Handle It Like a Boss
Do you ever open your least favorite client’s email, think about punching him, close the email, and then stew about it the rest of the day (without ever responding)? Do you wonder if you’re being too direct? Or not direct enough?
You didn’t start your own business so you could live in email purgatory. What you need are some handy email templates for getting more sales and referrals, asking for freebies, and dealing with jerks. While obviously your personal style will vary, it’s nice to have something to build on.
Here are six templates to tackle problems like a boss — and reach potential new clients.
I Don’t Know You, But You Should Buy From Me
The Situation: You want strangers to give you money, but you don’t want to be a spammer.
Sending email is a little less nerve-wracking than cold-calling people, but you still don’t want to spend time crafting a personal email to a prospect only to get a one-word reply: “UNSUBSCRIBE.”
How do you avoid that? Obviously, don’t send an email that sounds like it was sent to 10,000 people at once. But going in the other direction has its perils as well — don’t write an email that sounds really friendly and social and complimentary, and then sneakily slip in, “And it’s only $400/month!” That’s obnoxious and everyone hates it.
Ideally, you want to sound like a human being and a peer that your prospective client would like to do business with.
Be up-front that you’re selling something, and be really specific about the benefits and exactly who stands to benefit most (if you have something you’re selling to everyone, why are you emailing me about it?). But if you have something that saves residential real estate agents hundreds of dollars a month, then it’s probably okay to email real estate agents and suggest that, if most of their listings are residential, you’d be happy to set up a phone call to see if you could save them hundreds of dollars a month. The more specific and targeted the pitch, the more welcome it will be.
Find some common ground before emailing the person: “I read your recent blog post about X,” or “I saw on LinkedIn that we both attended IndustryCon.” Even if your “common ground” is a bit of a stretch (“I see we both went to college in Massachusetts — brr, it’s cold up there!”), it shows that you took some time to write the email.
Dear [Person’s Name],
Hi, I’m [name], from [company]. I don’t think we’ve met yet, but we’re both members of [networking group].
I’m emailing you because I’ve spent the last year working on an offering I think might be right for [your company] — this is a CRM software package specifically for [your type of business].
Compared to the top three providers in the market, we are more than $300 cheaper per month, while still providing all the features smaller businesses need. If I’m right that switching to us would help you save money, I can personally assist you in transferring over.
(If you don’t currently use CRM software, this might not be a match, although we do have an onboarding process for smaller businesses just getting started with CRM.)
Thanks in advance for considering this, and I hope to meet you in person at [networking group] one of these days.
[physical address, showing you are a real company and not sketchy at all]
Always share your personal involvement in the product to show you’re not just a salesperson — as in, “I’ve spent the last year working on X,” or “My team and I have just launched version 2.0.”
Note that email might not be the best way to conduct your cold sales. LinkedIn is often a more appropriate venue, since everyone is there to do business.
Give Me Free Things
The Situation: You want to use an event space and you don’t want to pay for it. You want a software package that costs $250 a month, and you just don’t have the cash. But you’re not a nonprofit. Why should anyone just give you stuff?
Requests for free things are usually a long shot — but that’s okay, since there’s nothing stopping you from asking 20 event spaces for a freebie in the hopes of getting one “yes.” How can you increase your chances of success?
Don’t just ask for something for free. In fact, try not to use the word “free.” Ask a business to “comp” you, or ask for an “in-kind sponsorship.” Even better, ask a business to “collaborate” with you, “sponsor” you, or become a “partner.”
These kinds of pitches also work out better when you can offer something in return. You could offer to write reviews for the company on Yelp and other platforms or allow yourself to be used as a testimonial or before-and-after study. The fact that you don’t have much money, power, or influence actually makes your recommendations more valuable, since you’re a “real person.”
Instead of “Can I have your software for free?”, try this.
Hi [software founder]:
We are a startup that [does exciting and awesome stuff]. It looks like [software] would be perfect for our needs. It really looks like you’ve thought of everything!
We are currently in the process of seeking investment, which is a bit of an extended process. Would you be able to offer us an extended free trial of 10 months, rather than one? By that point, we should be able to upgrade to the Standard or Premium version.
Thanks for considering this. By the way, I’d be happy to review the software both on [software site] and on our own blog. Let me know!
Counterintuitively, it’s best not to plead poverty; instead, make it sound like your new collaborator is getting in on the ground floor of an amazing startup.
I Want All the Referrals, Please
The Situation: You met someone at a networking event and you want her to send you business. So far, your entire relationship with her is a ten-minute chat while you wore nametags and drank wine out of plastic cups. Not much to build on.
If, during your chat, she actually said, “That’s great; my sister really needs one of those,” then sure, send her an email asking for her sister’s contact information. And if you discovered you both work in businesses where you could send referrals to each other, or provide some other mutual benefit, then email her to set up a coffee date and get to know each other better.
But if you just had a fairly standard chat in which you each explained your business, one of you joked about the cheese plate, and then you moved on, don’t send an email suggesting that she send all her clients to you, starting immediately.
Instead, keep the email subtle, light, and friendly, and try to offer a useful resource — and then jam your pitch and links into your signature.
This puts your offer in front of your contact without shoving it in her face or forcing her to write an awkward reply email (As in, “Sorry, we don’t use CRM software and I don’t know anyone who does.” If someone has to write that to you, you won’t be hearing from them again.)
When interested parties click on the links in your signature, they feel like they’re checking you out, not like they’re doing an annoying chore.
It was a pleasure meeting you last night at [networking event]. I just wanted to send a quick email (and LinkedIn invite!) to keep in touch.
Oh, and that website I mentioned that I thought might be useful to you is [URL]. Hope that helps.
