One of the great joys of our work is meeting a wide range of successful local business owners. Each has a wonderful story to tell about how they created and developed their firm, and each has special challenges.

Each owner has a set of talents that make his or her business unique, and some valuable lessons for all of us on what has worked for them.

On the principal that it’s easier to follow someone else’s best practices than spend time and effort making up our own, here are some lessons we can all apply from business people right in our own neighborhood.

We are not sharing these ideas for you to change your business partners and suppliers—these are simply people we have met and worked with whose business practices have given them above-average returns.

One is an independent insurance professional. Now, you probably all know that selling insurance is tough—in fact, there’s a saying in the business that “insurance is sold, not bought.” This insurance guy has created long-lasting relationships using a basic practice we should all follow: he makes and retains detailed notes about every single conversation he has with a client or potential client. Over twenty years, he has made a lot of notes! So now he can instantly and accurately recall exactly what his clients needs and issues are and offer products and services that change as people’s lives change. Because of this, his customers see that he has a detailed grasp of what’s important to them—a welcome change in an often-anonymous world.

Another makes and installs counter tops and cabinets. If you ask him the single thing he does that makes him more successful than his competition, he’ll say, “I call people back quickly.” He calls his prospects to confirm an appointment. He calls if he is going to be even five minutes late. He calls to let people know the status of their job. He calls to say how a quote is coming along. “Hey, I have a cell phone,” he says, “it’s so easy to do.” As a result he closes more deals, gets more repeat business and is recommended more often by his contractor partners.

The last one is the Membership Development Manager at a nearby Chamber of Commerce. She uses new social networking tools like LinkedIn, where she has a personal profile and a special Chamber group to connect to chamber members and potential members. The Chamber website allows visitors to track using Twitter and Facebook. The site is updated regularly with information that directly relates to the Chamber’s core message, “Where business connects”. This chamber has a reputation for being forward-thinking and has attracted over one thousand members.

Keeping notes of customer preferences, following up, and using new tools to automate the process: things we can all do to make our businesses more successful.

We are looking for more “success stories” and best practices. If you know of anyone who would allow us to interview them for this series, please let us know.

Elizabeth Walker and Ken BurginElizabeth Walker and Ken Burgin

Ken Burgin and Elizabeth Walker are the Marketing Masters, a full-service marketing and advertising partnership that helps build busy businesses.