In business and in life, you have to work closely with others to build your way to success.
The old axiom, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is only partly true. It’s misleading, because it focuses on simply making contacts.
Creating success in business is really about maintaining relationships, not just having a list of people in your phone list or contacts file.
Benefits of Business Relationships
You may have some doubts about the benefits of personal relationships, but there are many ways that close, genuine contact with people can help make your career or business a success. When you’re trying to get ahead in business and in life, you’ll have to offer your help to others, but you’ll get plenty of rewards from your relationships too.
Here are some examples of how other people can benefit you:
- Sharing advice. If you’re feeling lost or confused, turn to your network. Someone with experience or expertise in an area can give you a few pointers.
- Sharing leads. If you’re looking for a job, new clients, an interview source, or any other recommendations, it always pays to have someone who can give you some ideas of where to go. Just one close contact doubles your chances of knowing someone who has the news, information, or resources you need.
- Investing and lending opportunities. You may find that it’s almost impossible to get a loan for a new business these days. However, if you have built great rapport with others, they may help lend you the money you need to get your business off the ground.
- Word-of-mouth marketing. Many businesses will tell you that they get almost all of their business through referrals. These referrals can come from friends, family, and satisfied customers. It’s a free, unbiased, and extremely effective way to promote your work and generate more business.
- Finding jobs. The same philosophy applies to people looking for a job. When I was in the job search process, I discovered an interesting statistic: Almost 90% of people look for jobs only by looking at ads, but that’s where only 10% of available jobs exist. At least 30% come from referrals. The more you focus on your network and relationships, the better connected to opportunities you’ll be.
- Potential partners, coworkers, and employees. If you’re not looking for a job, maybe you’re looking for new talent. One of the best reasons to keep up with your relationships is because you never know who you may one day be working with – or for. People change companies all the time. Someone who is a colleague from a previous organization may end up sharing the cubicle next to you at your work, or he might be able to help you find the new hire you’re looking for. Simply put, more positive relationships means fewer enemies, less stress, and no more closed doors.
- Your relationships create new relationships. If you work closely with someone who you’ve impressed, you may get introduced to someone else who will play an important and influential role in your life.
- Business relationships can turn into good friendships. Whether at work or outside work, days are better when you’re interacting with positive people who you enjoy spending time with. Sometimes you will just need a buddy to go share a drink with after a hard day or blow off some steam when your boss is being a jerk. Why not approach each and every person, including your colleagues, as potential long-term friends?
How to Build Great Relationships
Without care and effort, relationships fade away. If you want to have strong relationships, you are going to have to pursue them and maintain them. Follow these seven tips:
- Keep up with people. It sounds basic, but we’re starting to forget how to do it. You are going to have to maintain your relationships. If you don’t talk to someone for months, you’ll fall off their radar, or they may not immediately jump at the chance to help you when you finally reach out to them and ask. Keep some records of who you have networked with and check in with them every so often. If they’re online contacts on a digital network, keep your conversations going. If they’re colleagues or people with whom you’ve swapped business cards, send an email or make a call every month or so. Check in and say hello. If you tend to forget to make – or worse, return – calls or emails, use a task management system or calendar to remind you to call or write.
- Build trust. Never take advantage of people. Don’t even let them think that you’d do so. It’s the quickest way to ruin a relationship and build a bad reputation that can harm other relationships too. The key to building trust is being honest. When you are willing to forego your own interests to help someone else, they know they can rely on you. Do the right thing and be dependable, and you’ll see your relationships grow stronger.
- Network. Networking is the key to building successful relationships, and you have many options available to you. I am a member of my Chamber of Commerce, a rotary group, a non-profit board of directors, and a business incubator. I also attend as many mixers as I can to meet new contacts. However, networking doesn’t have to be this formal. You can strike up a friendly conversation with someone at the gym. I once received a job lead from someone I met at a friend’s birthday party. As long as you are engaging with other people, you are actively networking. Even if you aren’t much of a people person, you can put yourself out there a little bit so that you can make some great contacts. You don’t have to be the life of the party. People would rather you just be yourself. Even if you’re not comfortable putting yourself out there on Facebook, take a look at your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it’s up to date, and test the waters to see if you can make any new contacts online.
- Show an interest in others. Pretentious people who talk about themselves all the time don’t get very far. Smart people know that an early step to gaining respect and building a relationship is to show interest in other people. Listen to what people have to say and show a sincere interest in them. Ask questions about their job and kids. Keep track of what they’ve brought up in the past and follow up with them. Everyone is impressed when someone shows they’ve taken the time to remember their stories.
- Work hard. People want to invest in someone who is going to provide results. You might need to show them that you can deliver before you can expect them to have your back or put in a good word for you. When someone asks for something, give a little more. Deliver early and take initiative to help in ways you weren’t asked. It takes effort to build relationships with bosses, colleagues, friends, and family, and you might have to be the first one to do a favor.
- Focus on giving. Similarly, many people want to build relationships so that they can have someone to help them out when they need it. Try to have a less Machiavellian attitude. Always think about how you can help people in your network. They’re far more likely to return a favor than they are to go out of their way for you, especially early in your relationship.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. When I go to a networking event, I probably come home with 20 business cards. People want to make an impression, but not every contact has the potential to turn into a relationship. You are going to be busy with your life and work, so you can’t invest in maintaining a relationship with every person you ever meet. Be realistic, and don’t create unnecessary work for yourself. A mentor once advised me that the best goal at a networking event is to get just one good business card. However, that doesn’t mean you turn away everyone else you meet, because you don’t know which contacts are going to be the most promising. By all means, follow up with anyone who you may have a quality relationship with later. Just don’t overwhelm yourself trying to keep up with too many new people.
