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Growing Your Business with Marketing, Week 1: Wrangling your contacts

Posted by Colleen Wainwright on

This is Week One of a 52-week project/experiment in DIY marketing. Armed with nothing but a copy of the 2009 Grow Your Business Marketing Plan +
and my bare wits, I'm applying the skills you need to grow a business
in real time, day by day, and reporting on them week by week. You can follow along here every Monday; check in with my companion blog, A Virgo's Guide to Marketing, for additional links and information.

This week: Turning your snarl of contacts into a manageable database

If you've been around at all (meaning, in business, or even just an adult who's made friends and acquaintances along the way), you're going to have a ton of what is, for the most part, raw data. If you're like me—a great starter who's not so much with the follow-through—you're also going to have the added complication of multiple systems in various stages of implementation.

Choosing the right database solution

I've set up (and abandoned) systems in Palm, Entourage, Daylite, gmail, Address Book and various combo platters of same. I've also suffered more system crashes and database corruptions than I care to either remember or admit. Fortunately, I'm lousy with the former, so I'm not as worried about the latter.

A final borked-iMac situation made me decide to start from almost-scratch and implement a new system with the old data. Meaning, I started out with a clean hard drive, fresh installs of all software and hand-importing and sorting of all data.

After much gnashing of teeth about what kind of contact management system to commit to, I finally settled on Address Book, the vanilla contact system bundled with the Mac:

  • it's light, so it's not using a ton of system resources
  • it syncs to my iPhone (I like having my info with me at all times)
  • it syncs to gmail contacts (see above)
  • it's customizable via tagging and smart groups (more on that in a moment)
  • it's the simplest solution possible (Good enough for Einstein, good enough for me.)

If I decide I need something more robust to manage contacts, I'll research other solutions with my particular goal in mind. Which brings me to my next point: before you set up your database, know your market.

Identify your target market, THEN build your database system

As I mentioned last week, I'm in a slightly unusual position in that I have built up a brand (communicatrix) and a business (design) already, but am trying to move into a writing/speaking/consulting space. Ilise and I talked over my goals and for the foreseeable future, I'm going to focus on creative solopreneurs who need help with their DIY marketing, with "actors" as a kinda-sorta special subset.

For me, this meant Address Book. It also meant going through all my my Address Book contacts, one by one—over 1400 in Address Book along at the start of the project—cleaning up each of them by hand, then coding it with a series of tags that would make the system useful.

Introducing Colleen's 100% Non-Patented Tagging System

(Note: this works in Address Book, a Mac-based desktop client; if you're using something else, test your tagging system on a few contacts before spending quality time revising your database.)

I knew I needed to be clear on my goals (target market and desired outcomes) before getting started with  the organizing. My friend and accountability partner (and organized diva supreme) Dyana Valentine suggested that I figure out my taxonomy first, then apply as I went through the list. I'd gone through a similar kind of exercise with my friend (and user experience diva supreme) Lea Ann Hutter before launching version 3.0 of my website and it was really helpful.

The idea was to create as many as I needed and as few as possible, to keep things sane. I came up with:

  • #acting (actors and people in acting-related industries, like casting directors, etc.)
  • #friends (I use this for friends and family)
  • #design (designers and design-related services, fields, etc.)
  • #clients (current or past clients)
  • #prospects (self-explanatory…I hope!)
  • #reconnect (people I know and have fallen out of touch with)
  • #develop (people I don't know so well, but would like to)
  • #maven (people who are the best at what they do)
  • #writing (anything writing-related—my writing, other writers, etc.)
  • #speaking (same as above, but with speaking)
  • #reco (people I'd recommend to other people—I like looking smart by passing on good info, and I like being helpful!)

In addition to these, as long as I was going through everything, I added a few more for possible future sorting purposes:

  • #admin (emails needed for whitelisting purposes)
  • #blog #pr #journalist (for people who are plugged in, in case I have something I need to plug)
  • #? (names I had incomplete info for or flat-out didn't recognize; for GTDers, this is like a "someday-maybe" pile)

I'll be honest: once I got started, I found a lot more things I wanted to tag for. Stuff like where I'd met people, if at an event (#CFC, #SOBCon, #SXSW, etc.) or time of life (#ETHS, #cornell, etc) or any other thing I might possibly want to remember, use or sort for (#connector, for times I need to reach outside my network quickly; #law, in case I find myself running afoul of it—you get the idea.)

