Do you think it's possible to grow a successful startup in Sioux Falls, South Dakota? I do.
My design startup, Lemonly, is 3.5 years old and has grown to 17 employees. We work with clients all over the world, from Fortune 500 companies to professional sports teams and non-profits. None of the companies are based in South Dakota. So yes, you can build a startup with a national presence in a small state with a population of less than 1 million people, all thanks to technology.
Every single day, our team members communicate with one another, as well as with our clients, through tools like Slack, Skype, and Google Hangouts. It's amazing that we can collaborate on a project with our Vancouver-based designer, a project manager located in Idaho, our developer in South Dakota, and our client in New York. Sounds great, right? Absolutely, but here's the kicker.
You can't build long-term relationships through Google Hangouts. A handshake will always win over a Hangout.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with a mentor a couple years ago about this topic. I was going on and on telling him it's so great how we can work with clients remotely, thanks to technology. I was singing the praises of keeping our costs down and processes efficient, but I was worried about building long-term relationships. So, how do we build trust through technology?
Then, he said the most obvious thing that I was missing, "Go shake their hand."
The value of a handshake.
Technology is great. Lemonly would not be able to do what we do, how we do it, without technology. But a Google Hangout will never beat a handshake. Ever.
I needed to invest both the time and money to visit our clients in person. Connect with them on a personal level. Take them out to lunch. Ask them questions. Learn how I can add more value to their business.
I know this all seems very obvious, sort of Business 101, but all too many people (startups particularly) miss out on the same lesson that I learned from my mentor. It's smart to use technology at first in order to save costs and widen your reach, but you have to invest in your relationships. They will drive your business.
The handshake shows your clients you care. You're able to look at them, face-to-face, without any emoticons or misinterpretation through email. With visual cues, you'll notice the subtle ways they react to your ideas. You are much more able to read their body language.
Put an emphasis on effort.
Will driving to the front step of every client you have and shaking their hand transform your business? Maybe. Maybe not. There is no silver bullet to every business relationship. You should strive to find a unique blend of touch points through technology and in-person meetings. Some conversations warrant a face-to-face meeting or a phone call, others can be done on Skype or even with a simple text message. The key is to show effort.
Effort is the best way to build strong relationships in business or personal life. You'd rather present your loved one flowers in person than through some app, so use that same mindset with your clients.
How will you show the right amount of effort to increase trust and still be efficient with your time and on budget? Only you know the answer.