People do business with people they know, like, and trust. That's why it's so critical for entrepreneurs to always be focused on building relationships, no matter where they are, or what stage they are in growing a company. You never know, that person sitting next to you on the plane could be your next mentor, banker, or business partner.
It begins with making sure everyone you are close with is aware of what you do, how you help people, and what products and services you offer. There's no telling what relationships your relatives have formed. Your loved ones could potentially hold the key to new business for you.
Valuable business relationships can sprout from any source- at the dentist's office, the bus stop, the laundromat. As a journalist, I learned that the relationships I made in my routine daily activities were so important in pulling ideas for great stories to share or people to feature. The same principle holds true in business.
Look for opportunities to listen and learn from people while you go about your day-to-day lives, and you may find your client list expand exponentially. Here are some places where you could focus on doing just that:
1. Networking events
I attended a networking event recently, where three people came up to me separately, shoved a business card in my face, and said, "Buy my stuff." Well, not exactly in those words, but it was close. It's that kind of atmosphere some entrepreneurs typically associate with traditional business gatherings.
But you can get so much more out of networking events if you shift your mindset, and instead look at them as opportunities to build relationships.
If you approach the event as the place where you'll make your next sale, then everyone you meet will have a dollar sign on his/her head. That puts you in the position of trying to encourage everyone you meet to buy, buy, buy.
Instead, look at networking events as a way to really learn about people. Be helpful. Listen. And this is critical. If you meet someone at a networking event, whether it's a Chamber of Commerce meeting or a Rotary Club gathering, do what you say you're going to do. If you tell the other person you'll follow up with a connection or a potential referral, or even a meeting for coffee, follow up. What results could be the beginning of a true relationship.
2. Community organizations
Groups that come together for the greater good are perfect opportunities for relationship-building. Many charitable groups are run by boards filled solely with volunteers. They are always looking for new volunteers and leaders. Being a board member is a great way to meet community leaders, help out a local charity, and be in contact with businessmen and women who may be able to partner with you. Chances are, you wouldn't meet them in any other place.
I see it happen all the time. Working together for the greater good takes a lot of time, plenty of meetings, and quite a bit of energy. While there's plenty of time devoted to the work of the group, there's also the opportunity to learn about a very diverse group of people who are coming together for a common cause. They come from different businesses, career paths, and motivations. And these relationships could be invaluable as you grow your own company.
Related: Four Tips For The Novice Networker
3. On stage, in blogs, on video
In your business, you are the expert. If you own a tax business, a law firm, or an auto repair shop, then you have more knowledge than the average person about your industry. Share that information in order to educate people about what you know.
This is the kicker. You are then educating people about your expertise, people who might potentially do business with you. You are building a relationship with your audience through information.
You can do that through blogs, podcasts, videos, or even through speaking in front of groups. In all of those instances, you are putting yourself out there, sharing information, and giving value to an audience. That builds the relationship. Those relationships can very easily be turned into customers.
4. Social media
Fans on Facebook, likes on Instagram, retweets on Twitter. All of those are great in getting your brand seen on social media. But the real value is in engagement. When someone asks a question, it's critical you respond- quickly. If someone has a complaint about your product or service, respond promptly and respectfully.
It's tough to ignore someone's questions when you are face-to-face with them. It's much easier to ignore those same queries on social media. But it's important to engage with people, especially the unhappy ones.
It can be more challenging to build relationships on social media, but the results of a positive relationship are far-reaching and can be very lucrative.
As the host of the STANDOUT with Cheryl Tan podcast, I have had the chance to speak with entrepreneurs about the growth of their companies and the best ways they have learned to cultivate relationships that work for their businesses.
This is it.
No matter where you meet someone, whether it's at a meeting, at the gym, or on social media, look for ways to create win-win situations.
Whether it's a marketing strategy, a fulfillment program, or an offer to paint houses, what you offer needs to be something that creates a benefit for the other person. If all goes well, you benefit, too.
Let me know how it goes! Share your wins in the comments below.