What’s In Your Tool Chest?

My friend Andy came to Boston on Tuesday. He lives in LA and sent me an e-mail to let me know he was coming to town: “If you’re free and interested, I’d be glad to buy you dinner.”

Between you and me, I wasn’t sure if his invitation meant that he’d be eating along with me, but a free meal is a free meal, so I took my chances and said yes.

He told me he was staying at the Westin Hotel in Copley place, so I suggested Legal Sea Foods, a terrific restaurant that never disappoints. We agreed to meet at 6:30.

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I arrived about 10 minutes early so I had a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. 20 minutes later he hadn’t shown up, so I sent him a text:

Me: Here at Legal!
Andy: Seated
Me: Stand by

I grabbed my half-full glass, walked into the restaurant proper and started looking around.

No Andy. So I asked a waiter: “Have you seen a guy sitting by himself in here somewhere?” Nope.

As I made my way back to the front entrance, things were starting to click together. I asked the hostess: “By any chance, is there more than one Legal Sea Foods in the area?”

She smiled and handed me a small slip of paper. I confess that for one fleeting moment I thought maybe it would be her phone number, but no, it was walking directions to the other Legal Sea Food.

I thanked her, sent a quick text to Andy and gulped the remainder of my beer. Eight minutes later, we were sitting down to dinner.

Now I don’t know why the people at Legal feel the need for two restaurants so close together. Some people go years between seafood meals; certainly the rest of us could afford to hang on for three more blocks.

Whatever the reason, clearly I was not the first person to make this mistake. The prewritten slip of paper was a smart idea – one that made the hostess’s life easier by her not having to keep repeating walking directions and my life easier by not having to remember them.

So, what kinds of simple, efficient tools have you developed for your business? If you find yourself creating things from scratch, over and over again, it might be worth considering.

Here are a few that I rely on, to help get you thinking:

  • Directions to my office. I don’t get a ton of visitors, but after typing it into an e-mail a few times, I developed a one-sheet direction page complete with a map, instructions for parking and my contact information. I e-mail it to people the first time they come.
  • Standardized cards. “Congratulations on the launch of your newsletter;” “Thank you for the referral;” “Good to meet you.”
    Using an online service called Send Out Cards (my affiliate link) that automates the sending of snail mail cards from my computer, I’ve set up a number of standard templates. I customize the messages each time, but the format is done and ready to go.
  • Service descriptions. I’ve got a handful of client programs that I offer. These are invariably customized for different people and different situations, but here as well, I begin with a standard template that I modify.
  • New client questionnaire. I ask new clients to fill out a 30-question (or so) questionnaire about their company, goals, approach, clients, etc., before our first meeting.
    It helps them begin thinking about our work together and gives me greater insight into who they are and what they need before we begin. Plus, it gives them the (accurate) impression that I’ve done this many times before.
  • Newsletter sign-up form. Speaking to a group is a terrific opportunity to grow your newsletter subscriber list. If they like you, you can easily walk away with 75% of the room signing up.
    I’ve got a form that I pass out and that I’ve fine-tuned over the years to make this as productive as possible (click “reply” to send me an e-mail and I’m happy to share it with you).

Here’s the bottom line. Lots of solos don’t bother developing these kinds of simple tools and systems – they think they’re only for big companies and big projects.

Not me. The way I look at it, the more efficient we can get managing repeatable, often mundane aspects of our work, the more time there is for eating seafood.


12 thoughts on “What’s In Your Tool Chest?

  1. Darcie Harris

    Great advice (as always) Michael. Made me hungry for coconut battered shrimp.

    One little time-saver for me is to use the “signature” feature in Outlook for much more than my signature. I have about 6 “signatures” I use often, for example, if someone outside my geographic area of service inquires about services, I just hit reply and insert that signature, personalized as needed. I also use a “signature” to invite people to events. I create the invitation text, insert into personal emails, and tweak as needed for each person. Huge time saver for me!

  2. Mark Wayland

    Michael, I’d love to see your newsletter sign-up form. Here’s what I do when I’m speaking to a small-ish group of 30 or so.

