In business, it's about who you know, right? So, perhaps you have networking events you attend each month. Or maybe you even keep up with the Zoom networking group from the shutdown days of the pandemic. While solid networking skills are important, they don't make up for relationships. More important than who you know is how well you know them. With that in mind, let's consider some ways you can build lifelong business relationships.
Why Building Relationships Matters For Business
You have an extensive network that you've been building up for a few years. One day, you hear that Margo's small business venture is taking off, and she needs someone to polish up her social media pages and manage her blog. It's your specialty, so the two of you talk about ideas. A few days later, however, you find out she's going with Robert, even though you know he's going to charge her more. What happened?
Robert didn't just expand his network. He took time to cultivate his relationships. Over time, he built up trust and rapport with Margo. When she had a need, that rapport was worth the extra price she would pay for his social media management.
I've experienced just how rewarding rapport is in my own business. I've been a member of several networking organizations, and even though I'm no longer a member of some of them, I still keep in touch with people I meet. I regularly receive referrals from people I met 15-plus years ago because of the relationships I took time to build.
Keys To Building Lasting Business Relationships
Margo and Robert demonstrate why building relationships is important. Now, let's look at the key things you want to focus on. Building business relationships mirrors your personal friendships in key ways. In your relationships, you want strong friendships built on respect, communication, and trust. Let's look at how you can get there.
Identify Your Goals and Values and Find People Who Match Them.
Your best friends are people you have something in common with. Maybe you share a culture or religion. Maybe you have the same hobbies. While you want to network with people across different businesses and specialties, you still want to make sure your goals, interests, and specialties align. For example, knowing good lawyers that I can talk to is important. As a digital marketer with an interest in AI, however, I cultivate relationships with lawyers who understand the internet, digital ownership, and computer ethics.
Focus On Quality Over Quantity.
An important part of building relationships is taking time with people. If you try to deepen relationships with too large a group, you'll find yourself without enough time. Instead, focus on people who are key to your goals and values. Those will be your Margo's who will be ready to work with you when you need them.
Give Before You Ask.
In my example above, I mentioned that when you heard Margo needed an expert, you talked to her about ideas. You shouldn't wait until you want to pitch to your business contacts to do that. Be ready to offer your expertise when they demonstrate they need it or ask for advice. This allows you to show your knowledge and expertise, build rapport and let the person you're building the relationship with also know that your values and goals are aligned.
Don't Ignore the Older or 'Less Valuable' Contacts.
Just because your goals don't align with a contact doesn't mean you should forgo a relationship. We all have that friend who is vastly different from us, and they enrich our lives and our friendship groups. The same can happen with the business. For example, while you may not need someone with expertise in real estate law for your business, that doesn't mean that one of your clients won't need them or another business contact won't need them. Sometimes being the person who "knows someone" can be as valuable as having the skill yourself.
Likewise, don't let your older relationships fade away. The reason I still get referrals from people I met years ago is that I keep in touch. Social media has made that even easier to do, as you can keep up with each other's milestones and accomplishments with the click of a button. If you're not trading social media information, you're missing out on your strongest tool to cultivate relationships.
The most important thing in building relationships is to be authentic. Don't put on a false persona for people, and don't set expectations that aren't real or reasonable. In your personal life, your hiking friends know that what brings you together is hiking. Your business contacts know that business is the key to your relationship. If you're authentic, then that relationship will be as meaningful to you and to them as any of your personal relationships.
These are only five important parts of building relationships, but they are, to my mind, the most important. Remember, you're building something to benefit you, your business contacts, and both your clients and networks. Be yourself, take time to build relationships, and show the people you build business relationships with that they're important to you. All of the other things relationships need will follow along with these five things.