So much goes into the building of a business: The name, the logo, the website, the marketing—just for starters. That’s a lot of effort aimed at gaining clients and referral sources. And as businesses grow and become more time-demanding, it’s easy to lose track of the details. Good follow-up practices often suffer—an ironic twist given how hard we work to get clients and referral sources in the first place.
A little weekly attention to follow-up can actually make your tight schedule easier. Follow-up is about protecting what you’ve accomplished and using it to build further. You can boost profits from 25-125% percent by retaining just 5% more clients, and satisfied clients will, on average, tell four to five potential clients about you. Combine that with a steady stream of referrals from other dog professionals and over time your marketing and sales responsibilities may feel a little lighter. On the other hand, ignore follow-up duties and you may find yourself struggling to build your business, or running a lot faster than needed to keep it where you want it.
To avoid such a fate, and to take advantage of all your hard work so far, choose a one- to two-hour block of time weekly to dedicate to follow-up tasks. Make it the same day and time each week if at all possible to help build a lasting routine. Once you’ve got the time carved out, here’s what to do with it:
Say thank you. Too often dog pros disappear from clients’ lives once the allotted service time is up. Take a moment to let your clients know how much you appreciate them. Send a quick hand-written card to thank them for entrusting their training goals to you or to let them know how much you enjoyed their dog while they were away. Such details leave a lasting impression. When you wrap up with a client, put her name on your follow-up list for the following week. Always keep plenty of cards, envelopes, and stamps at the ready.
Check in. One way to build a business that lasts is to make sure your services actually work. Are your clients seeing a difference in their dog’s behavior after a month of daycare or dog walking exercise? How’s that recall coming along? If you don’t know, you can’t make improvements. And taking the time to check in and show you care means a greater chance of positive word of mouth.
Use pre-set intervals to make your check-ins easy. For example, a one-month check-in for daycare and walking clients. Trainers, plan to check in at multiple intervals to check on progress and make sure the training is sticking. For example, place each client’s name in your follow-up calendar 2 weeks, 1 month, and 3 months after the end of your training contract. Doing so will increase case resolution as well as referrals to friends and family.
Potential Client Follow-Up
Make time. Make keeping up with daily correspondence easier by setting specific times for it each day. Let potential clients know when they will hear back from you by listing your phone and email time in your outgoing phone message and email autoreply. This relieves you from the worry of missing a call or message, shows your professionalism and provides incentive for potential clients to wait to hear from you, gives you structure to ensure all calls and emails are returned promptly, and allows you to turn off your email and ringer for higher productivity and better focus.
Return all calls. Respond to every inquiry, even if you don’t want or need the client. Don’t risk getting a reputation for not returning calls and emails. The word will get out that you’re too busy or full to take clients, and pretty soon you won’t be. It’s simple courtesy to respond to all emails and phone calls, and you can do your colleagues and your business a favor by referring on those clients you don’t take yourself.
Pat your own back. When you refer a potential client on, don’t rely on the client to say who sent her. Send your colleague a quick email with the name of the person you sent over. It’s a great opportunity to connect, to remind a fellow dog pro you’re there, and to set yourself up for future reciprocity.
Say thank you. Here’s another situation where a hand-written note (perhaps on a branded postcard) can do wonders. As soon as you’ve received a referral, jot the name of the client and the source of the referral on your follow-up list for this week to be sure you get a note out right away. Occasionally include a small thank-you gift with your note, such as a gift card for a nearby coffee house. For those referral sources who send clients frequently, forego the thank-you cards. Instead, place these sources on your follow-up calendar quarterly for a special treat. Send over a surprise pizza lunch for the staff, for example, or movie tickets, or drop by with your famous chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven.
Share results. Place each client and her referral source on your calendar again at a pre-set check-in interval. Let the vet who referred Trixie for boarding know how much she enjoyed her stay—complete with a picture or two. Or let him know how well Trixie is working out in your walking group or at daycare, and how happy Trixie’s mom is about her considerably calmer presence at home. Or tell him how well your resource guarding protocol went and that Trixie’s mom is now able to safely take things from her. Let your referral sources know how well you take care of the people and dogs they send your way.
Return all calls. It only takes one client telling a vet or other coveted referral source that she never heard back from you to dry that well up. Giving referrals can be a risky business; no one wants the behavior of another company to reflect badly on their own. Be sure to follow through on every referral sent your way, even if it’s to offer an alternate referral of your own.
Follow-up is time well spent. These maintenance tasks make building and sustaining your business easier by cutting down on the time needed to search out new clients and referral sources. You worked hard to get the ones you have; a little extra effort to keep them is worth it.