If you run a small business, particularly a knowledge or consulting business, you probably do a lot of writing: articles, marketing materials, blogs, maybe even books. All of it hopefully supports your business interests.

For me, one small piece of writing is one of the most profitable things I do. Sometimes, it’s even more so than my invoices. It is quick, easy, and most of your competitors never, ever do it. What is it?

Thank you notes.

No one crosses my palms with silver, or does me a favor, without getting a thank you note.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. I do not compose thank you notes as a strategic weapon for growth. I do it because my mother raised me that way. They have one objective and one alone: to thank people. But the good vibes and connections they build have served me quite well, and will serve you well too. Here are some guidelines for creating good ones:

No invoices

A thank you note with an invoice attached isn’t a thank you note. It is a polite invoice. These are two very different things. For me, the thank you always comes first and the billing later. Moreover, this way you can include lots of people who don’t need to be privy to the gory financial details.

Details, details, details

What would you prefer – a thank you note that says, “Thank you for spending your money with me,” or “What an engaged audience! I learned so much from working with your team and getting to meet with many of them.” Did you enjoy what you did with a client? If you did, get down to the facts and share what made it special. (And if you did not, then be pleasant and nonspecific.)

Finally, remember that details about them are much more important than details about you. If you worked with specific people, from the vice-president to the person who set up your audio, get names and name them. If people shared things going on in their lives, from a new grandchild to their next book, mention them and cheer them on. Above all, discuss whatever benefits you hope that they received from working with you.

NO pitches

Trolling for more business in a thank you note is a little like soliciting at someone’s wedding. First of all, it doesn’t work and second, your pitch is like the drop of ink that colors the whole pitcher of water: it ruins the rest of the thank you note. Does your note have a signature line? That’s plenty. Hopefully they already know by now who you are and what you do.

That said, it is OK to be creative. Take my buddy Maureen Anderson, host of the syndicated Career Clinic radio show. She sends a personal handwritten thank you to each of her radio guests on a postcard of her book cover. (Not coincidentally, her affiliate station count has grown from a handful to over 80 and counting.) That isn’t a pitch; it is a classy way to get people to remember you.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

You can even thank people more than once. I recently sent a second thank you note to someone who had me speak three years ago, because it had led to many more speaking engagements and his newsletter is way cool. He responded by sharing that he is helping others to organize more events and asking for my latest speaking literature. But that wasn’t even the point – it’s really all about maintaining connections and building good will.

Then, the magic happens

I have had people respond to my thank you notes with requests for more business. I have had them forwarded to other decision-makers. I have even been invited to speak in exotic faraway places by people that I have thanked. But much more importantly, good thank you notes have brought me closer to a network of great people, who in turn are pure gold to both me personally and my business. So, try it yourself and see what happens. Oh, and thank you for reading this!