I have a terrific office.

It’s just a few miles from my house.

It’s directly across the street from our town’s village green.

It’s so close to the starting line of the Boston Marathon, that if I mash my face against the side window (not recommended), I can see the painted start line in the road.

It’s also reasonably priced, accessible 24/7, and has plenty of parking.

Office space in my town (Hopkinton, Massachusetts) isn’t that hard to come by these days. I see “space available” signs regularly in local buildings.

Back in 2002, though, when we moved here, there was nothing. I spent an entire day, walking up and down the streets, going into every commercial building and asking about availability.

The best offer I got was from an architect who had space in an extra cube (no, thank you).

So I did the next best thing: I went one town over and eventually found a spot. It wasn’t ideal for a lot of reasons, but good enough.

One day, about two years later, I got a phone call. It was from Jim, the owner of the building I now work in, telling me that something had opened up.

I rushed right over to take a look. Fifteen minutes later, I was writing him a check.

And then I asked: “I was here two years ago; how did you remember me?”

He smiled, reached into his top desk drawer and pulled out the thank you note I had written. Nothing fancy (I didn’t even remember writing it), just “thanks for your time, please let me know if things change, etc.”

For some reason, he had held onto it for two years.

The best marketing tool on earth is the handwritten thank you note.

Three reasons:

  1. It costs money. Not a lot, but enough that people know you didn’t send a thousand of them.
  2. It doesn’t scale. See #1 above. Plus, there is time and effort involved. Here as well, the recipients know they are part of a fairly select group.
  3. Snail mail itself has become an empty channel. See #1 and #2 above (sorry, is this getting too complicated?). Because it costs money, and because it takes effort, nobody does it anymore. Pretty much the only mail any of us receives are bills and junk. So handwritten notes have impact (I bet the “open rate” is close to 100%). I’ve had people call me up to thank me for my notes. I’ve visited clients and seen my note posted on the bulletin board. It’s the way I found my current office (oh wait, I already told you that).

Here’s the bottom line. I love technology and automation. There’s no way I’d be working as a solo if I couldn’t take advantage of all the tools that let me run my business efficiently, most of which didn’t even exist twenty years ago.

But I’m a big believer, precisely because of all the technology and automation we deal with every day, that customized, offline activities have more impact than ever before.

Particularly if you compete with larger companies, most of which are constrained by the need for scale, efficiency, and the cost-savings inherent in cookie-cutter rules and processes, you have a huge opportunity in front of you by doing what they cannot.

That’s why I send one handwritten note per week to someone (not the same someone, that would make no sense).

Most times I have no way to gauge the impact. But every once in a while, I know for sure that it opened a door (in this case, quite literally).

This article originally appeared here on Blue Penguin Development and has been republished with permission.