You will find that the most successful businesses and entrepreneurs are those that have built meaningful relationships with others. In many cases, you won’t be the only business providing the service you do or selling the product you do. So the key to success is to stand out from the crowd, and the way to do that is to build relationships.
The number one way to build a meaningful relationship is to be genuine and be yourself. If you are just saying what you think others want to hear, or you’re doing things just to sell your product/service, people will notice. They might not see through your tactics straight away, but they will eventually.
Just think about the people you yourself have done business with. Which of them are you more likely to go back to? Which are you more likely to recommend to family and friends? Of course, it will be the people you found genuine. It will be the people you know are willing to help you and willing to find a solution when you have a problem. It won’t be the people who were flippant, cold or arrogant.
Be an Active Listener
Being an active listener is an important part of any business relationship. A good communicator needs to be able to listen, and by listen I mean really, actively listen. What does your client want? How did this person find their customer experience? You need to be able to take on constructive criticism and turn it into a positive for your business.
I’ve recently had friends tell me about two separate incidents at restaurants, one established and one fairly new. In one situation, there was a problem with the booking process. In the other, friends gave some honest, albeit negative feedback, about their first course dishes. I fully understand that customers can sometimes be overly negative, but I know that in both these cases, the customers were looking for a solution. Both restaurants had a golden opportunity to truly listen and improve their businesses. Unfortunately, both had a flippant attitude – oh well, if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. The result of this? Those friends have shared their negative experience with others and I for one am not inclined to visit either business.
Start a Blog
Starting a blog is a great way to build a meaningful relationship with existing or potential clients. A blog is a window of sorts into your business. It allows people to see the person or people behind the scenes and can make or break a business’ professional reputation.
I use Richard Branson as an example often, but he really does do business in an outstanding fashion. His official blog is no exception. It’s entertaining and informative and helps me form a picture of Virgin as trustworthy, loyal, helpful, environmentally and socially responsible etc. When I need to fly domestically, I fly with Virgin because of the image they project and reputation they possess. Thus, even if your customer base is not looking to buy from you or use your services immediately, your blog will be building a relationship with them so that when they are ready to do business, hopefully you will be at the forefront of their mind.
If you are going to blog, my advice would be to try and be fairly consistent and to write well. A blog post filled with grammatical errors is hard to read and a turn off. If writing is not your thing, outsource!
Use Social Media
Networking with people and building meaningful relationships doesn’t always have to be done face to face. If you are on social media, then use it to effectively communicate with your customer base.
Like a blog, your social media posts will paint a picture of the type of business you are. Make it count! Don’t just post about sales you are having – post information that you know people are looking for, post behind the scenes photos that you know people will be interested in, post a mix of light-hearted and more serious material that will show people that you are professional, but also human.
The most important thing to remember is that when you are interacting with a customer via social media, unless you are doing so through private messages, everyone else will also be able to view the interaction. I’ll write more about this another time, but basically remember to remain professional at all times.
Do the Little Things Right
In this age of fast-paced life, the smallest gesture can make a huge difference. Something as simple as the way you package an item can leave a lasting impression and be the beginning of a meaningful relationship.
When I receive something that has been carefully and beautifully packed, I immediately think, this is a business that cares. If you are super busy, employ someone to do this for you because the alternative just screams indifference. And indifference is not the way to get return business.
I’m also a big believer in handwritten notes (or typed personal ones if you have terrible handwriting). It really will set small businesses apart from the crowd. Years ago when I first came across online clothing store Birdsnest, the thing that stood out for me was the printed reusable bags their clothes came packed in and their handwritten notes thanking me for my purchase. It made me want to shop with them, I recommended them to others and to this day I still use their printed bags when travelling.
Building meaningful relationships in business and with a client base, is about building trust. If people trust you, they will do business with you.