How I Use The Tickler File and Airtable To Improve My Business.
While I’ve been a wearer of many hats, my first career chapter was in the hotel business. I worked my way up from a front desk clerk all the way to regional management level of a business-class franchise, and nearly every position in-between over the course of nine years and one bad vocational school decision. In that time I learned a lot about presentation, customer service, resource allocation, and more than anything, indirect sales.
You see, you can’t force a person to stay in a hotel. You can’t, short of burning a house down, create a situation in which a hotel stay is absolutely necessary, so you really don’t have a lot of control over the demand for lodging at any price level. You can only influence a consumer, a potential guest, to choose your hotel when the need for one arises. In many cases, it’s not even the guest you are influencing. It’s the business travel manager for the tech company down the road or the housing advisor for a nearby community college, and if your property, your product, is right for it, it’s the caterers, event planners, and other industry professionals that handle weddings, corporate events, and other large gatherings. The actual guest is your end goal, but you get to them through these other channels of reputation management.
This is the same for so many other businesses where you have an amazing product or service, but one that may rarely be needed by an individual customer. In order to be profitable, you need a way to reach as many potential customers as possible, and often on a limited marketing budget. The best way to do this, in my experience, is through personal relationship management with key influencers. It’s certainly not a new practice, but it is one that a lot of newer business owners go through a lot of trial and error before the light bulb shines and they find their flow. To help give you a head start on growing your potential customer reach, I’m going to share with you the system I learned in hotel sales, and continue to use to this day; The Tickler File.
A Tickler File is traditionally a system of files or an index card catalog, organized by future dates, that remind you of upcoming opportunities that may impact your business. Most tickler files consist of 31 numbered Day folders and 12 Month dividers, commonly referred to as the “43 folders system”, outlined by Merlin Mann. In it’s simplest form, whenever you come across a future opportunity, you make a note or collect related research, and slip it into the appropriate section of your tickler file. If the opportunity is for later this month, it would go in the numbered folder for the date you need to take action on. If it is for a future month, you would file it accordingly. Each day as you sit down to begin your lead prospecting, you would pull today’s notes and research from the file and start with those. As you work your leads, if it is a recurring opportunity, you would save and expand on your notes and research before filing it back away. If it did not pan out, you would make a note and either dispose of it or move it to a permanent file, depending on your business needs.
I used to do this for my hotel sales team by tracking graduation dates, birthdays annual corporate gatherings and so on, but these days my use of the tickler file has changed, and so has the technology I employ to help make it simpler to manage. This is where Airtable (referral link) comes in. Airtable is a database management system that you can use for ALL KINDS of projects. In fact, the many ways I use it myself could fill an entire book, but for today I am going to leave an overview video below so you can familiarize yourself with the service’s finer points, while jumping straight to the new and improved digital tickler file.
Simply put, every time someone new joins my contact list, I add them to my Airtable database, then I pop a few notes into the Tickler file (see the video below). I track their join date, and their birthday. As simple as that. If in the course of knowing them I notice that they have a major life event such as a big move, a business launch, or an addition to their family, I add that to the tickler too. As professional relationship grows, this allows me a quick and easy glance at what major opportunities for celebration are coming down the pipeline. A similar practice can be used for any business owner that wants to stay a step ahead of customer contact or sales opportunities. You can track 30-day check-ins, estimations of when a product should run out or need upgraded or servicing, when they might need an event planner or caterer or any other situation in which sales and consumers meet. What I like about using Airtable for this is that the contact’s information and any past notes are all connected every time that contact is referenced in the file, so everything I need to stay in touch is all in one place, right along with the reminder to reach out.
Airtable in Action:
More about Airtable:
To see some of the handy blogging tools I keep close by when I go out in the field, check out this collection on my Kit.com profile!
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