Five Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd

August 18, 2010

Advice on how to succeed in publishing swirls around us. The IBPA monthly Independent features experts in the business communicating on a huge variety of topics, all designed to help you run your publishing company better and smarter. There’s no denying that your business and marketing plans, access to capital, social media strategy, distribution, promotion, editorial, and financial management are all critical components of a successful publishing program.

But there’s more to your business than business.

Of course, we have to make money to keep our companies alive. And that will not happen without constant and serious attention to marketing, promotion, distribution, production, editorial, and finance. But relentless focus on the bottom line can sometimes lead us to ignore the very factors that don’t appear on any balance sheet, but will put us over the top with our customers and colleagues.

I propose that, in addition to paying attention to the business of your business, you integrate the following five tasks (often sadly neglected) into your working day on a regular basis, so you will stand out from the crowd, and people will remember you (and want to do business with you) long after the current orders are shipped and the invoices paid.

Write Thank-You Notes

When was the last time you received a personal letter? Emails or IMs or texts don’t count—I’m talking about a real notecard written with a pen, stamped and mailed via the good old USPS.

If you can’t remember, then you know why this is my number-one way of distinguishing yourself. Handwritten communication is becoming as rare as typewriter stores, which is why, especially in this age of electronic overload, it attracts more attention than ever.

I’ll bet many of you had a mother like mine who nagged me unmercifully and relentlessly to write thank-you notes when I was young. I still write them—to customers, to members, to colleagues — and it’s rare that I don’t get a gratified (and surprised) thank-you for the thank-you note!

Try it—you may be surprised at the response.

RSVP

. . . stands, of course, for the French Répondez s’il vous plait, translated as “Please reply” in English. Forgive my particular sensitivity on this point, but planning my son’s wedding brought it home to me that many people don’t understand that RSVP doesn’t mean “Reply only if you’re coming” or “Reply only if you’re not coming.” And it definitely doesn’t mean “Don’t respond at all.”

When you see RSVP on an invitation—both personal and business—please take 30 seconds at least a week before the event to let the host or the organizer know whether or not you’ll be there. Either way, they want to know—that’s why they included “RSVP.”

In my experience, most people don’t bother to respond at all. If you bother, you will be appreciated and remembered.

Return Calls

This is a tough one, I know. Do you really need to take the time to call that vendor back when you’re sure you’re only going to get a sales pitch, or to return a call from that unknown person who just left a name with no message, or that customer who constantly bends your ear with unreasonable complaints?

Yes.

Why? Because you can never know ahead of time if that vendor is calling to give you a sales lead or a discount offer; if the unknown person is a reporter who wants to do a story on your company, and if the unreasonable customer wants to place a big order (after complaining).

That said, I’ll admit that this task is my own personal nemesis and, not being perfect, I sometimes do not walk the walk. Still, when I’m tempted to ignore the call, I picture myself in the caller’s shoes and focus on how I feel when someone doesn’t call me back.

Then (most of the time), I pick up the phone. Many don’t. If you do, you’ll stand out.

Take the Extra Step

Who has time, right? If you’re like me, sometimes just doing the minimum is a struggle. But the extra step can be as small as enclosing a discount coupon with an invoice, shipping out those books before the customer’s deadline, or including a packet of “surprise” bookmarks with a school order.

We all pay lip service to the “under-promise and over-deliver” adage, but in the day-to-day rush, it’s easy to forget that if it weren’t for our customers, our companies wouldn’t exist.

Seek and find ways to go beyond what’s expected. Even the small stuff sets you apart.

Keep Your Word

Making good on promises is easy when things are going well—shipments are rolling (or downloading), checks are coming in before 30 days, and the new book is on schedule.

It’s when deadlines drop, cash flow dries up, and customers threaten to cancel orders for a delayed title that the temptation to, well, not exactly lie, but equivocate, is overwhelming. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve been guilty as charged—especially when involved with an angry customer and a three-month-delayed shipment—but I’ve learned through the years that no matter how bad the situation is, your customers want to know the truth and will rarely beat up on you as long as you do what you promise. Not everyone does.

Keeping your word will often turn today’s angry customer into tomorrow’s biggest champion.

Rippling Results

The book business is not for sissies. Technology has given rise to pushbutton publishing, and with barriers to industry entry almost nonexistent, the competition is stiff. Paying constant and daily attention to the metrics of your company is your first priority, and I can’t promise that writing a thank-you note occasionally to your best customer or returning a phone call is going to show up as a positive on your balance sheet.

But if my personal experience is any indication, I predict that by paying attention to these five tasks you will leave an ongoing positive and distinctive impression on your customers and colleagues, and that the ripple effects will in fact improve the bottom line.

Reprinted with permission from the IBPA Independent, August, 2010

One response to “Five Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd”

  1. Great advice our mothers might have given us (and probably did)…maybe old-fashioned, but definitely spot on! Writing thank you notes, letting people know if you are coming or not, returning calls…seems obvious and just common sense, but, as you point out, we all get so busy.

    When I received endorsements for my new book, SHOW ME HOW! BUILD YOUR CHILD’S SELF-ESTEEM THROUGH READING, CRAFTING AND COOKING (pubs Sept. 26), I responded immediately…but I must admit, some were emails. As soon as I receive the books, however, I do intend to send a signed copy of the book and a personal letter of thanks to each of those generous individuals who didn’t even know me but put in a lot of time and effort on my behalf.

    Thanks for a great post and the gentle reminder to practice simple courtesy!

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