Relationship Building Mistakes to Avoid
With all this work and benefits, there must be some potential pitfalls as well, right? People make plenty of mistakes, so watch out for these ten:
- Not being personal. Some people are all business. Worse yet, they are just vampires trying to use others to achieve their own needs. Many people don’t even know they’re doing it; sometimes this behavior is just subconscious and most people would be ashamed to see it in themselves. Always remember that you’re working on a mutually beneficial relationship, and be genuine. Show your interest in people’s careers, families, and your mutual interests.
- Failure to show appreciation. Everybody wants to know that their contributions are acknowledged and appreciated. It is easy to forget to thank someone who shares a job lead or goes out of their way to help you solve a problem. Make a conscious effort to show gratitude for things that others do for you, and they’ll be more inclined to help you in the future.
- Forgetting to update. After somebody helps you get a job or solve another problem, keep them posted on how things are going. Whether they put you in touch with the hiring manager or serve as a reference, let people know how they contributed to your success. Show that you aren’t going to abandon them as soon as you get what you want.
- Failing to be consistent. In all relationships, people deserve to know that your good intentions are genuine. If you are good to someone who’s good to you, but they see you failing to treat others the same way, they will question your motives. They may think you are sucking up or being deceptive. Treating everyone you meet the same way helps you come across as sincere and genuine.
- Acting unprofessionally in bad times. Don’t panic or blame other people when the dam breaks. If things go bad, be upfront about it and alleviate any concerns by working hard to address the issue. Being a positive, team player in tough times reveals your true character. If things are falling apart around you and it’s not your fault, start working toward a solution rather than pointing fingers.
- Failing to admit your mistakes. Part of developing trust is showing that you know how to be accountable. If you mess up, fess up about it. People understand that mistakes are made, but lying about them can cause permanent damage to your relationships.
- Not being reliable. Just like when businesses deceivingly change their policies or don’t meet obligations, you can really offend someone when you’re not reliable. Don’t miss meetings, and don’t flake on promises. These mistakes can cost your relationships significantly. Your value is only as good as your word to both your colleagues and customers.
- Not being careful what you say. Everyone makes mistakes in conversation, but you need to avoid doing so in relationship building. A simple slip of the tongue can cost you a lot in the long run. I have seen people drink a little too much at networking events and start saying things that they would regret later. No matter where you are or who you are with, you are representing yourself, so try to be professional. In addition, if you speak poorly about people behind their backs to someone, that person will be wary that you may do the same to them.
- Surrounding yourself with untrustworthy people. You’re going to be judged by the company you keep. If your friends or business contacts have shady reputations or histories of dishonesty, then you’re building that same reputation for yourself. If you refer business to someone who has a reputation for taking people’s money, then you are going to burn bridges with anyone who finds out about it. I was once referred to someone who had previously been known to run a Ponzi scheme. I had to wonder if the person who referred me was getting a kickback or something. I didn’t know her well enough to be sure, but I made sure to be very careful around her and never became close friends because she had already lost my trust.
- Keeping too many secrets. Be as transparent as you can, whether you’re with work colleagues or with people in your personal life. If you get caught in a lie or keeping someone else’s secrets, you sacrifice trust that’s very difficult to rebuild. If you seem to have ulterior motives, you may lose others’ trust indefinitely.
Relationships take a lot of effort to build, but they can be destroyed overnight if you aren’t careful. Avoid making these mistakes at all costs.
Support for Skeptics
Even after this discussion, some of you may still remain skeptical about building relationships. Perhaps you agree with one of the following arguments against relationship building. If so, consider some of the tips that follow each argument below to help you get past these issues.
1. Business relationships make it hard to leave work at work.
You spend enough time working at your marriage, your friendships, and your family relationships. You’re managing relationships with your colleagues, and just trying to get along with your boss. Maintaining those basics drains enough of your time and energy. Who has time to build more relationships anyway?
Shake it off: It’s true: Sometimes you just want to shut down at 5 pm or 6 pm and forget about the hassle of work. A few of those associates, however, might be the key to your next successful step. You don’t have be friends with everyone, but try to identify two or three peers worth getting to know a little better.
2. Building a network of business contacts is never genuine.
You’ve heard the networking speech before, and you’ve heard the “it’s who you know” speech one time too many. Building a relationship just to take advantage of it when you need to isn’t what business or friendship is about. Enough two-faced brown-nosers are out there already. Why join the ranks?
Shake it off: You’re right. Those people are just playing a game, and they’re playing it poorly. That doesn’t mean that you’ll become one of them just for trying to build up a supportive network. Any good relationship is mutually beneficial. It’s not about taking advantage when the time is right. Rather, it’s about shared interest in goals, and helping others in your network be successful while they help you. Never fake it. Only invest in relationships that you care enough about.
3. Doing it right takes too much time.
You’ve gotten past the first two obstacles, but accepting the importance of relationships and building them the right way just landed you at one tough conclusion: This is going to be a lot of work.
Shake it off: If you want to do it right, it will take a lot of time, but the good news is that it can also be a lot of fun. Maintain your contact list, and stay in touch with these people while viewing them as more than just “contacts.” If you’re genuine about relationship building, then the whole process will come naturally. And at any stage of your career, welcoming some new friends and colleagues into your life can be a great emotional boost if you’re lucky.
Relationships are essential to the success of any business. Work closely with people and develop a rapport with them. When you have allies on your side, you will get much further than if you tried to go about things alone. Just make sure that you return the courtesy and help your friends and colleagues by providing them with what they need as well.