    I have a flip chart or white board at the room’s entrance and as the punters walk in I welcome them, shake their hand, and say, “we’re running a simple survey.” I point them to the chart/ board which has an appropriate question (for the group and the topic) like “How good are your sales coaching skills?” and below that I have a line with 0 at the left end and 10 at the other.

    I ask them for their business card and put a small amount of blu-tack on the back and ask them “where do you put yourself?” I slide their card along the line back and forth until they say “about there.”

    I’ve never had anyone refuse and they all like seeing where other people have put themselves. At the end of the meeting I say that I have more information to share and if you don’t want that take your card off the chart/ board. My opt out rate is about 2%.

    This works on many levels and I have many opportunities for interaction and to reference it during the talk. Plus at the end of the meeting I leave with a pile of cards.

  3. Mark Wayland

    Thanks Michael. You need to get out more.
    It mostly works because of the opportunity for interaction right from the start rather than when you get “on stage.” I found that the audience’s attitude to me when I started on stage was that they were “tolerating me. ” By interacting right from the moment they walk in they start “liking me” and have every opportunity to “love me.”

    Thanks Darcie….. then you’ll really like the new website

  4. DianeDarling

    Hi Michael –

    GREAT story …. especially since my office is one floor above Legal’s. (I’ll forgive you for not coming by!)

    Just don’t tell tooooo many people about the hidden, quiet, nice one! I love it.

    Best ~ Diane

  5. Jack Pignatello

    Michael: Talk about mundane tasks….I use Google Desktop and the Scratch Pad gadget to store strings of text that I use all the time:

    -RENT 41′ ramp as per attached drawing dated 1/11/13. Rental rate is per month.

    -PURCHASE 41′ ramp as per attached drawing dated 1/11/13.

    -Rental discount. Net rental rate is $

    -Here’s the proposal for your ramp. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call.

    -Amramps are designed to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) design criteria. These are Federal Standards as we provide in all states. Our price is based on ADA criteria. If you require us to provide a ramp that is to meet other local requirements, please let us know before we deliver so we can provide a cost quote for those requirements.

    Excluded: Permits, site work, concrete work, landscaping of any kind, in fill above or below the ramp surface.

    -Hi…you checked into our website and asked for more information. I cover the Northern NJ Amramp territory, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. I can also come to your home for a free evaluation. Call me when it’s convenient.

    Depending on the need, I just copy and paste the item. After all these years, I’m still a two-finger typist, and this gadget certainly comes in handy!

  6. Stephen Church

    To ‘hook’ clients for the first time, I offer a Free Copy Healthcheck. Nothing new there, but I’ve devised a basic template in excel, with all the basic elements for web copy listed down the left and then a semi-traffic light system in the next column. I say ‘semi’, because if an element is fine, I enter a green tick (sorry my American friends – I should have written ‘check’ 🙂 ). If the copy is not good, I enter a red X, followed by an explanation.
    The more of these free reveiws I do, and the more I learn, the more I develop it, but it both saves time and it looks as though I know what I’m doing.

  7. Stephen Church

    Oh and while I’m on a roll, here’s another little tool I’ve just invented. There’s this guy I know called Michael Katz. He rates himself pretty highly as some kind of an ace Solo Professional guru. That’s because he IS an ace Solo Professional guru. So – this Michael guy – he keeps sending out these Newsletters and Videos on all aspects of running a solo business. There are hundreds of them and they contain so much that’s innovative, humourous and simply, ‘on the money’. Here’s my problem – how do I archive them? I need to be able to access them when I need a particular tip. So – I’ve devised a simple spreadsheet for all my online marketing resources –

    First column – Source e.g. Michael Katz
    Second Column – Theme e.g. Birhtday Cards
    Third Column – Tags/Key Words e.g. Birthday Keeping In Touch
    Fourth Column – Link to article e.g. https://bluepenguindevelopment.com/2013/12/stay-in-touch-with-birthday-cards-really/?inf_contact_key=099dba601687a73ad3929415f03304340d03779b796e76061d46bd737a2c960a

    Now, when there’s a topic I need to check out, I simply have to carry out a ‘Find’ excercise using the relevant key word(s) and … Happy Days 🙂


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