As we dive into the importance of business relationships this month, I find it crucial that we first talk about what not to do before we talk about what to do. There are right and wrong ways to build relationships in business. The right approach will create an endless path to your future sales and opportunities. Business relationships should be built with genuine purpose – not just on an attempt to make money. In my 3 years running Sub That: Sublimation Graphics & Tutorials, I have had many people ask how to get noticed or how to get “my” endorsement. I always respond the same: you must build the relationship first; then the rest will follow. Let’s talk about the common mistakes small business owners make while attempting to build business relationships and boost sales.
LEVERAGING ALIANCES TO BOOST REPUTATION
The absolute worst way to do business is to align yourself with one or two companies and believe that it will somehow translate into long term profits. The idea that you can leverage the reputation of another business to boost yours is inherently inaccurate. If you are paying attention in the dye sublimation industry, then you may have noticed that many of these alliances fall apart within a year or two. This happens for a multitude of reasons that often boil down to a difference in opinions, integrity, and ethics.
Many of these alliances are also built on shaky ground. One business will not hesitate to undercut the other in favor of their own profitability. I know that I experienced this in the early days of Sub That when one of my admins made choices to hinder our groups credibility by being spammy and creating fake alias accounts and even threatening other group admins that didn’t support their business. When confronted, they were not shy to say that it was about them making money and that was all that mattered. We don’t support the profits over people mentality in my group (as many of you know).
When you are aligned with one or two businesses exclusively, their actions and views reflect onto your business (and vice versa). This can be more damaging than anything else when your customers take your suggestions on another business and have a negative experience or perception based on that businesses actions. In the end, by focusing on alliances instead of building relationships, you may boost your reputation but you will not be on a stable foundation allows you to grow in the most profitable ways.
COLD CONTACTING CUSTOMERS OR BUSINESSES
I wish I could tell you the number of brand-new business owners who have been in my inbox asking to become a “preferred vendor” or to promote in my group. The first thing this tells me is that they do not have any grasp on how Sub That operates. We have never allowed self-promotion posts. We have never had preferred vendors. We never will have either of these because this group is a company-sponsored group by my business and it is my virtual storefront, of sorts, where I help, teach and connect with my audience. The work I do is part of building my reputation and my business relationships with my audience, in hopes that they become my customers.
The second thing it tells me is that they have not done the real work to build their reputation. They are looking for a shortcut. I get it; I was an eager business owner once too. The only thing worse than cold contacting a business who want to work with is to cold contact their group members or customers. The second is downright appalling. It’s the fastest way to ruin your reputation forever.
The foundation of your reputation must be built by you. It requires a lot of effort and consistent work. There are no shortcuts. If you want to work with another group/business, you have to make yourself known. When people contact me, I tell them all the same thing. I do not allow promotions or have preferred vendors. I also don’t risk my reputation and my group by recommending any business that is barely established. When I go to shop for sublimation blanks to use in my tutorials, I head to those websites of people who are active in my group. I’m looking for those small businesses who are putting in the leg work to grow their personal connection to customers in the industry by being an asset to the industry – not just focusing on their profits.
Cold contacting is like spam calls. Does anyone enjoy them? No. We are more likely to accept calls/texts/emails from those that we have an established connection with. We are even more likely to shop, share and support those that we have deepened that relationship with.
TREATING BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS LIKE A CONVENIENCE
In order for your business to be built to last, you have to put in lasting effort. Another big mistake that small business owners make is putting in the effort to build a relationship only to disappear once they get what they were after. Often, those who are in these kinds of relationships will only message the business they are connecting with when they have a sale or promotion.
Imagine how that would feel for you.
How would it feel to you if a business colleague or customer never supported you beyond when they needed to promote their own business? Building relationships is about what we do before, during and after our engagements. If a small business owner builds a relationship with me and I give them a chance to get noticed in my group and then they disappear only to message me when they want to run another promotion – it’s an automatic “ignore messages”.
You don’t get to leverage other people’s efforts to grow your business only when it’s convenient to you. Being a business owner is a full-time job and requires full-time effort. Again, no shortcuts.
NOT OFFERING SERVICE BEFORE THE SALE
How many of us thought we would just open up our online storefront and the sales would magically follow?
I know I did, just like many of you. I quickly learned that the most important part of building our customer relationships for our business is to provide service before the sale. Service is a bit of a loose term as it can have different definitions for different sellers.
If you’re a digital designer – offering discounted and free digital designs is the best way to grow your customer base and build your rapport. Even sharing resources to freebies (which you can get paid through affiliate links) will help create that strong foundation for your business.
If you’re a blanks seller – showing how to press your products should be a no-brainer. Even more than that, helping with troubleshooting even with individuals aren’t using your product. Eventually, those individuals will become your customer. But why would they take a chance if they need help and your response is “you didn’t buy that from me”.
If you sell ink and paper – making sure you are up on the right settings for different printers and troubleshooting printers and color issues should be your top priority (even if they aren’t using your product). Again, you are providing a service to potential customers. Based on their experience, they may be more willing to change to your product.
All of these mistakes stem from putting profits and fast-cash mentality over people. Business is all about the people. It is about the ways which we connect, help and grow with them. The relationships we build can create mountains of opportunity – but only if we pursue them the right way. After 17 years as a business owner, I can promise you that I will never stop preaching how valuable relationships can be if you cultivate them. It is the best FREE investment you can make and has the greatest return over time. As time goes on, you will work less and profit more simply because of the road that you paved along the way.
Thanks for joining us, today. We strive to provide content that helps you grow and flourish as a small business maker.