Creating Luck

Ideas that will grow your business

The Immense Power of the Handwritten Note

When I was in my 20s and trying to figure out how to start a business, I realized that I needed help.

True to the old saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear,” I read about a local mentor/protege program where first time entrepreneurs are paired with experienced business people for one-on-one mentoring.  I applied for the program.

A few weeks later, I was one of several people scheduled to be interviewed by Barry Friedman, a potential mentor.  At the time, Barry was the CEO of Friedman & Fuller, a successful local accounting firm.Thank You Note

He wasn’t much for small talk.  When I walked into his office, we shook hands and sat at his conference table.  He couldn’t pronounce my name so he just nodded his head.  From the moment we sat down, he started grilling me with lots of tough questions while taking notes on his fresh new pad of paper.

Fairly quickly, as I stumbled to respond to the barrage of very legitimate business questions he was shooting at me, I started to wonder why I was in business in the first place.  It became obvious to me that I knew very little.

Finally, the interrogation ended.  Then, Barry asked if I had any questions for him.  I figured I had nothing to lose – after all, “why would such an experienced business person waste his valuable time on me?” I thought.

I told him it that was clear to me that I would learn a lot from him.  Then I asked, “So, what would you get out of doing this?”

He immediately put down his pen and turned soft.  “I was once in that chair,” he said pointing to me.  “I know you need someone to hold your hand and show you the ropes.  I think I can do that for you.”

Boy did that comment feel good.

Barry acknowledged my fears, understood my pain and appeared to be willing to help.  Before I left the interview, I thanked him for his time.  He told me that he had some more people to interview and that he or the program’s director would be in touch.

On the drive home, all I could think about was the benefit of working with Barry.  I wanted him to pick me out of the pool of candidates he was interviewing.  More than wanting it, I envisioned it.  I started to visualize both of us working together.  I could feel it happening and it felt great.

Handwritten Thank You Note

I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. That night, I drafted a handwritten note to him appreciating his time and expressing that I was looking forward to working with him.  My attitude this time was completely different – very positive.  No more thinking “why would he pick me?”  Now all I could think was “of course he is going to pick me.” The tone of my letter reflected the feeling that I had: I was going to be his protege and that was that.

I got picked.

Some time later, Barry revealed to me that I was the only one who sent him a “thank you” note.  Nobody else he interviewed even bothered to follow up.

He was just as excited to work with me as I was with him.  Our business relationship quickly blossomed into one of mutual respect.  A year after joining the program, he and I capitalized on each others’ strengths to form a new venture we called GovCon, the first web portal to help federal government contractors find bidding opportunities online.

We grew GovCon to be the largest web site of its kind and sold it a few years later to a publicly traded company for millions of dollars.

It all started by saying “thank you” the old fashioned way – in writing.

Express Gratitude Every Chance You Get

Twenty years later, I continue to use the handwritten “thank you” note – now on personalized stationery – every chance I get.

  • Hey Mike, thanks for inviting me to your business social. It was great seeing you again!
  • Alison, I saw the article about you in today’s Post. Way to go!
  • Nicole, congratulations on your promotion!

One time I sent individual handwritten notes to a group of executives at a company that I was trying to do a business deal with.  Unbeknownst to me, the postal service lost one of the notes to a key executive, Bill.  I happen to see the group again at a conference the following week and another executive mentioned to me jokingly that Bill was wondering where his note was.

Horrified that Bill might have felt alienated, I made it a point to let him know that I sent him a note, too.  He smiled and said not to worry about it.  I didn’t let it go.  My company makes an email marketing product so I sent him another handwritten thank you note the next day, this time saying “Bill, our deliverability is a lot more reliable than the post office” and sent it by Fedex.

I got an email from him the next day inviting my company to make a formal presentation to them.

Unfair Advantage

People remember handwritten notes because nobody else sends them.  Use them and you will be more memorable than, well, everybody else.

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