Maybe you’re in this situation: You know you need to build business relationships.
Maybe you want to do it better.
Maybe you want to learn this skill for your freelance business, your part-time business, or your 9-5 job.
Relationship building is both a science and an art. It requires some focus. It requires being genuine. It requires an understanding of people — which you have even if you don’t think you do. And above all, it requires a true desire to help people.
Build a Strong Business Relationship
In addition to providing my own experience in this article, I asked some business leaders for advice on what makes a great work relationship.
The advice is in. Here’s how to build a strong business relationship.
Trust is Everything in Building a Relationship
Trust is something that will make or break any relationship. Once trust is lost, it’s very difficult to repair.
Be honest with your clients, your employees, and your community. If something goes wrong, tell them why and that you will work to fix it. The worst thing you can do is tell a lie about something. Be as honest as possible.
Build Real Trust with Real Value
Keith Wolf, managing director of Murray Resources, says one way to build trust is to provide value.
He says, “If you come across a lead or connection that someone in your network could find valuable, offer to make an introduction. If you find an interesting article relevant to their work or industry, let them know and send it along. Offering value to your network when there’s no immediate gain for you builds trust – and if it translates into future reciprocity, that’s a happy bonus.”
Check in Frequently
When you build a business relationship, check in with them frequently. Let’s say you’re building a relationship with a potential client. Check in with them once a month or so to offer them a helpful tip, or maybe you just posted a new article that can be helpful for them. Ask them how things are going.
Acknowledge Career Milestones
Wolf has some advice here. He says a great way to stay in touch with your network is to acknowledge important career milestones or company achievements.
“A simple way to do this is by setting up Google Alerts for your closest contacts,” he says. “When they earn a promotion, speak at a conference, or get published on a major website, send them a note of congratulations to let them know you value them. This is a small way to make a big impact on the strength and longevity of your relationships. LinkedIn also makes it easy to stay in the loop, by providing status updates when your network changes jobs and/or is in the news.”
Show Up, Show Interest, and Contribute
Imagine you’re back in college. Showing up was a big part of whether or not you earned a good grade in a class (maybe that was just me).
It’s the same in business. Michael Facchinello, head of new markets for Clique Studios, says showing up and contributing is a huge part of making a business relationship work in the long term.
“Show up, show interest and contribute (contribute ideas, help, and encouragement),” he says. “I like to figure out how to help somebody I’m trying to build a relationship with and then provide that help without their asking. People tend to want to work with people who help them. I also figure out how to align my interests to those I’m trying to build relationships with so we can work toward that shared interest together.”
Mutually Beneficial Relationships
I faced a problem in the beginning of my career. I pitched to busy marketers at companies asking for interviews for blog articles. I didn’t always get a response. The problem with my emails? Too one sided.
When you reach out to someone and ask them for something — let’s say such as five minutes of their time to talk about the content services you provide — find the benefit for the both of you.
Nothing Can Be One-Sided
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, says this perfectly.
“I believe one of the keys to forming these relationships and maintaining them is to find ways that the partnership can be of mutual benefit to both parties,” she says. “Be ready and willing to work together. I think this is true of the best relationships in business. It cannot be one-sided with one party getting all the benefits. Otherwise, this relationship will fizzle out fast and your company may start to develop a poor reputation for taking without giving back.”
Go Out of Your Way to Help People
You will naturally build connections when you make an effort to help people where you can.
People will appreciate your help. And will remember you for it. Not everyone takes time out of their day to help people — especially to help people who have no direct relationship to their business.
Help People in Need in Business
Cassy Aite, life-long entrepreneur and CEO at Hoppier, says the best relationships she’s built happen when she helps someone in need.
“I spend a certain part of my day reading through LinkedIn and one of my decisions is to go out of my way to help others,” she says. “If someone has a question or a doubt or just needs an opinion on something that I am knowledgeable about, I usually spend just a few minutes writing a response, but what I get in return is amazing.
I’ve gotten connection requests, hundreds of thank-you messages, collaboration offers and much more. I’ve started applying this method outside of social media, too.”
Aite says she also helps people out in conferences and meetings.
“Even if the person listening to you may not work with you in the future, someone else will overhear the conversation and remember your name,” she says. “To sum up, being unselfishly helpful to others is the best way to build strong relationships in business.”
Community Involvement Goes a Long Way in Business
Investing in your community can build relationships, all while helping others. While you may be active in local community building efforts, if you want to start, now is the time.
Whether that means volunteering, giving talks about your area of expertise in business, or doing some pro bono work that you’d normally get paid for in your day job or freelance business, find a way to get involved.
