How to Turn Existing Contacts Into New Business

Remember the game Connect Four? Picture your business, association, non-profit, or consulting group like a bona fide Milton Bradley board game. Except, no one is pulling any discs out of the bottom in the too common display of sore losing.

The key to winning Connect Four 2011 is keeping up with your vast network of so-called red and yellow plastic circles. Your chips represent old co-workers, the funny guy you shared a beer with last week, and the vendor that saved your butt. It's a full client load and strong pipeline of prospective customers.

If you want to connect way more than four in order to maintain a steady—and profitable—customer base, here's where to start:

* Consolidate. There is plenty of software that makes the daunting task of transferring your contacts into one place relatively painless. Streamlining will ensure that every latest and greatest social network is only a blessing, not a curse.

* Have rhythm. Set goals each month for how many times you reach out to your new master list. Be loyal to that number, but don't beat them over the head with quantity. You don't need to devote eight hours a day to this, especially if you want to keep current clients happy.

* Create quality, Grade "A" content. Win their heart with relevance, solid advice, availability and a personal touch. Be sincere and never recycle. Send an invitation to an upcoming event or simply say "thank you" or "happy birthday."

* Marry the message to the medium. Some of your contacts prefer email while others like tweets or Facebook messages. There may be a few who still favor a hand-written note, smoke signal or phone call. Be sure to ask when you reach out for the first time.

* Ask for help. There are relatively inexpensive web-based platforms that allow you to coordinate your new business and client communications efforts in one system without having to spend a lot of upfront money or time to get started. It's the easiest way to do it yourself, without the risk of wasted hours and low returns.

It's no secret that the most lucrative prospects are people that you already know. Their business cards are probably still on your desk in some corner pile that hasn't been touched for weeks. That illustration is one of the more visible examples of literally leaving money on the table every day. Break the cycle by consolidating your existing list of contacts and doing a little bit each day to reach out in relevant, meaningful ways.

About the author: Bobby Brannigan is the founder and CEO of ValoreBooks, a fast-growing online provider of cheap college textbooks to rent, buy and sell. He can be reached at bbrannigan@valorebooks.com.

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