Building good business relationships isn’t something you can do overnight. It takes more than exchanging a few tweets on Twitter or ‘pokes’ on Facebook – and a lot more than sending regular (especially self-promoting) emails.
How often do you tell your existing and past clients you appreciate them? What could you do to show them? Well, everyone loves to receive unexpected gifts. Even on a tight budget these needn’t cost the earth; how about vouchers for Amazon or Starbucks, tickets to the cinema or theatre (or to an event you know they’d enjoy). You could set up reminders to send such gifts at intervals throughout the year – what a great way to keep in touch!
With new contacts and prospective customers it would be over the top to woo them with gifts in the same way. But you can give them something of value that would be useful for their business, perhaps a special report or short e-book you’ve written; access to an audio or video that isn’t generally available. It’s important to detach yourself from automatically expecting business in return, people can sense ulterior motives from miles away!
You may believe suppliers should be the ones building a good relationship with you, and indeed that’s true. But relationships work both ways! If you’ve had a demanding or unreasonable customer, you’ll know what a heart-sinking feeling you get when they phone or email. If you put the shoe on the other foot, being a considerate and polite client will win you brownie points for when you really need to place a rush order.
Now, your initial reaction to having a relationship with your competitors may be to keep a safe distance between you! And yet building a relationship based on mutual respect can reap rewards. My personal take on competition is that it exists mainly in our own moments of self-doubt, although it’s taken quite a time for that penny to drop! There’s no reason why you can’t learn from each other and maybe even work together – once your relationship is sound.
If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ll have made many contacts at the ubiquitous networking events. Life as a small business owner can be extremely lonely, so when you meet like-minded people who you enjoy chatting with over a coffee, it’s natural to build on that relationship. Whether offering the benefit of experience or providing an occasional supportive ear, these colleagues are worth their weight in gold.
Just as personal relationships are built on liking, mutual respect and trust, so are our best business relationships. Liking tends to be instinctive, but respect and trust have to be earned.