When I see small business owners not focusing on building relationships, I often ask them – why?
Building relationships with customers and other businesses who could be your customers or refer to you customers doesn’t require expensive marketing. It only takes your time and effort – but it has huge return potential. You don’t need anything special to build these relationships; just your authentic self.
Now that we have knocked off what you shouldn’t do – let’s talk about what you should do!
BE A PART OF YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY
How active are you in the community you live in?
If you are a parent, chances are that you have quite a few opportunities to create engagement everywhere you go. If you are like me – unmarried and childless – then being involved in your community takes a little bit more work. Whether you live in a small or big area, your local community is your immediate roots to new customers.
Having grown up in a small town, I know how hard it can be in the maker market to actually succeed. The good news is that thanks to the internet, few people in our orbit ONLY know those who are in the immediate area. Remember, your friends and family don’t need to refer you to the neighbors… you’re looking for them to refer you to anyone within their circle (which could be statewide, nationwide or even global!).
The first step to getting noticed is simply to be part of your local community. You can build genuine relationships by getting to know and speaking with local business owners. Have a cocktail at the local pub; browse the local gift shop; or even chat up your next home repair professional. The goal is not to turn a first contact into a sale. The goal is to make a lasting impression and build on it.
I don’t necessarily spend a lot of money in my local community. Much like all of you, I spend when I can and where I can. I do, however, take time each month to visit local businesses – even if it’s just to browse. I take the opportunity to get to know the local business owners and build up a friendship with them. Genuine relationships within your local community create a referral storm which leads to stable sales and profits.
CEASE OPPORTUNITIES IN YOUR ONLINE COMMUNITY
The reason I started Sub That: Sublimation Graphics & Tutorials was because I wanted to create a learning community. In 2018, there were only a handful of groups and they were all run by suppliers or had no structure at all. I quickly noticed there was no real help for small business owners. Comments would get deleted about businesses that the admins didn’t like. Questions would go unanswered. Posts that got lots of traction would have comments turned off if the admins felt threatened. It was madness.
So, I created a community and made sure that opportunities were built in. We have a weekly self-promotion post, a thread in the announcements and group guides where suppliers and designers can share their links, a Small Business Saturday Feature that our industry sellers can sign up for, and we allow small businesses to comment anytime someone asks about sourcing a product or design. We also created a community where people can feel safe to share and help each other. If you are a business owner in the apparel decoration and accessory supply industry, then we have a community for you that connects you with makers.
Now, if you are a maker, then you have to seek out or build your own online community. When I was maker, one of my most lucrative connections was in two home décor groups. Promotions was not allowed but people endlessly shared their home décor and asked about ideas. This quickly led to a lot of customers as it only took a few to share something they ordered from me (via Facebook Markeplace. Again, respect group rules) for more orders to come pouring in. The most amazing part about social media is that there is a group for EVERYTHING – you just have to find yours.
Being active in an online community that fits your target niche will open you up to customers on a global scale. This is crucial for succeeding long term and requires nothing more than a little of your time. Remember what we noted in our last post – you want to be focusing on putting people first, profits second. Simply being a helpful individual in groups can be enough to lead to sales; and at the very least, build your reputation.
One thing I will advise against is creating any kind of group for just your business. There are a few different components to that, but the most important are that 1. Facebook continues to change the algorithms to work against selling groups in favor of community groups and 2. Users have gotten burned out from too many groups. Even though Sub That is technically my group for selling my products and services, it’s also a community. We learn, we teach, we create opportunities for others and we focus on positive engagement. I follow the rule that 80% of our posts/content are about our members and serving them; 20% are about sales.
What I’m saying is, wherever these is opportunities – cease them! All exposure is a smart move.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH OTHER BUSINESS OWNERS NOT IN YOUR INDUSTRY
One of the best opportunities that ever came my way was being part of a quarter auction. It was profitable for everyone involved and a lot of fun. The path to my involvement came from a friend who hosted a Wildtree Seasonings party. I attended my friend’s home party with no plans to buy anything (limited funds) but wanting to be supporting and also, just needing to get out of the house. The consultant and I got to chatting and really made a connection – which was great.
A few weeks later, she reached out to me asking if I wanted to be part of this quarter auction event. Explained there would be all kinds of vendors involved. I was hesitant at first because it involved me donating to a raffle (but you actually make money, it’s a cool event! I will do a post or video on this in the future), but I decided to go for it. I was really just focusing on trying to build out those relationships and make new contacts.
The quarter auction was a success. I made a little bit of money and a lot of contacts; ultimately, and ultimately, a lot of referrals and income.
It’s very narrow minded to constantly look around and only want to connect with people who you think will be your customer. Anyone can be a customer or referrer of customers. Unless you give them a chance to know you, you will never know what kind of opportunities they can bring.
I do not have children, but I have many friends who do. I attend birthday parties with one friend and make many new contacts that have led to sales from their friends.
I do not attend church, but I have many friends who do. I join them at functions to lend a helping hand and meet new people whom have led to sales.
I do not eat out often or spend tremendously, but I am connected with so many local business owners from simple acts like buying fall mums or local products, that have led to referrals and sales.
I am intentionally involved in different activities, events and communities both online and offline because I recognize that getting to know different types of business owners can ultimately open new doors.
KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS
It is so easy for a customer to forget about a maker they purchased from and go to someone else for a future purchase. You can bridge the gap, invite repeat business, build your customer relationships and create a reason for them to refer you all by keeping in touch.
This means having a social media presence that you are involved in. Responding to comments. Making posts (even when you don’t get much traction). Sharing meaningful shared content. It all plays a roll in to reminding your audience that you are there. Social media is free but you can take it a step further by utilizing email and text marketing to reach past customers and potential customers with sales and other alerts.
Keeping your presence alive is really about providing that service before, during and after a sale. You want to always be creating the potential for business. It is hard when you are new and getting little traction, but consistency yields profits; so keep at it and trust the process.
Opportunity can come from anywhere. You will find the best connections for your business by simply living your life and including activities that involve people you don’t know. We gain so much from meeting new people and having a shared interest makes it easy to build a relationship.
This is more obvious than you might realize. Think about any hobby or activity that you enjoy – then seek it out. I enjoy yoga. I signed up for a membership at a local yoga studio. I built a relationship with a few teachers, students and the owner through attendance. This led to sales and referrals.
I enjoy reading. I am part of a book club for childless women and a more traditional book club. Both have yielded opportunities for sales simply by showing up.
I have also recently joined a women’s entrepreneur group in my city. I don’t know where it will take me, but there is a pretty good chance it will lead to new opportunities.
All of these scenarios share one common denominator – I built a relationship based on things I enjoy. In most situations, you will find yourself talking about what you do. That is your opportunity to plant the idea. I also make sure I always have something on my person that I have made – it’s a conversation starter! Aluminum bookmark, sweat towel for hot yoga, kindle cover, wallet, t-shirt – it doesn’t matter. Anything you have made can become the link between you and someone else that leads to a sale.
So you see, building relationships is a lot easier than you might think. Don’t worry about being too awkward or feeling like you lack experience. Everyone is awkward in their own way. Everyone is the new person at some point. The most important detail is that you put yourself out there – and pave the road for the opportunities from your relationships, to follow.