The Power of Your Little Black Book

In “The Power of Who: You Already Know Everyone You Need to Know,” author Bob Beaudine attests that we already know everyone we need to know to succeed. I’m coming to believe that more and more the longer I’m in business.

Almost on a daily basis, I come across opportunities to refer business to someone. Sometimes I’m asked for a resource, like if I know someone who can design business cards. Sometimes a possible connection just pops in my head, like if a person I come in contact with mentions something that reminds me of someone else or of an opportunity that might interest him or her. Other times, though, I miss the opportunity to make a referral simply because no one comes to mind right away. Yet, if I gave it some thought or asked some of my existing contacts, I’m sure I could easily find a resource to fill the need.

As a business owner, maximizing these opportunities is really important for several reasons:

  1. It solidifies your place in the customer’s mind as a go-to resource, as someone who can always help solve problems and find solutions,
  2. It reinforces relationships you’re building by showing your willingness to help those around you, and
  3. It opens the door for reciprocal referrals between you and other service providers to which you regularly send business.

But how do you make sure you’re ready to act the minute an opportunity presents itself (or at least not very long afterward)?

Step 1: Have Tools in Place to Support You

There are tons of CRM and contact management applications available to help you manage an ever-growing database of connections. Highrise is my favorite; I like the simplicity and ease-of-use of 37Signals tools.

Of course, even the best tool won’t help you if you don’t populate it with data, and this can be the most intimidating part of starting to use contact management software. My recommendation is to ease into it. Start from today and add new contacts you come in contact with. To get existing contacts into the program, try adding a few each day until you have everyone set up. There are ways to import contacts from other programs, too. Just be sure to go through all applications and places where you currently keep information about contacts, including your email and social networking accounts, past blog entries (for example, if you interviewed someone for your site or they provided a guest post), and anywhere else you might find a long-lost resource.

The most important thing, though, is to be sure and tag each person in every way you might search for him or her. For example, you might tag a virtual assistant as VA, virtual assistant, web designer, website designer, etc., depending on that particular virtual assistant’s expertise and skill set.

Step 2: Get to Know the People in Your Network

Learn what your network does. Learn what they need. Recently, someone asked if I knew of anyone who did a particular type of web design. At the time, no one came to mind, but then just a week later, I met another person who fitted the bill. I did an email introduction, which will hopefully lead to shared referrals between the two of them.

Pay attention to the little details about people, even things like hobbies and past work experience. If someone is an avid reader, for instance, you might need a book recommendation one day, or maybe you’ll read a great book that you can pass along to that person. As you discover these little tidbits, enter them (again, as tags) in the person’s contact record.

Not only does paying attention to the “little things” help you along the way as a business owner, but it also deepens your relationships and builds your credibility.

Step 3: Keep Your Network Top of Mind.

Always be thinking of the people around you. How can you help them? How can you help not just your clients and followers, but also fellow business owners? Every connection, every referral and every introduction strengthens your network and your business. People will come to trust and depend on you for quality recommendations and resources to help them in their lives and businesses.

Step 4: Show Initiative

Show people you can help them. When someone asks for a web designer and that’s out of your area of expertise, go to your contact management software and search for “web designer” and see who shows up. Nothing will impress a customer more than you going the extra mile for him or her and sending over a list of quality web designers.

By developing a strong and comprehensive list of resources, it becomes even easier to take better care of your customers and clients, as well as all the relationships in your network, and of course, there’s something to be said for good karma and paying it forward.

What tips do you have for maintaining a better “little black book”?

Photo by Flickr user vince42, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
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