You've heard it preached. Do your homework. Get to know who you're speaking to.
I worked for a great man once who used to say to me: "Noelle, I want to know what these clients eat for breakfast." He taught me the value of research and how important it was to connect with potential clients on a personal level, not just a professional one. By the time the first meeting happens, one-fourth of the time should be spent talking about your agency and three-fourths of the time about the client's business.
At the big shops I had the luxury of dialing up a "knowledge librarian" who would source every Factiva, OneSource, Lexus-Nexis and other database our business could possibly subscribe to. And sure enough -- 24 hours later, 400 pages of secondary research information, including a paid report or two, would come at me via interoffice mail.
Those days don't happen anymore.
Working at a small agency, if anything, has taught me how to be resourceful and creative with the resources at hand. And what resources we have these days!
Their names are no stranger to us. And most importantly, are no longer strangers to the many people out there who use them. Folks are actively posting personal pictures of everything -- what's in their fridge, what they wear everyday, the inside of their cars, family vacation -- on Flickr.
I also love to lurk on travel sites such as FlyerTalk, Yelp and TripAdvisor to see what people are saying about their hotel and flight experiences.
Interested in finding out about what moms think about organic food? Check out one of the many social networks for mothers (you'd be amazed at who's on there at 2:00 a.m.).
The web has changed us as a society. It's changed how we learn about companies. How we research needed information (Google Maps). How we are entertained (YouTube) How we speak to one another (MySpace) and how (and often what) products and services we buy (Amazon Reviews). While that may seem like an elementary fact to some of us, we often need to pause and think about how we can apply all this free information to our own businesses and, for us penny pinchers, how we can creatively use this open door to better research and understand what it means for our clients.