I’ve written about why you should build relationships without expectations every day for yourself and your business. In this post, I want to dig a little deeper and share three of my strategies to build powerful business relationships that you can start working on today. Try them out as an interesting opportunity to learn and give to other people. I wouldn’t be surprised if, over time, some of these relationships naturally lead to referrals or recommendations.
The first step to building a relationship beyond a specific product or service is to understand your clients’ interests.
Reach out individually and learn about your clients’ interests. I know this takes time and these efforts aren’t scalable. (As an aside, check out how Gary Vaynerchuk has “scaled the unscalable” by building a huge business through one-on-one relationships.)
If you don’t aspire to be Gary V., that’s ok; you don’t need to tweet at every person you meet all day to build meaningful connections. The truth is that most people are not doing much of anything to individually connect in a way that is both meaningful and regular. You will stand out by doing it at all, and as Fortune’s Michael Simmons explains in this article, “the benefits of the one-to-one paradigm are not linear. They are exponential. By focusing on adding value to people privately, others are more likely to be loyal, share their experiences publicly through their social media, or endorse you on a reputation platform.”
So what do you do? Ask questions about personal interests and goals. Then, actually take the time to look for opportunities to connect them with other interesting people. Here’s my system to make sure I’m introducing interesting people to each other regularly:
(a) Organize your contacts contextually. I don’t just lump co-workers or school friends together, but I also have tags for industries, interests, roles and locations. (I use Contactually for this).
(b) Make it a habit. Spend a few minutes scrolling through your contacts a few days per week to spark ideas. (I schedule 15 minutes, three times per week). I’m looking for non-obvious connections based on something new I’ve learned in the past week about someone, whether it’s a shared interest, new project, new jobs, something. It’s not - “hey, you both live in Manhattan, you should know each other!” That makes no sense. Go deeper. First discover, and then help each side understand, why you think it would help them to know the other person.
(c) Introduce thoughtfully. When I have a match, I use the “double opt-in introduction” popularized by venture capitalist Fred Wilson, meaning that I ask permission and give context to each side of the potential introduction before I make it.
As relationship expert Patrick Ewers suggests, when you follow up, you can either do it frequently but without much value, or you can build “mindshare” by delivering a “positive, energizing experience in each interaction.” If you’re committed to giving real value in each interaction, you’ll become memorable to your client; it’s rare for someone to consistently think of you and give you something useful, interesting or helpful. I think thoughtful, well-executed introductions are among the best interactions you can give to someone else.
Contribute your expertise
If you’re truly in a position to contribute expert advice, be expert, timely and practical. Here’s what I mean:
(a) Expert: Don’t fake it - your credibility rests on you actually knowing what you’re talking about. If you’re not the right expert or if, as entrepreneur and author Jason Fried suggests, you’d only be giving advice about “things you used to know,” don’t offer advice and instead find another way to help. If you need to think about it or look something up, don’t be afraid to say so.
(b) Timely: You’re probably busy. We’re all busy. Understand when your help will make an impact and get back to people when it will matter. It’s summed up well by a mantra I learned in college: Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it.
(c) Practical: This is the toughest part for many people. Advice has to be actionable; it has to help someone actually make a decision.
The method also matters. Here’s one example of how top notch expertise is often communicated poorly: I was asked recently whether legal update blasts from law firms are helpful. Generally, I think of them as marketing spam whether or not the contents are useful. However, if the person I have a relationship with at the firm spends two minutes writing a short blurb personalizing the message and telling me why the update’s content matters, it becomes a valuable communication that I will always read. I think one out of 100 law firm email blasts are actually sent this way.
Contribute your time
When outside advisors invest a little scheduled time to catch up and listen to what’s going on with a client every couple of months, they learn more than they ever would without it.
This can be as little as 15 minutes every two months. You can find the time for that. For this to work, you have to make sure your client knows this isn’t a sales call: the last time I want to talk to someone who bills me by the hour is when I think they’re desperate for work. Instead, your client should know that you’re there to learn about the business’s (and his or her) goals and challenges. Not every client will want to make the time, which is fine, but you’ll find that asking for the time shows that you’re interested in being involved proactively and you’ll spend your time doing it.
Championing means bringing people you know together with opportunities that can help them.
Champion your clients’ professional and personal aspirations. Advocate for their involvement in interesting things. This could mean helping someone find an interesting job. Speaking and writing opportunities are also good places to start. These opportunities are everywhere: does your company sponsor events? What organizations are you involved with?
Look for ways to get others involved where their involvement will help them professionally or interest them personally.
A few examples: A couple of years ago, I started thinking about speaking at industry conferences and coincidentally, an outside lawyer offered me a spot on a panel at a conference that summer. The timing was right and it was a great opportunity. This took her less than 10 minutes and I’ll never forget it. I’ve asked other in-house lawyers to write for JDSupra when I think they might be interested in it; no one at JDSupra asked me to do it and my friends never asked me directly either. I made that connection - I know that writing for respected publications can have a meaningful impact on your career and I want my friends to be successful.
Another way to champion is to adopt the habit of the “Five Minute Favor”, or giving something small and low effort to show your support to someone anytime you have a few minutes to spare. Contributing to social media discussions, providing an endorsement, sending a quick note of feedback or even retweeting something (which is so easy that it’s really a “five second favor”) about products, companies, articles, or causes are good examples. Frankly, it doesn’t need to be business-related at all. It’s important to just establish the habit of being helpful.
That’s it: connect people you know with people they should know; contribute your expertise and your time; and champion by bringing people you know together with opportunities that can help them.
If you like this article, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn. Questions or comments? Please email me. I’ll respond to every one.
[Josh Beser is Assistant General Counsel at Lonza, a global leader in life sciences and specialty ingredients with over 10,000 employees worldwide. Josh also mentors technology companies with Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator in New York. Previously, Josh was a corporate associate at Bingham McCutchen LLP and Heller Ehrman LLP, representing emerging companies in the technology and life sciences industries. Connect with Josh on Twitter and LinkedIn.
JD Supra's In-House Perspective series provides in-house counsel a platform upon which to share their views and thought leadership on issues of the day, including industry news and legal developments, relationships with outside counsel, and law practice matters. To participate in the series, email email@example.com.]
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