If you’re the owner of a small business here’s a sobering thought. Imagine if you had stayed in contact with all the business prospects you met over the years through work, school or other activities. How much more robust would your list of contacts be?

I’ve often said that the best thing I ever did when I worked at Pepsi and Kraft Foods was that I made good friends. Actually, the best thing I ever did was to stay in touch with them over the years.

Certainly there was no way to predict that these people would go on to run companies such as Mattel, Hershey or Quaker Oats. I would also admit that there are numerous others with whom I wished I had stayed in touch, but for whatever reason, did not. I am sure you have similar regrets.

While it may not be practical or feasible for you to go back and try to reinvigorate these relationships, you can take steps to ensure that current and future contacts do not suffer the same fate. Obviously the key to maintaining relationships is to stay in touch on a regular and consistent basis. However, the biggest challenge we face is one of time.

Certainly we all have good intentions. However the simple fact of the matter is that we get busy and forget. This issue is particularly important for those of us who are responsible for marketing our businesses. From a practical perspective, in the vast majority of cases, the “sale” is not made with the lead generation materials. Nor is it made with your website, or offer of a free report.

No, our experience has been that the “sale” is made farther down the road. Well after the initial contact has been established. As a direct result of the ongoing series of Gentle Rain Drops that fall consistently upon your prospective clients. It’s these Gentle Rain Drops that build trust and credibility, and eventually serve to move prospects to take action. But first we have to remember to stay in touch. And that’s where automation plays a role.

You’re probably familiar, at least in concept, with autoresponders. These are the systems that enable you to send automated messages on a regular and consistent basis. However, although the concept of autoresponders is well understood, the percentage of small businesses that use them (or use them effectively) is quite small. The challenge to using autoresponders effectively depends on a couple of factors.

The first of which is getting a valid email address. We’ve found that the most effective method for getting an email address that makes it way through the SPAM filters, is to leverage your offer of free information.

Although opinions vary on this issue, we believe that it’s a mistake to offer your free information or white papers without requiring visitors fill out some sort of request form. From a practical perspective, it’s impossible to stay in touch with visitors to your website if you don’t get information about who they are.

So here’s a tip for making sure that the email address you get is good and valid. One that you can use for subsequent follow-up. Don’t enable people to receive your report when they just hit the submit button on the request form. That doesn’t ensure that the email address they give you is valid.

A better strategy is to send them an email with a link that enables them to download the information after they complete the form. Naturally, in order for them to get this email from you, they have to give you an address that will actually get to them. That’s the email address you use for all your subsequent messages.

Although most marketers will acknowledge that staying in touch is crucial, it invariably become the one part of the marketing puzzle that falls through the proverbial cracks. That’s why we think that every small business owner should invest in some sort of automated stay in touch system.

What’s right for you? Naturally the answer will depend. Personally we like the ease and functionality of the web based solutions, although the newest programs that incorporate multi-channel methods for sending those gentle rain drops are certainly the way of the future.

There are many strategies for growing your business but the real key is to have a marketing system. Sign up today for Mark’s free online newsletter that will show you precisely how to do that. http://www.gentlerainmarketing.com