Building and maintaining relationships is integral to running a successful business. The most important relationship for a founder is with your clients, but your connections with other businesspeople are just as critical to future success.
You can never know everybody, but solid business relationships will allow you to find the people you need in little more than one or two connections.
Back when I lived in North Carolina, I was part of a social entrepreneurial group. To this day, some of my best business relationships across the country today can be traced back to that group.
At a meeting hosted by the founder of iContact, an email marketing service, I met the owners of the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour, a nationwide tour that brings young entrepreneurs to colleges, universities, and workforce development organizations, to name a few.
We stayed in touch, and that affiliation has since helped me meet top entrepreneurial minds at their NY-based seminars. Turning that casual acquaintance into a full-on business relationship has helped put me in the position I am in today.
So, here are my three tips to follow if you hope to foster a casual meeting into an advantageous business partnership:
1. Listen and listen some more.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is the awareness that an opportunity is in front of you. Don’t waste time explaining what you’re looking for — embrace what’s staring you in the face.
When I was fresh out of college, I planned to move back to St. Louis and pound the pavement for design jobs. I took this one small freelance gig to finance my trip home, but nothing lined up after that.
That changed fast. I got to talking to the owner of the small business, and I impressed him with my listening ability and my skill in picking apart people’s characters and tendencies. He offered me a sales job on the spot.
I’ve written a lot about social manipulation; relationship building is no different. Any networking or happenstance meetup can yield opportunity, but you have to be present and listen for that moment.
When you’re talking with acquaintances, take the time to actively listen and talk about what they’re working on, whom they just met, and whom they need to meet. If you can offer a solution, then those acquaintances might just be your solution, too.
2. Get into a ‘giver’ mindset.
Just as you might be able to offer somebody a solution, you shouldn’t hesitate to sweeten the deal with a little generosity. The old style of business is not dead, and something as simple as picking up the tab for a beer or some appetizers can have a positive short-term effect on your acquaintance’s psyche.
Use that momentum to follow-up and see if there’s potential to do business. It’s really no different from brands giving away promotional items. When you identify an acquaintance as someone worth turning into an ally or client, picking up the tab is a great place to expedite that process.
3. Just be yourself.
As you’re sitting with the person, don’t put on a façade: Be true to who you are. There’s this old sales adage that you should “always be closing.” Forget that, and realize that you need to just be yourself.
Don’t force-feed everyone your business. Opportunities will arise when you’re fun to be around. After I got that first job offer out of college, I mentioned to the owner of a company (for which I had previously freelanced) that I was considering taking a sales position.
She stopped me in my tracks because she had no idea I was contemplating moving away from design. When I told her I thought sales suited me more, she offered me a job with her company, too, and it was that one I took.
If you are natural and likable, then your acquaintances will be more likely to introduce you to their friends and associates. Don’t press your ideas upon everybody. Be patient, be normal, and be mindful of never pouncing too early. It’s a surefire way to lose your edge.
A casual acquaintance doesn’t have to stay casual. If you cultivate the relationship correctly, then that chance encounter can become a mainstay of your professional future. You’ll both enjoy the benefits.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Anthony Russo has been a self-employed business owner for more than five years, and his seven-figure agency, Identity Marketing, is recognized among the top companies in the field of experiential promotional marketing. Russo is also a professional speaker and an emcee for large national events. Connect with @IdentityMktg2 on Twitter.
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