6 Tips for Finding and Maintaining Business Relationships

By Kris Broder

Published April 25, 2023

Networking can be as scary as stepping into a haunted house. But fear not! With a little bit of planning and a lot of charm, you can turn an impromptu conversation into a lasting business relationship. Here are six tips to get the relationship ball rolling:
Identify the Right Types of Relationships

Local Businesses
It’s a bit like studying the guest list for a cocktail party or networking event in advance. Or maybe it’s more your style to do a quick visual survey of the crowd before you dash in. Who’s in the room, in your market, or in your industry that might turn into a great business relationship? Maybe your business sells gourmet food, and you decide to reach out and collaborate with a wine shop owner. That could be a business relationship pairing that pays off for both of you!

The point is that you should always think of local businesses you love, seek out their owners, and find creative ways to team up and create power in numbers. A simple starter idea: Reach out to complementary small businesses in your industry and offer an exclusive discount to their customer base.

Another way to build strong relationships with local businesses is to engage with them online. Try liking, sharing and reposting their content by building this type of engagement into your social media strategy.

Leadership and Peer Mentors
All kinds of business owners and entrepreneurs have successfully leveraged relationships with mentors for support in building their companies and careers. Building relationships with mentors in person, at events and through social media gives you insights into things they’ve done right, as well as mistakes they’ve made. Why reinvent the wheel? Learn from leaders in places you’ve worked, experts in other organizations, and mentors in businesses similar to yours.

Customer and Client Relationships
Your customers represent more than just revenue. When you foster positive relationships with them, they become enthusiastic brand supporters. Ask your clients about their families, their daily lives, their plans, hopes and dreams. Remembering their answers and mentioning them later shows you’re attentive and care about more than just their business. Make sure to talk to them about their goals and ask how you can help accomplish them.

There’s no doubt that creating a relationship with both new and potential customers allows businesses to offer a more personalized and enticing customer experience. The quality of the experience you offer will determine whether or not you’ll enjoy long-term business success. In a recent study, 86 percent of customers claim their experiences are just as important as the actual product or service they purchase.

Financial and Legal Relationships
As you build business relationships, don’t overlook these long-term resources: a financial advisor, an accountant, a lender and an attorney. Why a lender if you are well capitalized now? Even if you don’t need to borrow money immediately, connecting with a lender now will make it so much easier when you do. Also, you won’t need to work with your attorney regularly, but by having an established relationship with one, you’ll be ready if and when you run into legal issues.

Start a Dialogue and Create Clear Expectations

Think of it as a first date. The fastest way to engage someone is to ask them a question relating to their work, interests, or thoughts on an issue. Ask them how they got into this industry or what they like best about their job. You might even tell them about a problem you've encountered recently that involves something they're passionate about, like solving Rubik's cubes or baking cookies. Asking questions starts a dialogue and shows the person that you're interested in them and what they think.

Finding shared interests and goals can get a business relationship off on the right foot. Maybe you both enjoy hiking, playing poker, or binging on Netflix. Whatever it is, connect over it. For clients and business partners, you might connect over a shared financial objective, like earning a higher revenue in the next quarter. For team members, it might include your shared career goals or industry interests.

To continue the first date analogy, think about what happens by the second, third or fourth date? You move toward setting the terms and conditions of a relationship by establishing clear expectations, right? Whether you're working on a specific project or collaborating on many projects over a longer time frame, being upfront with your new business relationship sets the tone and influences outcomes. When each person knows what they're expected to do from the get-go, it eliminates any potential confusion or misunderstanding.

Work on Strengthening Existing Relationships

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! That fun kids’ song is a reminder of this reality: You never know if your clients and vendors are happy unless you ask. Asking your most important contacts how they feel promotes a two-way conversation that can uncover areas for improvement. Pick up the phone periodically, and find out what you are doing right and what you could do better.

