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New! Taking care of your most important relationships is most important by Lara Feltin  1-10-2012    printer  

Within your network of 300 followers and 150 friends -- are maybe 30 who can VOUCH for you. WHO are they? WHERE are they? and HOW are you taking care of them? These guiding principles can help!

During my recent presentation at Seattle Interactive Conference, I sketched out five guiding principles for taking care of your most important business relationships -- the ones with peers who send you business. (Note, I believe they're more important than your most valuable customer.) Because the peers who know, like and trust you are in the best position to send you a steady stream of new business. 

Trust is not something you win, it's something you build, and it must be taken care of. Within your network of 300 followers and 150 friends -- are maybe 30 people who can VOUCH for you. Are there three who could send you business this month?

  • WHO are they?
  • WHERE are they?
  • HOW are you taking care of them? And...
  • WHO do THEY KNOW who could be doing business with you too?

Follow these guiding principles and your peer-to-peer networking will pay off in spades.


Know thyself

Before you engage in any kind of relationship you must know yourself first. Start with knowing what type of business you are in.

Is your primary motivation to earn a living, or impact change? Are you building a profit, or are you building equity in a company that you can sell? Have you created a job for yourself, or are you planning to achieve financial freedom? Did you invest your own money, or someone else's? Is this business going to satisfy you for the long haul, or are you going to start something new in a few years? 

If you selected the former of each question, you fit the profile of an independent business owner. If you selected the later, "entrepreneur" is a better fit.

These are generalizations, and I'm the first to admit that I'm a bit of both. But it helps to know where you generally fall because understanding how others view these distinctions, will result in more successful business networking.

Business networking communities offer different benefits for different kinds of businesses. Marketing is about fishing where the fish are. Networking is about finding like-minded fishermen and sharing your tools. (I elaborate on know thyself in 5 Ways to Peel a Lemon)


Be human

The next on the list is be human. The authors of The Trusted Advisor created the following "trust test":  T = C x R x I / S. Where T stands for trust, C, R and I stand for credibility, reliability and intimacy. S is self orientation

Credibility and reliability are fairly obvious: to what degree do the signals another person puts off, show you that they are who they claim to be, and are as good as they say they are. And to what degree do they do what they say they'll do. Intimacy is nothing more than emotional comfort. Are you comfortable with the other person -- could you tell them a secret? 

Self-orientation is the negative ingredient in the equation. The higher the self-orientation, the less likely we are to trust someone. An example of LOW self-orientation is someone who recommends a competitor for a job because they believe the competitor to be a better fit. The opposite -- a high self-orientation -- can be seen in the smarmy sales guy who's always looking for a lead. These guys are leaches in a community, spamming and pushing, and are gone once they perceive the well is dry. 

As your credibility and reliability increase, your self-orientation can increase too. Gain someone's trust and making it all about you, will be more welcome. This is not a new concept. This dance is part of being human. 


Show up

The third principle for building (and taking care of) trust is showing up. Woody Allen said: "90% of success is showing up." I agree.

In 1990 I spent 4 weeks with my brother, a Peace Corps Volunteer, in the country of Mali in West Africa. The local language is Bambara and the greeting is "I ni che". What I like most about this greeting is the direct translation: "You and yourself". It's the equivalent of, "I see you." This is the very foundation of community and trust.

Long before MySpace, and Facebook, we lived in tribes, and community was distilled into a single phrase -- I see you.

In Biznik-land showing up means logging in and participating in conversations. (Like the conversation that follows this article!) It means showing up at events and doing your homework before the event -- discovering who else is going to be there. And it means following up after an event and touching base with those you met. 

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs are powerful marketing engines enabling you to engage in conversation with your customers. With the exception of the social media "mavens" and those with "klout", the majority of the population underutilizes the power of social media tools for peer-to-peer networking. 

Networking, building relationships, and taking care of your referral partners takes time both online and off-line. Social media tools make the chore easier. (Read more about showing up & "i ni che".)


Be helpful

A great study out of Princeton by Susan Fiske can be summed up in by the two questions people ask themselves when they first meet you -- how warm is this person, and how competent are they.

Warmth judgements are derived from things like trustworthiness, friendliness, helpfulness and sociability. Competency judgements include intelligence, creativity and perceived ability. 

Social perception reflects evolutionary pressures. So the root of these questions is what is the intention of the other person? Is this person friend or foe? And next, does this person possess the ability to act on those intentions. If they're a friend, can they help me? If they're a foe, do they possess the ability to hurt me? 

If people are asking this, upon meeting you, how are you answering? How are you being helpful?


Feed the machine

The fifth and last guiding principle for taking care of your most valuable peer relationships is the backbone of all friendships. It's something we do intuitively in our personal relationships. 

When you feed the personal-friendship-machine, your friends will move your couch, babysit your kid, and check on your house while you're out of town.

When you feed the professional-peer-relationship-machine, your peers will vouch for your business, spread the word, send you new clients, and introduce you to new opportunities. 

In social media this is referred to as investing in your social capital -- creating a connection that can be leveraged later in a different way.

Here are 4 great ways to feed the machine:

• Make someone's client happy

 This is turn could make your peer look good, and they'll happily send you more. 

• Make someone's job easy

Meaning, make it easy to send you work. Practice good communication habits. Acknowledge when a client someone's sent your way has contacted you. Follow up later, and your peer know how the job went. If your grandmother taught you anything, I hope you learned the importance of thanking those who've done something nice for you.

• Show acknowledgement

Acknowledgement and good communication go hand in hand. You can acknowledge someone in person when you introduce them to another peer: "I'd like you to meet Sara. She sent me one my best new clients last month." You can also acknowledge them on Twitter: "So glad I can help @mattlawrence's client this week. They absolutely raved about his landscaping business."

• Reciprocate

Reciprocation may not take the form of a returned referral. Many times -- most times, in fact -- it's not possible to send clients to someone who's able to send them to you. Take the following example:

Sara Eizen, an interior designer in Seattle. Her company is called Nest. She sends a ton of work to an upholsterer and a cabinet maker. Over the years, neither has sent her any business in return. It's not intentional, the truth is, neither are in a position to send her clients. By the time someone's reupholstering their grandfather's old chair, or installing shelves in a closet, the designer and professional organizer have already been on the job.

How can these two give something back to Sara? By talking with Sara about who's "upstream" from her. Sara helps clients turn their house into a home. She can choose paint colors, place their furniture in a new location, and organize stuff that's gotten out of control. Someone who recently moved into a new home is one of ideal clienst! So one way the upholsterer and cabinet maker can reciprocate is to introduce Sara to a real estate agent. If Sara follows Tip #1 and makes the real estate agent's clients happy, one referral could turn into many.

And this comes full circle to the first guiding principle. Sara must know herself. If she doesn't have an answer to the proverbial, "How can I help you?" it's unlikely that the peers she sends business to, will be able to feed the machine and reciprocate.

Your peers who trust you are in the best position to send you new business. Who are they? Where are they? And most importantly -- how are you taking care of those relationships?

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