Building professional relationships is a key part of becoming successful in business. Relationships exist in a number of different spheres. Entrepreneurs need to build relationships with other business leaders, potential investors, and clients. Great relationships lay the foundation for success by opening up new doors. Business leaders need to think of relationships as an asset and work proactively to build and maintain them. Research has shown that the number, depth, and quality of professional relationships that an entrepreneur has is the primary predictor of success in business. Creating and maintaining relationships involves a great deal of work, but the payoff is worth the investment.
Some of the most important business relationships are those forged with other business leaders. This sort of networking can lead to lifesaving advice, key partnerships, and important hires. These sorts of relationships require a proactive approach. In today’s social media-driven world, too many business professionals consider regular Facebook updates to be networking. Posting items to an entire network feels impersonal, and most people will not take the time to really read and digest the posts. Networking involves direct communication and individualized attention. People cannot expect to get to know three new people whom they meet at a networking event, as well as one person with whom they spent most of their time. In order to network wisely, people need to decide who they want to invest time in and who they want to keep on the periphery.
People also face difficulties when they primarily rely on LinkedIn for networking. LinkedIn can be a great tool to create a presence in a certain industry and to become a well-known name, but positive regard and name recognition are not as valuable as having two or three people around whom you trust completely. Trust is an important element of any professional relationship.
Relationships are a two-way street, and people need to be ready to give even more than they receive. The ideal relationship is mutually beneficial and based on the question, “What do I have to give?” rather than “What can I get?” Giving freely is a great way to build trust and lay the foundation for a strong relationship in the future. Of course, when people feel that a relationship is one-sided, they also need to step back and evaluate whether that connection is worth sustaining or whether their efforts should be spent on other people.
Direct and consistent communication is another key part of building relationships. People show respect by listening and seriously considering someone else’s opinion. Business leaders who are quick to dismiss criticism or opinions that they don’t agree with will have a hard time building the lasting relationships that are so critical to business development. When people place value on a message, they implicitly show that they appreciate the messenger. Again, communication is a two-way street, and people should feel that they are heard and respected when they offer advice.
Communication is also critical when developing relationships with customers and clients. Poor communication can come off as dismissive or condescending, while good communication can mark the beginning of a strong and lasting relationship. Customers who feel respected and valued are more likely to come back in the future and, perhaps more importantly, speak to friends and family about their experience. Word-of-mouth advertising is extremely important, especially in today’s increasingly competitive market. Customers want a company they can trust, and other customers’ experiences are often a gauge of trustworthiness, as demonstrated by the popularity of websites such as Yelp.
Part of communication involves honesty and integrity, whether it’s between colleagues or a company and its customers. When a mistake has been made, professionals need to own up to it, admit fault, and propose a plan to ameliorate the issue. If they try to hide their mistake or place blame elsewhere, they destroy their credibility and undermine any sense of a relationship that previously existed. On the other hand, if someone accepts blame and actively works to correct a mistake, a relationship generally comes out stronger. This sort of integrity speaks to how much a professional values the relationship and respects the other person.
How does a business leader translate all of this into the act of actually creating a relationship? Developing relationships is a slow and deliberate process, and starting them can feel overwhelming. At the beginning, professionals may want to create a sort of action plan for building the relationships. By thinking about a company’s mission, professionals should be able to develop a list of the key people whom they need to prioritize, and then brainstorm what they can offer to these individuals. When entrepreneurs have created this list, they can begin to think in terms of both the value of what they have to offer and what they can bring to someone else.