Some companies go to the extra step of sending out a client satisfaction survey at a given point in their company’s timeline—like an anniversary. No matter how you approach your fact-finding process, use what you learn to make sure top clients are content. Don’t forget to address concerns early on – before they become bigger issues. And celebrate even the littlest wins throughout the entire process to maintain positivity.

Here's a quick cheat sheet on other ways to strengthen existing relationships: 

    • Support local businesses you want to partner with by becoming a customer, visiting them frequently, and interacting with them on social media.
    • Attend industry events with connections you want to get to know better. The shared experience will help both of you.
    • Ask existing clients about their goals and plans for the future. This will help you to identify goals and values you can work on together.
    • Be authentic, vulnerable and personal. Be who you are and accept others as they are. Find people and companies you have things in common with. Seek out those that seem to be a natural connection with you and offer ease of communication.
    • Show loyalty and have their back. This includes setting the record straight when you hear people talk negatively about a business whose relationship you value.
    • Make meaningful connections for people to network with each other. The greatest compliment in business is a referral. We should all be thoughtful, have the right motives, and connect people for the right reasons.
Before our professional lives even start, we’re often told about the importance of networking. But there’s more involved than online meetings, emails and exchanging business cards. Strengthening relationships with certain people is what can make all the difference in your career.
Find Ways to Connect with New Contacts

Think of yourself as a walking Wikipedia page, and share information regularly with your new business connections. You can send them links, share resources, or provide training guides or other materials. If your new business partner mentioned a project they're working on, and you've read a book about that kind of project, share info about the book's name and its author. That immediately says, “I remember what we talked about, and I'm coming up with ways to help you.”

As you connect with new clients, never forget this one cardinal rule: Don’t make the mistake of turning to your business relationships whenever you need something. If you only contact a former client when you have a new service to offer, you won’t seem authentic and genuinely interested in them. Do you call your vendor only when you are looking for a good deal? They will see you as opportunistic, not a great business relationship. Spend time figuring out how you can help your most valuable business contacts. What value can you offer them right now?

Communicate Frequently
Finding the right people to build relationships with is only the beginning. Business relationships require continual maintenance fueled by ongoing communication. Consider contacting your new business connections regularly to establish a communication pattern. Depending on the nature of the relationship, a good schedule might be weekly check-ins, monthly reports, or daily stand-up meetings. By establishing a clear communication schedule, you can show your new business connection that you're dependable and want to connect with them often. Once you start a spark, fuel it!
Educate and Build Trust

Building business relationships requires trust, honesty and credibility. That’s why educating, as opposed to selling, is always the way to go. The most effective way to educate is through a consistent flow of thought leadership.

Remember that people buy from people they like. Treat customers and clients as you would treat your friends and family. Be yourself, be vulnerable and show a personal interest in others. Starting and ending meetings on schedule tells participants that you value their time, and staying focused on the person you’re talking to conveys interest and helps build their trust in you. Don't be that person who takes a call mid-conversation or scrolls through their social media feeds.

Bonus Tip: Keep Detailed Notes about your clients in a CRM or in your contact database

In addition to collecting and storing your contact's name and job title, there are several other important pieces of information that you should consider collecting and keeping up-to-date. This includes your clients' birthdays, anniversaries, email addresses, phone numbers, physical addresses, company names and websites, social media profiles, and any relevant notes or details about your interactions with them.

It's also a good idea to collect and track any specific preferences or interests that your contacts may have mentioned, such as their favorite hobbies, foods, or sports teams. This can come in handy when you want to follow up with them or surprise them with a thoughtful gesture. Overall, the more information you have about your contacts, the better you can personalize your communication and build strong, lasting relationships.

Remember, if you're like most people, you can barely remember what you had for breakfast, let alone all the important information you collect on your clients. So, take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, and start jotting down those crucial details!

And that's it! Now you have all the tools you need to build lasting business relationships.

Just remember, it's not rocket science – it's more like pickleball (which, by the way, is a great shared interest to bond over). By asking questions, finding common goals and interests, and building trust, you can create valuable connections that will propel your career forward. So go out there, have some great conversations, and let the good times roll!

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