13 tips to growing business relationships

Today I had 3 clients give me a call about growing their business and they were looking for the BIG secret (dammit I hate the way society has interpreted that book) about how to make successful partnerships. Here is my advice:

  1. Be human.
  2. Love people (even if you have to pretend a little. *caution you are only allowed to do this for a little bit. See below for more on this topic).
  3. Look up people (businesses) you think are cool.
  4. Reach out with an email, a phone call, or my favourite a letter (you know with stamps and everything). Don’t be afraid if they say no, what do you have to lose? You don’t know them now anyway? Just makes room in your schedule to meet with other way cooler people.
  5. Stop being so damn stiff.
  6. Read as much about their stories before you meet them as you can. It is time well spent learning fun facts. It is also usually seen as someone really doing their homework.
  7. Have a meeting at an ice cream parlour, a bar, over some wine, at an art gallery, take them on a hike (aka be different. Show them part of your world or get to know their world a bit). My favourite meetings have been on the canal with some hot chocolate and beaver tails. And no this not some crazy younger generation thing. Last year I met with someone who I did work with on the canal and he was 56 years old and willing to try anything. Remember life and work can be fun if we choose to make it so. I mean all you have to do is ask (what’s the fear, they say no). Throw out the invite or ask them for an invite to a fun spot they love. Most of the clients I know are thrilled to get their butts out of the office.
  8. Listen to their stories.
  9. Ask questions.
  10. Tell a little bit of your story.
  11. Decide whether or not you want to spend more time working on something, anything with them or if you want to jump ship. Then proceed to go or no.
  12. Go away and brainstorm some cool projects and then throw them their way, see if they are interested.
  13. If they seem like good people then nurture that relationship and you just might find yourself beginning to love people, your work, and yourself a bit more.

My strategy all along in life (and it only keeps getting more and more engrained) is that I work with people who I love, who make me laugh, who I have a good time with. You know the saying ‘life is too damn short….well just don’t hang out with people you don’t get along with.

Of course sometimes this can be easier said than done because to be able to know the people you get along with you normally have to know yourself a little bit. If you follow along on here you will have probably figured out I don’t think too many people really do know themselves all that well. In fact I think part of us gets lost everyday when we aren’t doing the things we love. So maybe that is step 1. figure out who the hell you are and what you like first. Really think about it. What are some of your hobbies? When are the happiest, like really really happy? What are you doing? Who are you with? Inside or outside? Crowded or small group? What is something you could talk about all day long without ever knowing the time?

Back to my point, find the people that make you smile and harness all their energy. I have found so much power in reaching out and listening to their stories every day. Good or bad listen to what they have to say and you will learn lots, about them and about yourself. Who knows you follow this sage (hardy-hard) advice and you might just find some new friends along the way to building an amazing business.

ps. The biggest fear I hear all the time about reaching out is “well what if they don’t like me?” Well that is fine. Isn’t it? I mean if they don’t like you then you get to move on. Remember be yourself. I mean if you try to be funny, outgoing, and edgy but really you like being reserved and pretty calm then what is the point of putting on the fake personality? If they don’t like who you genuinely are then working together would probably only be a huge pain anyway.

Now get outta here and go reach out to someone you think is cool (this isn’t high school anymore, even though sometimes it might feel like it, you can talk to anyone. The playground is HUGE).

What the hell has networking become?

Just yesterday I came across a great article on the Pin Striped Suit blog (authored by Matt) that spoke about why networking is a dirty word: http://thepinstripedsuit.com/2012/05/13/networking-is-a-dirty-word/. This article struck a chord with me and I thought I would put my own little spin on it.

Networking is about making RELATIONSHIPS it is not about getting the all mighty cards to add to your rolodex of people you may or may not ever contact (more likely never). I mean think about it and look around you probably have a stack of cards lying around somewhere, here is an exercise: flip through them, pull out every single card that has a name on it that you really know and that you would invite for a drink or for a catch up; When you have made that pile of people you really know and would spend some time getting to know then DO IT! Invite them out, chat about their work and who they are. Then the other pile, most likely the bigger pile, throw it OUT! You will never contact them.

Networking is more than getting 1000 “friends” or “likes” on Facebook and certainly is more than finding yourself swimming in Twitter followers. I was hosting a seminar only a week or two ago about Social Media and one of the participants asked how many followers is a really “good” number to have. My advice was quite simple, make sure that you have a network that when you reach out to them they respond. Of course this network can be small or it can be big but the only real value in a network is when it responds when you post, when you ask a question, when you seek advice. If you have a network that is engaged I argue it doesn’t matter how big or how small it is but rather how often you can interact with it. If you can interact with it and there is value in the network for everyone then most likely the network will grow.

Again networking is about building relationships so don’t ever forget that your network goes TWO ways. You can’t simply continue to ask questions, seek advice, and/or sell stuff all the time but rather sometimes you must also be willing to help out, respond to others request, speak up when someone takes the time to put themselves out there. Keep the conversation going and your networks (notice the ‘s’ yes you can have multiple) will thrive.

I really like that in Matt’s post about networking he wrote “find ways to create value for your contacts.” This is perhaps one of the most important steps that almost everyone usually forgets. If those people in your network are happy and you are finding ways to help make and keep them happy then believe me they will want to reciprocate, don’t you think?

When you are physically at an event and someone approaches you for the all important CARD SWAP, next time why don’t you stop them and ask them some questions. Play a small game with them see if they really want to get to know you or if they are just handing out cards. Be cautious with your cards-you don’t have to throw cards at everyone you meet hoping that they will be able to BUY from you or pass on your information to someone really important. Instead take the time to get to know them and see if you have a connection. A general rule that has often worked is that if I see that I could invite that person to my dinner table for a conversation then they are definitely getting a business card. Don’t be afraid to laugh at a few jokes or even talk about things that are not directly related to work.

One last point that needs to be reiterated from Matt’s great post on his blog: be consistent in staying in touch. When you find that you haven’t heard from someone in a little while one of the best ways to reconnect is just send them a quick email or a give them a quick call and see what they are working on these days. Ask them a few questions, try and remember what you talked about last and what they were up to. You can even cheat a little bit sometimes, I use social media and I keep a bit of a database that helps me make up some questions before I get back in touch with a long lost contact.

Finally this wouldn’t be a good ass kicking post if I didn’t talk about getting over your fears when networking. If you want to meet someone then there are a MILLIONS ways to get in touch with them now so reach out, don’t be afraid. For goodness sakes any contact you want to make is just another person like you. Remember the contact you are looking to make (famous, important, or not) was most likely exactly where you are now so reach out, tell them your story, and invite them on a skype chat or if they are close enough invite to get them a coffee, a beer, or even buy them a lunch.

Bottom line is: build relationships, get to know people, offer them some value and your network will thrive.

*cautionary note: this post does not by any means suggest to say that you have to LOVE every single person in your network and that you need to invite them over all the time and be best friends but if you want your network to thrive then you have to want to at least know a few things about each of your contacts.