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3 Goodwill Gestures to Build Better Business Relationships Mastering the art of giving will pay dividends. Here's how to do it meaningfully.

By John Ruhlin

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Creating strong relationships in business is vital to keeping projects alive, and it can sometimes be tough. But growing a network can also be as easy as a gesture of goodwill.

Find that hard to believe? WeWork recently launched its Creator Awards, a program committed to giving $20 million in grants and cash prizes to startups at various levels. Entrepreneurs and small business owners across the globe are filling out applications, and just for entering, they'll receive a free year of WeWork's We Membership.

Of course, these awards and memberships are a way for WeWork to draw new customers to the company, but there's something to be said for marketing via goodwill.

Related: 10 Ways to Say 'Thank You'

Entrepreneurs of every kind can use gestures of goodwill to build or strengthen their relationships with important contacts. And this strategy is not just for businesses that can afford to give away a year of service for free; other means exist for making gifting work for your organization, regardless of its size or budget.

Building relationships through giving

It's true: Many businesses that come to mind when one thinks of "giving back" are larger or offer huge benefits. Take Marketplace One's Leadership X, for example: Brothers Bret and Brad Edson founded the organization after they sold their previous company and decided to host an event that would encourage and support the next generation of Christian leaders.

Executives from top companies flock to the event, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on, because there's no catch. The goodwill spreads, encouraging others to help out where they can.

But, how can entrepreneurs emulate this gesture if they don't have millions to give in the first place? They can do it by starting small -- as small as setting a monthly goal to carry out an act of kindness, like taking another entrepreneur out to dinner.

Consider entrepreneur Jayson Gaignard's Mastermind Dinners, for example: At each dinner, Gaignard invited eight to 10 people he believed would be interested in connecting and getting to know one another; then he picked up the dinner tab. Those tabs weren't cheap, and it wasn't always easy for him to cover them, but he saw value in the events.

Once he saw that his dinners idea was succeeding, Gaignard launched Mastermind Talks, a highly curated conference that recently hosted celebrity manager Shep Gordon. Getting an invitation is more difficult than getting into Harvard, what with its acceptance rate being less than one half of 1 percent.

So, there it is: Gaignard is a perfect example of an entrepreneur who poured goodwill into his business relationships even when he couldn't afford it. Of course, going deep into debt as an entrepreneur isn't the way to go, but strategic offerings of goodwill without an expectation of reciprocity often make contacts want to give back.

Related: For Entrepreneurs, The Gift-Giving Season is Year Round

I personally believe that giving gifts and offering gestures of goodwill is essential to success. I recently wanted to solidify a relationship with podcaster John Lee Dumas, who had hosted me on his Top 100 podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. As we talked about our morning routines, I mentioned my sauna company, and and he couldn't stop talking about how cool that was. As a fun gesture of goodwill, I later sent him a wooden postcard letting him know a new sauna was on its way to him.

While he unfortunately lacked the space for the gift, he sent it on to his father in Maine, and both of them rave about it. My gift led to a ripple effect, and he became a huge advocate for me.

Learning to give meaningful gifts

A memorable gesture of goodwill, even if the gift is small, can lead to a beneficial relationship with colleagues, contacts and influencers. Here are a few tips entrepreneurs can use when introducing the art of giving into their regular business practices:

1. Play the name game. When it comes to gifts, personalize the item or service. Don't give someone a brand-oriented or promotion piece -- a gift should be about the recipient, not your company.

My team acts as a concierge to help our clients choose gifts for their clients and employees. When these people see the options we've selected for them, I often hear, "I like this one!" I always immediately ask if the gift is for them or for their client, and they usually respond with a sheepish grin before agreeing to the selection we recommend.

That's normal -- we all shop with our own eyes. But there's something really special about a personalized gift. People plaster their names everywhere, from license plates to coffee cups and monogrammed bags. We love to see our names on the items or "artifacts" we use every day. Remember that next time it's time to give a gift and you're tempted to go generic.

2. Give to other givers. Entrepreneurs should consider giving to others who are likely to give a gift to someone else. Paying it forward is crucial to spreading goodwill through the community.

People who donate their time and money show lower levels of stress and have a deeper sense of well-being, according to Gallup. Volunteering helps boost morale. The Giving Pledge, founded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, encourages billionaires to donate half their wealth to charitable organizations.

Buffett believes he wouldn't enhance his happiness and well-being iif he himself spent more than 1 percent of his income. But he does believe his happiness and well-being are bolstered by charity.

Whether you're giving time or resources to individuals or organizations, the impact of your gift will be much greater if you surround yourself with, and invest in, other givers.

3. Include the inner circle. When I give gifts, I always try to make them family-centric, and I try to include something additional or extra for the recipient's spouse. This acknowledges that the recipients are humans with others around them whom they care about deeply.

An entrepreneur's spouse is often neglected -- stuck taking care of the kids while the other parent is partaking in a great experience or sitting idly by while the entrepreneur receives showers of gifts.

Entrepreneurs often want to show their spouses their appreciation. Harp Family Institute founder Trisha Harp dedicated her career to studying the effects of entrepreneurship on relationships, and her data confirms that entrepreneurs have significant gratitude for their spouses.

Including the entire family in gift-giving allows entrepreneurs to share with their spouses, thus turning those husbands and wives into cheerleaders.

Related: Gift Ideas for Clients, Coaches, Consultants and Employees

As an entrepreneur, I think it's important to look for opportunities for giving and goodwill. Pick a time and way to give. Do it really well with whatever time and finances are available. Don't hold back. Your relationships will grow stronger, and your network will expand organically and exponentially.

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and author of Giftology. More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver's Edge.

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