10 things you need to know about thank you notes

By Katherine Vessenes

Vestment Advisors

When I first started writing about handwritten thank you notes two years ago, I had never received a business-related note. Today, it isn't unusual for me to receive 12 or more per week. Unlike other mail, I read every single one.

I have had numerous financial consultants write to tell me that they had landed huge cases, sometimes in the multi-millions, because they sent a personalized thank you note. If you are new to handwritten notes, or just need a quick refresher to make them more effective, follow these 10 steps:

1. They must be handwritten. I know it's tempting to use a computer-generated signature or order a card online, and there is definitely a place for this technology. However, you will get the biggest wow experience if you take the time to compose a personalized note every time in your own handwriting.

2. Write these in the spirit of gratitude, not expecting anything in return. Like all of my marketing suggestions, they are based on what my mama taught me -- when you are nice to other people, they are nice to you. Send notes to people just to thank them for something they have done, particularly something that might go unnoticed. Don't expect to get something out of it -- you might, and I hope you do, but it is best to send them from the heart and in the spirit of thankfulness.

Here are some examples:

Dear Jane,

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you donating your time to the Sunday school class every week. Our little Georgie really enjoys coming. I know it can be time consuming to prepare new lessons, but I just wanted you to know your hard work is not only valuable, but we are thankful for your sacrifices.

Katherine and Peter

Dear Dr. Steve,

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated a busy dentist like you seeing me at 8:00 pm on a Sunday -- once a crown breaks, as you know, it is impossible for me to travel. You will be happy to know I made my flight and was able to give my speech. I am one of your biggest fans --thanks again for helping me out.

Katherine Vessenes

Dear Bill,

As I was sitting in Rotary last week, I was thinking about what great speakers we have had this last year. I know you have worked hard to find entertaining and educational programs for us. It may sometimes feel like a thankless job, but I, for one, am grateful for your sacrifices. Thanks for all of your hard work.

Katherine Vessenes

3. You, not your assistant, need to write them. First, it is a bit disingenuous to have your assistant writing something that appears to be personally from you, so the "ethics" of this bother me, and that will eventually come across to your clients and friends as being a little sleazy.

It also never ceases to amaze me how an inexperienced staff can mess up simple things like a handwritten note. Take this experience that happened to me: One of the top attorneys in the securities industry sent me a lovely Christmas gift and a personalized Christmas card. What struck me, though, was the spelling of his last name on the card. I noticed immediately it was not how I had been addressing him for many years. I looked him up in my data base and sure enough, the card's signature did not match my information. Intrigued, I decided to check out his Web site. Guess what? I was right; the name on the card was incorrectly signed, misspelling his last name. When I called to thank him for the gift, I couldn't resist asking, "Did you personally sign the Christmas cards?" He took a deep breath and I know he was very tempted to lie, but finally he said, no, his assistant had signed some. He was mortified to learn about the mistake. This is a case where a nice idea actually created a bad impression -- it made it appear as if he didn't pay attention to details. Exactly the last thing you want out of your lawyer.

4. Use high-quality card stock paper. Spend the money at Cranes to get some very nice note cards. I have tested many different responses to handwritten notes. One of the top differentiators is the quality of the paper and using cardstock -- heavy paper that is about the weight of a post card. For some reason, this makes a much stronger impression than nice stationery that is folded down the middle to fit into the envelope. The heavier the cardstock, the better. Just today, I received a lovely handwritten note. The content was great, but it was written on regular paper stock. It was still a good experience -- at least a seven or eight -- but for a little more money, you can give your clients a 10.

Note, I have had great luck buying nice, but less expensive cards at www.sassygirlstationery.com. Tell Deb I sent you.

5. Use cards that are approximately 4x6, or close to wedding-invitation size. The key here is not to use something that fits into a standard No. 10 business envelope. You want your note to stand out from other business letters.

This morning, I received four notes from one of our favorite clients in Seattle -- everyone in the office wrote the type of lovely sentiments that really keep us going. The problem? Their lovely notes on card stock fit into a business envelope. Yes, they hand-addressed the business envelope and that was part of the problem. If I hadn't recognized the firm, I probably wouldn't have opened the card because it looked like regular, boring business correspondence in a standard-sized envelope. In fact, it doesn't look quite that good, because the envelope is hand addressed -- it looks like they don't have the staff to type up the address.

So, hand-address your envelopes, but use something that is an odd size.

6. Get your assistant to help. Writing multiple notes can become laborious. To make the process more efficient, I have my assistant hand address the envelopes. I have her use the same type of pen that I would use. She always prints their name and address on the envelope. We do this for two reasons: 1) It is easier to read, and 2) it becomes less obvious that one person wrote the note and the other addressed the envelope. The assistant should also enclose your business card and log the note into your contact management software. When you send a lot of these, it becomes very difficult to remember to whom you have sent a thank you.

7. Use a nice pen. Another mistake I have seen advisors make is to get nice paper and then write the note with a cheap ballpoint pen. Once again, it makes you look like you don't pay attention to details, and you don't provide the wow experience for your clients.

8. Use lined envelopes. This is certainly not a requirement, but it does set you apart to have a lined envelope. Another little touch that says you recognize quality.

9. Have your name engraved or embossed on the card. Usually, I prefer to keep it very classy and simple -- just your name. Leave the address, phone numbers, etc to the business card. Another variation would be using your initials. The engraving or embossing is important because people will regularly run their fingers over your name to see if it was printed inexpensively. Engraving provides a raised impression and embossing will usually show on both sides of the card. Both are acceptable and speak of quality.

Sometimes, I am asked if you should put the name of your firm on the card instead of your name. The answer depends on what you want to brand. If you want to brand your company, use that name. If you want to brand yourself and your personal relationship with clients, then use your own name.

10. Set a goal to do a certain number every day. When I first started my own law firm, my goal was to send out three to five every workday. It paid off for me, I discovered within a year I was making as much money working part time as the other attorneys in town were making working full time.

If your goal is to send three to five thank you notes a day, you tend to get very creative about who you are sending them to. After you run out of clients and prospects, you will be forced to send them to old college professors and people you meet at your children's soccer games. They may be great clients -- they may not. But they probably know great clients who will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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