ONE successful young man I interviewed at a financial planners' meeting told me: "I used to be in another industry. I went into financial planning when I was 33 years old. I joined my father's small firm. He had been in the business for years, but I had to go out and get my own customers."

The young man drew up a list of 20 movers and shakers in his community -- 20 affluent people who were eagerly pursued by everyone in the investment community. He had very little experience and had not yet "earned their business".

He called on each of these people and said: "I am new to this business. You know my father, but you don't know me. I am not trying to sell you anything. I know I haven't earned the right yet, but can I please have a 10-minute interview?

"As a leader in the community, would you tell me what I should do to earn the right to do business with people like you?"

See what he did? He made it safe by telling them upfront that he was not going to try to get them to buy anything. All he wanted was 10 minutes of their time.

Frankly, I think you have to be very lucky to get 10 minutes of an important person's time. But he presented it in such an appealing way that no one turned him down. And he kept his side of the bargain. After 10 minutes, he left unless he was invited to stay longer.

At the end of his first year, three of those people actually gave him a small portion of their portfolio to manage. By the end of three years, seven out of the original 20 people had placed a portion of their investments with his firm. He had finally earned the right to conduct business with them.

Stay in touch

There are two kinds of people whom you can market your product: those who know and trust you, and those who have not heard of you. You can advertise traditionally, over the Internet, network and join organisations or do a combination of these to get new business.

But please don't think these methods alone are adequate for keeping in touch with your business associates. These are people who have inquired about you or what you do, whom you have met at a meeting or who have done some business with you previously. Keep in touch with these valuable resources.

When veteran entrepreneur Homer Dunn was an up-and-coming salesperson at information technology giant IBM, he told me that there are three kinds of people that he calls on.

"First, there are the people I've already made a sale to. I keep calling on these customers, making sure they are satisfied with the product and the service." Doing so maintains the sale.

"Then there are the people I'm calling on -- those that are in the sales cycle which can be a long-term process."

"Finally, there are the people I want to do business with but have not earned the right to do business with yet. But I am maintaining a relationship and letting them know of my progress and success. So when I have finally earned the right to the sale, they are all mine."

If you want to improve your business, ask yourself:

* What am I doing this week to earn the right to people's business?

* What more can -- or should -- I do?

* Whom have I targeted in my community? Who else should I approach?

Write your answers down for the first question and make lists for the second and third. Then, devise a strategy and timeline to achieve these targets.