by Cathy De Troia

You walk into your favorite restaurant and are greeted with a hearty handshake, a smile that stretches all the way to the eyes and a warmly delivered happy birthday wish. No, it is not a surprise party. You are at a complimentary lunch hosted by the smart small-business owner who helped redesign your kitchen.

Contrast it to the cold, boilerplate email you received earlier that morning that did not mention your birthday, but boldly asked you for a referral.

To whom would you give your future business? Dare I venture to guess the business owner who gave you “the personal touch”?

In these days of mountains of emails and multi-tasking, home-based small business owners need to find ways to get noticed, to raise their customers’ heads from their smartphones.

“Sixty percent of communication is nonverbal, 20 percent is tone of voice,” according to Sam Richter, an internationally recognized expert and author on sales and marketing. “That means only 20 percent is actual content. So if you’re doing email only, you are losing 80 percent of your communications.”

How do you add that personal touch? Some suggestions:

  • Make a date. Meet your customer for a free birthday lunch and talk about their personal lives before talking about business. Savvy business owners, such as our kitchen renovator, know and express an interest in their customers’ hobbies and important life events. Why? Because all purchases involve a human connection and face-to-face meetings boost that connection significantly.
  • Shoot a video. If your business is web-based, face-to-face meetings aren’t practical. But you can still create that personal touch. Toss in a short thank you video at the end of the online checkout experience. It increases the effectiveness of your communication by adding a face and a voice, plus you can couple it with a virtual handshake.
  • Write a note. “Old school” handwritten notes, wrapped in an embossed, gold-foiled envelope, speak volumes to a client. They say you care about them as a human being and are genuinely interested in them. Take it up a notch and include an article from Golf Digest for your golf clients, along with birthday or anniversary greetings. Differentiate yourself from your competitors.
  • Pick up the phone. Call your customer once in a while, not to trawl for work or sales, but to check-in and see how they are doing. You, as a small business owner, want to know whether your customers are happy with their purchases, and a follow-up conversation may uncover areas that you can improve. Who knows? That call may result in either a referral or a request for new work.

Give the personal touch a try. Keep it sincere, cater to their interests and you’ll have a better chance of focusing your customers’ eyes on you and your business.

Cathy De Troia is a SCORE volunteer mentor. To learn more about giving your business the personal touch and other small business issues, contact asheville.score.org. SCORE — which originally stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives — is a nonprofit organization whose volunteers provide free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners

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Cathy De Troia