The push for efficiency defines many organizations, and Greenleaf Book Group is no exception. I push my staff to eliminate silly wastes of time and money as often as I can. We've adopted best practices from many organizations and have become a training ground for operational efficacy. There's no sense in having intelligent, hardworking people fritter away hours and hours in meetings that could be complete in half the time with half the people.

But like every good policy, there's a huge exception to this rule. And that exception involved being a generous company that gives first, and asks for sales later.

Now, if you are like many entrepreneurs, your first impulse is to go for a signed contract as soon as possible. You strive to keep free consultations basic, to keep preliminary meetings brief. But this is short-sighted. If you want people to see your company as one worth recommending and worth working with long-term, it's imperative to do more than set up a plain old cost calculator on your website and hire a few low-paid newbies to explain what you do to inquiring customers. To show the world that you're a cut above, start by having a valuable conversation, not just telling a prospect how much an engagment is going to cost.

At Greenleaf Book Group, this means that we spend a lot of time coming up with free content that will help the writing and publishing communities. And once we've identified a project that we think has potential, we meet extensively with the client to get to know the book, show him or her what we can do with it, and feel out how the relationship will work. Our editors prepare detailed book diagnoses that show potential clients that we're taking time to invest in the project and have a clear idea of how the relationship can benefit both parties. And all this happens before a contract is signed or a single payment is made.

Does that mean that our editors spend a lot of time reading books that we don't end up publishing? Do our consultants spend whole days meeting with authors who ultimately decide not to work with us? Yes—and, bluntly put, I don't see that as a problem. As a result of the time we invest, we find better books to publish. And the ones that aren't a good fit for us? Well, we typically come out on the other side with someone who—despite not working with us—likes us, will refer us, and will perhaps come back in the future.

Another huge benefit of our "give first" policy is that we get a chance to know our prospective clients. We only work with a small percentage of submitted titles, so we have the privilege of turning folks down who are either unreasonable or just plain rude. Our culture is too important to the success of the company to let a jerk client ruin our mojo.  The "give first" plan allows us to meet and get to know potential clients and avoid those who are too much trouble.  

Delivering value before the transaction also helps us establish the tone of the client relationship at the outset. It's amazing how far some initial sincerity and cooperation will go. Finding that natural fit between customer and company feels great for our team, and it makes all the difference down the road with the relationship.

So, kill those inane meetings. Streamline the hell out of those pointless processes. Quit buying expensive office supplies. But don't be stingy with the time you spend showing prospective clients that you're happy to spend a little time with them... and that you care.