Remember the days when we used to have pen pals? When I was in elementary school I had a pen pal named Jewel. She and I wrote letters to each other every week and it was the highlight of my day when my mom announced that I had mail. Her envelopes were always decorated with doodles, drawings or stickers and her letters told about her life in South Carolina (I’m in Michigan).

Fast forward to today and it’s rare to receive a handwritten letter in the mail. Oh sure, we get dozens of emails and text messages every day from friends or colleagues. But when was the last time you received anything handwritten and specially addressed to you? It’s been a while, huh?

Let’s skip over the nostalgic part of this conversation and regrets of days gone by and jump straight into how a handwritten note can have a huge impact on your business.

Business is all about building relationships, right? Getting to know your customers and their needs and then resolving those needs with the product or service we have to offer. The old marketing adage that people buy from companies they “know, like, and trust” is based in truth. So the more time and effort we put into helping our customers know us on a personal level, like us for the people we are (not a faceless business) and grow to trust us because of the personal service and outstanding products we provide.

This is a simple concept, really. But most businesses aren’t doing it. So now is your chance to stand out.

The first step is making sure you’re collecting your customers’ mailing addresses. We already get their email address, but take the extra step to get their mailing address too. Sometimes this might require an extra step if your business is completely digital.

For now, just focus on collecting that information. In another article, I’ll talk about how to create and maintain a CRM – customer relationship management tool.

The next step is less about making a sale and more about making a friend. If you know when a customer’s birthday is, send them a birthday card. If you have an order to mail to the customer, include a handwritten note of thanks with the order. Does your customer have a special milestone or anniversary coming up – say the anniversary of the date they first launched their business? Or what about an obscure holiday that might apply to that customer’s business – like Hug Your Dog day for a local pet groomer.

Try to think of a unique reason to send a handwritten note. Sure, go ahead and jump on the bandwagon for all the normal holidays if you want (Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving). But try to stand out from the crowd by choosing a time when they don’t expect to hear from you.

Or better yet – just send a random note to tell them you’re thinking of them and wishing them well.

And when I say send a note. I literally mean a handwritten note. In your own handwriting. Yes, with an actual pen that writes with actual ink. (I know, those are rare tools these days, but I have faith that you’ll be able to find one!)

But what to write ON? You could have some custom stationery or greeting cards created for just this purpose. I always include greeting cards as part of the brand identity packages I create for my clients (give me a shout if you need some). But if you don’t have anything branded for your business, don’t let that hold you back. Pick up a pack of note cards or even some nice linen paper at your local office supply store.

How often should you write?

This is not a pen pal situation like we experience in elementary school. So you shouldn’t be writing to your customers every week or even every month. Once or twice a year will do the trick.

And don’t worry about writing to all your customers all at once. Just pick a few each week and make the note writing a part of your regular business routine. I tend to write a note or two during my weekly planning session on Sunday afternoons.

What about past customers?

What better way to let your past customers know that you’re still thinking about them than to drop them a note. Maybe you found an article in a magazine that you think would be helpful or you heard about a milestone they reached or award they won. The opportunity is there if you’re looking for it.

What’s the long game?

I mentioned above that this isn’t about selling or writing out your sales pitch in these handwritten notes. But in the long-run, this tactic really is about selling… sort of. Like I said before, it’s about making sure your customers know, like and trust you. But it’s also about building relationships based on genuine interactions. In the long run when that customer is ready to spend money again, they’re going to automatically think of you because of the nice gesture you showed with a handwritten note.

I’ve received my share of notes too…

In the past few months I’ve placed orders for several handcrafted items – prints, stickers, artwork.  I’ve bought about 4 or 5 different things recently. In each one of those I received a handwritten note of thanks from the seller. This was an online sale so I had never had face-to-face interactions with most of these sellers. But they took the time to write a thank you note and enclose it with my merchandise. That made an impression on me and I know that when I’m ready to buy more artwork, I’ll be looking to those folks again.

Take action now

Why not dig out some of those old note cards you’ve got hidden in a drawer somewhere and dash off and note or two today. How many customers can you make smile this week?