By Howard Partridge

Would you agree that all of business and life are about relationships? You bet they are!

In the September issue of Cleanfax, I talked about the value of building relationships with potential referral sources. By adding value to them, they will add value to you.

Have you ever heard this: “It’s not what you know but who you know?” Over the past 33 years in business, I have learned that all of business is about relationships. But, relationships are not just about who you know, but also what you know about who you know.

And it’s not just about who you know — but who knows you and what they know about you. That’s called “positioning.”  My good friend Bob Burg, best-selling author of The Go-Giver, says that people do business with those they know, like, and trust.

Building relationships

Are you actively building smart relationships, or are you just relying on casual word of mouth or advertising to get customers? How much time do you invest in business relationships? Are you kind of stuck working “in” your business?

In today’s digital world, we are more connected, but more isolated than ever before. I personally love social networking and actively network on Facebook, but I also make time to connect face to face because nothing can replace that.

The importance of making connections has been noted over and over again. Here’s just a few examples:

American legend Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given back to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”

Best-selling author Jeffrey Gitomer says, “All things being equal, people would rather do business with a friend. All things being not so equal, people would still rather do business with a friend.”

Jim Cathcart, best-selling author of Relationship Selling, says relationship selling is becoming an asset to others before they become an asset to you. So when you want to build a relationship with someone who can benefit your business, find out what they like, what they want, and what they need — and simply be the one to give it to them. It may not come from the same person, but my experience has shown me that if you give people what they want, they will be more apt to give you want you want.

You see, you can have higher prices and a longer wait, but your referral sources will still support you because you are a trusted friend and advisor. While others are begging at the front door, trying to get by the gatekeeper, you are graciously invited in through the back door.

If people don’t know about you, they obviously can’t use you or refer you. If they don’t like you, they won’t use or refer you unless they absolutely must. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t use or refer you.

Finally, building relationships requires leadership on your part. Leadership expert John C. Maxwell says that leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.

We all have influence in other people’s lives. How do you gain influence in someone else’s life? By adding value to others. Maxwell says, “If you don’t add value to others, you devalue them.” Add value to them, and they will add value to you.

Remember, all of business is about relationships. You can know everything there is to know about the technical part of your business and be broke! Not to say that being technically savvy isn’t important — it is — but you can be the most technical person in the world and still be broke in business.

The networker’s value

To build a strong referral marketing system, you need to understand networking and how to build rapport quickly. Here are tips:

  1. Dress well. Did you know that people make eleven important assumptions about you in the first 30 seconds of meeting you? Most of this happens before you even open your mouth. First impressions last, so you want to make it a good one!

I think this is an area in which many cleaning and restoration “professionals” are failing miserably. We have become so casual in our culture that we aren’t even aware of the impact of dressing professionally. You influence others in how you dress and groom yourself, positively or negatively.

My goal is to always be dressed sharp without overdoing it. If you are going to build powerful business relationships, you need to look like a businessperson. Wear a sport coat and a tie if you are a man. Wear a dress or nice pantsuit if you are a woman.

Make sure your clothing is professionally pressed, your shoes are shined, and your accessories are appropriate. Your hair should be well groomed; your fingernails should be clipped and clean; be clean shaven, and keep some breath mints with you always. No one likes spending time with someone whose breath could melt butter!

  1. Always have business cards (or brochures) with you. Don’t go anywhere without business cards! In the cleaning business, this is an absolute requirement. Keep a stack in your pocket and a stack in the car, and keep your extra supply wherever you keep your car keys. When you meet people, always get their cards. It is much more important for you to get their cards because there is no guarantee that they will call you, but you should be sure to follow up with them. Ask them for permission to add their names to your email marketing list.
  2. Be gracious. When you are in a networking environment, you are not there for you. You’re not there to eat and take advantage of the food and drink. You are there to build relationships, so preference others before yourself. Be polite and kind. Be positive and likeable.

Avoid getting into negative conversations. Sometimes you will run into people at networking groups who want to talk about the weather or complain about the food, etc. Keeping in mind that you are not there for you, and avoid these conversations. They are not productive, and they bring everybody down.

  1. Don’t stand in the corner all alone. Instead, identify those who could be good referral sources for you and strike up a conversation. When you begin speaking with them, instead of being anxious to share what you do, show interest in what they do. Find out as much as you can about them and their businesses. This will come in handy when you get to talk about your business.

People love nothing more than to talk about themselves and their businesses. In fact, a great exercise is to practice asking as many questions as possible without saying anything about yourself until they ask. Once they ask, that means they will listen closer to what you have to say.

  1. Listen closely. Instead of halfway listening (called “selective listening”), listen closely to what the other person is saying. Use nods and positive affirmations to let them know you are interested in what they are saying.

Even if you aren’t interested in what they are talking about, you should be — at least from the standpoint of how you will build a professional relationship with this person. Try to discover ways you can help them and add value to their businesses.

Remember why you are there. Find out how you can help others so they will, in turn, help you. You are not there for personal reasons; keep your goals in mind and make the time investment worthwhile.

Follow up

Immediately put each new contact’s name and address into a database. If you are strapped for time, hire a high school or college student to do data entry for you. You should develop an information packet that shows why prospects should choose you over someone else, and after entering a new contact into your database, you should follow up immediately by sending the new contact a “nice to meet you” letter or card and an
information packet.

In fact, you should have a follow-up system that includes an initial information packet, regular mailers, and a regular emailed newsletter.

Put those new contacts on your calendar to remember to call the following week or whenever you told them you would call. Remember the fortune is in the follow up. But also remember that your goal is to make so many contacts that you don’t have to chase individual suspects to
survive.

Howard Partridge started his cleaning business from the trunk of his car over 31 years ago and built it to more than $3 million a year. He teaches cleaning and restoration companies to have phenomenal success. Partridge is the exclusive small business coach for Ziglar Inc., the John Maxwell Coaching Team founder, and a bestselling author.