Building strong business relationships is an important aspect of any successful business. Yet, it is usually an area that is overlooked or doesn’t receive a lot of attention due to busy schedules. But business relationships can make or break your business, especially in a down or “different” economy. One of my business colleagues recently pointed out that those businesses that survived the recession tended to have deep and committed relationships with their clients and colleagues.
When I think about my business today, I am grateful for the business relationships that I have, and many of them have grown into friendships. When I was working in the corporate world, we were taught to keep a high-level “professional relationship” with clients and colleagues. We didn’t talk about being authentic or really connecting with our clients, we were just taught to close the sale. When I started my own business, I quickly realized that the corporate attitude wasn’t going to sustain me. Plus, being in business can be lonely, so I quickly reached out to others and started to build long-term business relationships.
Recently a business colleague reached out to me through LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a social networking tool that allows you to build your network of business relationships online. I’ve been building my LinkedIn account for years and have just recently passed 500 connections. When this new colleague reached out to me, he pointed out that he was impressed with my 500 connections. While the number was great, I was even more excited about the fact that those 500 connections represent business connections with individuals that I value at a deep level. Unlike Facebook where I have some contacts that I barely know, LinkedIn holds my treasured group of business relationships that have helped me grow my business to where it is today.
Those relationships have lead to incredible synchronicities and opportunities that I only dreamed of when I first started my business. Your relationships are like an invaluable asset that just keeps growing as you invest your time and energy. I have found that there are five key strategies to easily and effortlessly build strong business relationships-with intention.
- One: Connect with Intention. Connecting with intention requires active listening skills and being present in the moment. It is easy to be preoccupied with other things that are going on in our lives, but if you are always thinking about the past or the future, then it is impossible to be present. Others can feel whether or not you are present , and if they feel that you are disconnected, they pull back, stopping a relationship in its tracks. Be present, ask great questions and take the time to get to know someone.
- Two: Be Authentic. Mike Robbins once said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” In business, there is a lot of pressure to “act a certain way” or model other’s behavior. However, I was listening to a speaker recently and she said that the more authentic she is on stage, the more her sales increase. I have found the same to be true. The more authentic I am, the more “me” that I allow to show up, the more clients and speaking engagements I receive. People sense when we are “faking it” and over time those relationships will fizzle away.
- Three: Deepen the Relationship. Once you have connected with intention and started to get to know someone, what should you do next? Unfortunately, we have short memories, and we can quickly forget about that “great person” we met at our last networking event. The truth is, they probably won’t follow up with you, even if they want to. Why? Because they are really busy and have been swept back into their business the next day. It’s your job to follow up and build the relationship, don’t rely on them to do it. Lead the way and set the next time you will meet. My guess is they will be really grateful that you took the lead. The more that you take the lead to cultivate your business relationships, the faster you will build your network.
- Four: Go Beyond Expectations. These days it’s not enough to just keep your word; that’s a given. The key to building long and lasting business relationships is to go above and beyond expectations. For example, you could invite someone to be a guest at your table for your favorite charity’s annual event. Or, you could offer to assist them with a challenge they are having in their business. There are many ways that you can go beyond expectations, just choose one and deliver!
- Five: Be Committed and Available. In a sea of emails and voice-mails, it can be difficult to stay in touch with new business colleagues. However, the beginning of the relationship is when you really need to stay in touch. If they reach out to you, respond immediately or at least within twenty-four hours (this is a great rule, anyway). Make sure that they know they are a priority to you. The more committed and available you are, the more they will trust you and you will be building a long-term, fruitful business relationship.
Action Item: Reach out to five new business contacts this week and schedule a time to meet with them. Determine who you would like to have long-term business relationships with. Then, take the lead and schedule the next time to meet!
As you are meeting new people, it’s important to recognize and filter those individuals to build a business relationship with. Not everyone is a good fit for you, but you will recognize those individuals who are willing to receive support from you and also willing to give as well. Excellent business relationships are built over time. Invest in them just like you would a 401K – knowing that they take time to build and you might not reap any rewards for a long time. However, there will be those people who will really surprise you. They will invest a lot in you and the growth of your business. And, you might just become great friends!