See you at the next event!
[A descriptive tagline, like “Home to sell? Call us first!”]
[All your contact information]
[Another link to a specific offer, article about you in the press, etc. Really go for broke down here.]
Keep in mind that if asking for referrals is kind of your main deal, there are groups designed specifically for trading referrals where you don’t have to worry that asking directly will be a turnoff. Get someone to recommend you for a local Business Networking International (BNI) chapter, for instance, and you’ll find yourself attending mandatory, highly structured weekly meetings with people who are required to bring you referrals — just as you’ll be expected to do for them. You get a lot of insurance salespeople, real estate salespeople … all kinds of salespeople.
If you want to keep your networking schedule a little (or a lot) more casual, though, use a light touch when asking for referrals and make sure that your online presence (where you send the people who click links in your signature) is on point.
We’re Raising Our Rates
The Situation: Your rates are reasonable — so reasonable that no one ever complains or says no. Guess what? That means it’s time to raise your rates.
Do NOT make excuses for raising your rates. Don’t even give reasons. Definitely don’t complain that the rent is going up, or you’re having trouble paying the bills. People want to work with winners. People want to think they’re paying more because you’re so in demand.
It’s one thing if you sell tacos and global avocado prices have quadrupled. In that case, you might tell your customers that prices are going up because of the poor avocado crops. But then, won’t you be expected to lower prices when avocado costs fall again? Maybe you should just raise prices because you’re the boss and you can. You are raising rates because that’s what successful businesses do.
However, you don’t want to make your clients feel unappreciated or out of the loop, so don’t spring major cost increases without ample notice, and reward clients for their loyalty.
Dear [Client Name],
I’m writing to let you know that as of [date 30 days from now], our rates will be increasing from [old rate] to [new rate].
However, to thank you for your longstanding relationship with us, [your firm] will be grandfathered in and will be able to keep booking us at the current rate until [date six months from now] — that’s an extra five months before the rate increase kicks in.
Thanks for helping make us a success, and we look forward to continuing to work with you.
Easy. If a few clients decide to move on, that’s fine — that’s how you grow.
Could You Stop Being Such an Asshole?
The Situation: Your client is verbally abusing you or your employees. He makes unreasonable demands. He wants extra services without paying for them and will shout at you if he doesn’t get them. You’re probably better off without him, but first let’s try a warning shot.
You must hit this situation head-on. Do NOT do something passive-aggressive, like sending the client an email telling him to submit all his future requests through a Web form instead of calling. Do not seem desperate to keep the client’s business. Do not use “I feel” language (“I feel that our working relationship has taken a bad turn”) — you’re not married to this person. Do not throw your own employees under the bus or condone abuse against yourself or your employees.
Instead, be direct about the fact that there is a problem, the situation is not sustainable, and you’re comfortable with the fact that you and the client might need to break up. Don’t shrink back — use the email to insist on a phone call, or a meeting in the office. Today. Tomorrow at the latest.
At the same time, give the client a face-saving way to shape up. He doesn’t need to apologize (although it would be nice). He just needs to say, “No, let’s keep things the way they are. I was just having a bad day.” Try this.
I heard from Tara, our lead designer, that we got an angry phone call from you the other day. It’s important to us to make sure our projects are being executed as per our agreements, and also that our employees are able to work in a cordial and positive environment.
Let’s schedule a phone call to talk about workflow. It seems as though you are requesting rounds of revisions that aren’t in the contract and that our team isn’t authorized to spend the hours on. If this is the case, we can move you to an hourly billing arrangement. If that isn’t suitable, we may unfortunately have to remove ourselves from your projects.
Is this afternoon good? I’m available after 2.
Note that this email doesn’t undermine Tara in any way, nor does it suggest that the customer is always right. It does suggest that a contract is in place and the company will fulfill the terms of that contract. It also makes it clear that the company will be just fine without this guy’s money.
That said, plenty of unreasonable clients back down when you threaten them with hourly billing or some other way of making them pay for their own unreasonableness.
I’m Firing You as a Client
The Situation: Your client continues to be an asshole.
Don’t keep asshole clients. Is working with assholes the reason you went into business? You dreamed of being an entrepreneur so you could bend over backwards to accommodate people you loathe?
Didn’t think so.
Even if you only spend a few hours a week actually interacting with a bad client, how many hours do you spend thinking about that person? And running back over conversations in your head? (As in, I can’t believe he said that! Here’s the snappy comeback I should’ve made….)
Even if you’re desperate for business, firing the client may still be the right move — it’ll free up bandwidth to find new clients. There’s an opportunity cost to doing business with jerks; it takes up energy you could be using to locate non-jerks.
Don’t waver. Don’t “explore the possibility” of breaking up. Don’t talk about how you feel. Don’t lie or avoid the issue (“We just have too many clients, so we’re cutting back — nothing personal!”). Please. Woman up. Don’t leave an opening for the client to argue or try to change your mind. Don’t list the client’s sins. Don’t try to get the client to agree with you about how wrong he is. And don’t provide a referral.
Be concise, unemotional, and unimpeachably professional. Just say, “I’m writing to terminate our contract” or, if you want to be a bit nicer: “I’m resigning as your accountant.”
Refund any money the client is due. Keep it classy — if there’s any question at all, give them their money and get out cleanly.
I’m writing to let you know that, unfortunately, our arrangement isn’t working out, and I am terminating our professional relationship.
I’ve attached your [February bookkeeping] to date, and all the documents I have that your next [bookkeeper] might find helpful. I’ve also refunded your February retainer payment.
I wish you the best of success in your future endeavors.
Done. Now enjoy your asshole-free business!
This piece was origially published on DailyWorth in February of 2015.