I then set up some smart groups immediately: "Friends," "Clients," "Develop," etc. I intend to start going through these lists methodically, getting in touch—or back in touch—day to day and week to week. I'll also do another pass with the tags and pull out all of the actors who have requested being on a mailing list for workshops I plan to start up in February.

The beauty of Smart Groups, hashtags and flexibility

Smart groups rule when it comes to this stuff because when you add a new contact and tag them, they automagically get placed in the corresponding group: it continually updates itself!

And now that I've (mostly) got everything tagged, I can also do combo platters as the need arises:

  • if someone calls for a copywriter recommendation, I search for (#writing + #reco)
  • if I need to talk to a journalist who specializes in marketing, I search for (#journalist + #marketing)
  • if I'm stuck on a Mac problem, I search for (#dev + #maven)

And so on. I can also search for location: if I'm planning something like my Seattle trip, I can create a Smart Group whose parameters include cities, states, ZIP codes, etc. (Apple, I'd love it if you'd make this stuff searchable on the fly in the iPhone! Oh—and Smart Groups ON the iPhone would be a great start, although I did find a roll-your-own scripting solution for the intrepid.)

Some words of advice before you start

In Address Book, the #hashtags go in the "Notes" section of the entry. The hashtag (#
sign) means that when you do a search, it will pull up only the tag,
not other stuff. For example, if you wanted "service" to be a tag but
didn't use the # sign in front of it, a search would pull up every
contact that had the word "service" in it instead of just your desired

Write out your tags on index cards first. Go crazy with the first pass. Write down everything you might EVER have to sort for. Then edit, tweak, refine. See what redundancies exist. See if you can make tags shorter and easier to remember. If you can afford the time, do this over a few days, especially if you're a nitpicky type like me. I eliminated something like 15 with one pass. (I added in new ones as I went, but it would have been worse if I'd kept those AND added new ones.)

Backup! Backup! Backup! Do it as you go, and keep redundant copies, just in case. ALWAYS perform a backup before you sync to any other program or device. Most responsible sync-ware will warn you before you do it, but be hyper-aware and responsible about it. Data entry is a great task when your brain is fried; syncing data is not. I screwed up my database once after syncing with Facebook (which was great for importing missing addresses and photos, but still) and again with the gmail sync. Backup. Seriously!

I won't lie: this has been a far, far more arduous task than I'd anticipated. I've been combing
through my various databases, email programs (gmail and local
and stacks of business cards for weeks now in anticipation of 2009. If you've got a lot of contacts, or have been undisciplined about setting up a system and sticking to it, give yourself time. You're not just doing monkey work for nothing; you're investing your time to create a powerful tool for reaching out to your current contacts and building your network as you grow.

The Simplest Solution

If you're just starting out with a brand new business, you may not need a system even this complicated. What you'll want to do is just to collect all the names and contact information you have of people, and get it all into some kind of trusted system: an address book, electronic or paper; a series of index cards, alphabetized; a separate piece of paper for each contact that you put in one folder to start, then more as you go.

Start with the information you have, and use that channel to get more. If you have an email, connect to say "hi", say what you're up to and send some sort of friendly message. If it's appropriate, you can ask for more info right there; if not, move slowly, build the relationship back up a bit and then ask for contact info. You want to be real and authentic, not a shark; no one likes to be looked at as though they were chum.

Keep a record of each communication with that person. When I was an actor, I noted each letter, audition or call on a sheet of paper devoted to that person (and kept copies of stuff on the computer.) I also noted things I read about them that might be of interest, like hobbies, achievements, etc., so there would be things to talk about the next time we met or spoke. You can catalog family members, birthdays, job changes—anything that's not creepy. And remember, people LOVE getting snail mail, if it's personal. (Well, most people do; if you find out someone doesn't, note that, too!)

Make the system better!

This is definitely a case where many minds are better than one. If you see flaws in the system, or ways to improve it, please let me know in the comments. And if you have a fantastic, completely different system of your own that words—especially with follow-up, which I know is going to be the weak link here—I would love to hear it.

NEXT MONDAY is WEEK TWO: Drafting boilerplate for email & a script for (gasp) cold calling!

  • More in: Connecting, How to Get the Most from ______, Marketing Plan in Action, Organizing, Posts by Colleen

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