The Two Most Important Words for Your Business

Michelle TauteWhen I quit my staff job at now defunct I.D. Magazine, there were plenty of people lining up to tell me why a solo writing business would never work. But nearly a decade later I’m the one being solicited for career advice.

Every three weeks or so an email or voicemail shows up asking me how exactly one makes a living as a freelance writer. And since plenty of people have given me help along the way, I always respond. I share tips and resources and even meet people for coffee or lunch.

But it’s what happens after these exchanges that’s given me the biggest business lesson. At least half the advice seekers never say “thank you.” I’m not expecting singing telegrams or hand delivered chocolates. A simple email thanking me for my time will do. And if you invite me out to lunch or coffee to pick my brain, it would be nice if you offered to pay (unless you’re a student, unemployed or a struggling recent grad). Surprisingly, I’ve found that the younger the advice seeker is, the more likely they are to say “thank you.”

And that made me think: How often do I really say “thank you” to all the people I interact with on a daily basis? Clients. Vendors. Colleagues. Office mates. It’s a simple gesture that helps build relationships, but it’s easy to forget this common courtesy in the daily whirlwind of deadlines, meetings and life. So I’ve decided to stop complaining (well, mostly) about other people not expressing gratitude and instead challenge myself to make “thank you” the two most important words for my business.

How often do you say thank you? And how often do people say it to you?

Listen to BTW: [audio:]

If you’re not sure if you can do a solo business — whether writer, designer, illustrator, photographer or any other endeavor — check out “Do you have what it takes to be a freelancer?” and see.

4 thoughts on “The Two Most Important Words for Your Business

  1. Lisa Lehman

    I was fortunate to learn the importance of saying thank you early on in my self-employment. I’ve had the benefit of working with a wonderful client who taught me the value of this by their actions toward everyone they do business with. It is, perhaps, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in business.

  2. Saya

    Michelle, this has been on my mind for the past couple of years, as I transitioned from self-employed newbie to self-employed I think I’ll make it! Thanks for spotlighting the topic —

    I get a few “coffee” requests a week, usually from people who want to pick my brain about entrepreneurship, self-employment, and/or the fields I’m in [digital media, teaching, and event hosting]. Remembering how helpful people were to me when I first started out, I used to say yes to everyone, but I just can’t do them all anymore out of “the kindness of my heart.” It’s gotten so time-consuming. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making “Coffee” a part of my business, bringing together small groups of the requesters for a group coffee that I facilitate. We’ll see, I have to flesh the idea out a bit more…

    RE. thank-yous, I’ve been appalled at how often coffee-requesters and others don’t do a follow-up note of gratitude. I send snail-mail thank-you cards all the time. It’s so rare we get real mail anymore, it really makes you stand out; it’s such a nice feeling to get a card amongst all the bills and credit card offers. And penning them is fun as well! A throw-back to the olden days, if you will…

  3. Michelle Taute

    Saya, I couldn’t agree more! Handwritten thank you cards definitely help you stand out from the crowd. And I think you coffee group idea sounds great!

    A lot of my writer friends include an “advice for new writers” section on their websites. It includes some basic tips and a list of resources–books, groups, etc.–to help newcomers do that first layer of digging on their own.