For example, if you own a small business in the city of Atlanta, give employees time to volunteer every other Friday afternoon for the cause of their choice. Your employees will be happy they can take time to volunteer, your partners will see this as a positive thing, and your community will be better for it.
And, if you reach out to people who you’ve never met, who are also community-minded, they will be much more likely to respond to you if you talk about your community service connection.
In addition, you can apply what you learn from serving the community in your career. You’ll gain a new perspective and new way of thinking.
Corporate Philanthropy and Responsibility
David E. Rudolph, founder and managing partner at D. Ericson & Associates PR in Detroit, says he learned the impact of community involvement at his first PR/community relations job for the Detroit Pistons. While there, he saw how the team owner, William Davidson, had a strong interest in corporate philanthropy and responsibility. The practice of community involvement stuck with him.
“One of the best pieces of advice I can offer to any business owner is to become a ‘servant leader,’” he says.
“My strongest relationships have been cultivated with my involvement in non-profit organizations, where I have served on boards, and where I have met other business leaders I would normally not come into contact with in line of business.”
“My volunteer servant leadership work has helped me build a personal brand of caring about my community in such a way that it attracts others to invite me to help on other projects. Through that engagement I often get business I was not even soliciting.
“Deep connections are built with a deep commitment to your business that is always looking to give back to the community that supports your business.”
If you want to make a real connection, you need to learn about the person.
Kimberly Ihekwoaba, multimedia storyteller, says, “When you are in any social scenario, approach people with these three mantras: connect, learn, and add value. Don’t meet people with the expectation of gaining a customer, meet people on the basis of honing a connection, learning about the individual – their values, dreams, and business.”
“Additionally, find ways on how you can add value. It does not have to come only from a business approach. It could be as simple as recommending a TV show to watch online, or a nice place to go out for dinner. Lastly, be intentional with giving referrals and making out time to spend with the individual.
Let the Person Tell Their Story
When I ask questions about someone, I am trying to learn more about them — and I am genuinely interested in what they say. So if someone tells me they love to surf, I want to know what it is about surfing they love.
To add to Kimberly’s advice, let the person tell their story to you. This will build trust. And could even turn the relationship into a real friendship.
Build Relationships in Person
Ryan Reger, author of Streams of Income, says, “Business is all about relationships and the best and fastest way to build relationships is meeting people in person — at conferences or over coffee or a meal.”
We live in a world where technology dominates our lives. And it’s getting worse (or better) depending on who you ask. Between the never-ending emails and the streams of social media feeds, something simple you can do to build relationships is to meet them in person.
A Note on Technology
With that said, technology helps us build stronger relationships that we might otherwise not have been able to do before email. Some people have had very strong phone relationships without ever meeting. Many relationships are done via email and phone and can create a very strong bond — something that would have been more difficult years ago.
But if it’s possible (and you don’t need to fly across the country) this in-person meeting can even make you stand out from the crowd. Instead of an email, offer to go to coffee.
One last tip.
I could argue this is one of the most overlooked ways to build a relationship — at least when it comes to the beginning of building relationships. Who you are online plays a large role in whether or not someone trusts you.
When you are trying to stand out from the noise, you’ve got to brand yourself — especially as a freelancer.
When you cold email someone, for example, they’ll want to know who you are — they’ll want some kind of social proof.
Build a Website
A website is a great way to establish your brand and provide that social proof. Adding your website into your signature will help the person understand who you are and be more willing to email you back.
Of course, your website will need to be engaging. Your credibility is determined by how your website looks. Researchers from Stanford found that 75 percent of people determine a business’ credibility based on the look of its website.
Relationships: What We’ve Learned
Based on all of the advice, I conclude that there is no right way to build a business relationship. But there a few things that stick out:
- Trust is everything. Always establish trust in the relationship.
- Get involved in your community. You’ll meet people you would have never met otherwise. Most importantly, it’s your responsibility either as a business owner, employee, or freelancer to get involved in the community.
- Provide real value. Be helpful where you can.
- Figure out how a potential partnership will benefit both you and the other person.
Business relationships are so important when it comes to the building blocks of work. That includes things like creating a partnership, getting a job, and just simply having a meaningful work experience — all of those things involve solid business relationships.
Maybe you want to increase leads.
Maybe you want to learn something.
Maybe you want to charge more for your work.
Use these methods to build strong business relationships. You are already a good person. And you do good work. Your business relationships will help you be even better — you’ll create better things, help more people, and learn how to do even better work.