help bonus content, tips and more over the next few days or even the next couple weeks to continue to add value.

Here's The Bottom Line:

Opportunities don't appear out of thin air. They are created by preparation, showing up (a lot), building relationships, doing the work every day, and following up on everything. I attribute everything from my internships, my sales, my opportunities, and my growth to this process.

Don't be lazy.

Don't just rely on email or a quick “great to see you” post to Twitter or Facebook. While I do think each of those approaches do have value there is simply nothing that packs a punch like sending a handwritten personal note or meaningful gift via snail mail.

The layers of success can often be boiled down to showing up and the relationships you make. Business is about who you know and who is top of mind. So take the extra time to really follow up with people, show them you care, and make your relationships matter.

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Jennifer Bourn

Jennifer Bourn

Jennifer Bourn is the Creative Director and Digital Strategist for Bourn Creative, a full service design company based in Sacramento, California that specializes in custom, lead generation WordPress sites. With more than 15 years in the design trenches, and 9 years as co-owner of Bourn Creative (with her husband Brian Bourn), Jennifer is an award-winning designer with a penchant for writing, marketing, chocolate, and Legos (yes, Legos not logos). She built her first WordPress site in 2008, fell in love with giving clients the ability to make their own content revisions, and went all in with WordPress pretty much the same day. Now with more than 300 custom WordPress sites under the belt Jennifer now shares her expertise and lessons learned as a dynamic speaker, an avid blogger, and a co-organizer of the Sacramento Meetup Group.

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