Monthly Archives: April 2016
To succeed, a startup must generate new business and attract talented employees, which requires using all of your resources smartly. Relationship capital is the connections, networks and relationships we all have that can be leveraged for business success. It must not be overlooked.
Executives of young companies should consistently leverage their networks and connections while encouraging all team members to expand their personal networks. That spurs professional growth individually and for the company. Startups that capitalize on their relationship capital will grow and sustain a healthy corporate culture and work environment.
Below are useful tips for startups to leverage relationship capital to perfect the science of success:
# Get your employees to realize the benefits of shared relationship capital. Professional contacts are personal and hard-won possessions. People rarely share these contacts with colleagues and will never want to hand them over to their company as a whole.
You first need to gain the trust of your staff to overcome their anxiety and get them to embrace sharing their relationship capital. They need to trust you won’t take advantage of their contacts for selfish reasons. Emphasize that employees will always be the point-of-contact for their own connections. Let them know that no one will be contacting their buddy at Acme Consolidated without their knowledge. Consider incentive programs and demonstrate the overall value of sharing contacts.
Launching a relationship capital initiative isn’t easy. But once employees know you understand their concerns, learn the program’s mechanics and become eligible for a pay-to-play bonus, it is more likely that you will see buy-in across the board and a more robust network across your business.
# Drop the phone and start a dialogue. We’re all guilty of it. We’re in an unfamiliar setting, with people we’ve just met or know in passing. To mask any social discomfort or awkwardness, we whip out our smart phones, to check work emails or train schedules or the average velocity of a hummingbird’s wings, anything to keep from making eye contact that might lead to a conversation. Small talk has gotten a bad rap in recent years. Chitchat might not be the shortest line to solving international crises but it’s critical to forming new connections and building up relationship capital. That can help solve international crises, or at least next week’s biz-dev problem.
# Collaboration can go beyond the office walls. Relationships are not afterthoughts developed once a product or brand is market-ready. They are among the core components for turning a concept turn into reality. You will tap a deep pool of new business and product possibilities, along with a built-in marketing strategy, when you give your customer/client/audience the ability to collaborate with you. As Charles Darwin said, “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
# Never burn bridges. Networking doesn’t stop with racking up a bunch of business cards. Building a wide and effective network of connections is no small feat. Real relationship capital is achieved by nurturing, or at the very least maintaining, existing connections. More importantly, it means not burning your connections. Severing ties with someone, even if done unintentionally, can have major repercussions, which might take years to manifest.
# Diversify your relationships. Are you exclusively focused on your sphere of influence or are you diversifying your web of contacts? We tend to network within our own industries, but the more we branch out, the more we broaden and deepen our intellectual and social reach. Collaboration across industries can help complete projects, hatch fresh ideas, solve technical problems, and help businesses and charitable organizations address social needs.
These strategies are all achievable for startups that recognize and embrace the importance of relationship capital. Successfully launching a company from the ground up is an extremely risky undertaking, so be sure to have your Rolodex in hand so your network can help you along the way.
In a tough economy, growing your business doesn’t have to involve costly new hires or expensive acquisitions. Instead, teaming up with another small business might be your best solution.
Successful teaming relationships can help you gain experience, offer a more comprehensive service, or take on bigger contracts.
Earlie Butler, founder and CEO of Document Integration Technologies, a West Orange, N.J.-based technology solution business, teams with other companies to reach a broader client base.
Over time, he’s learned how to choose the right partners and communicate effectively. “Just like anything else, some relationships are going to very good and productive, some not so, and others just fall apart completely,” he says.
If you want to try teaming with another small business, here are six tips to ensure a successful relationship:
# Be honest about your weaknesses. Before you enter a teaming relationship, assess your strengths and weaknesses. “When you’re teaming, you’re looking for someone who will be right next to you,” says Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, an advisor on small business growth for American Express OPEN. “You have to be open about what you really bring to the table,” she says. Ideally, you’ll complement each other’s weaknesses.
# Set clear parameters at the beginning. At the outset, make sure your expectations are aligned. “Communication gets difficult when people have different expectations,” Thompson says. Agree on logistics, as well as a game plan for potential problems, such as a client who doesn’t pay or a dispute you can’t resolve. That preparation will give you a framework for resolving any issues down the line.
# Be open to teaming with competitors. Most businesses look for partners that offer a service they don’t, but your best asset may actually be your competition. “Even small variances in what you deliver to a client could make you a powerhouse,” Thompson says. Together, you could offer a more comprehensive service or tackle a bigger project.
# Watch out for red flags. To vet potential partners, make sure they reply to emails in a timely fashion, arrive on time, and follow through. “If you see that the other party is not willing to compromise, that’s a huge red flag,” Butler says. Ultimately, trust your gut, just as you would when hiring a new employee.
# Keep written records of everything. To make sure everyone stays on the same page, write everything down. This doesn’t have to be arduous; it can be as simple as writing meeting notes and storing them in a shared Google document. The notes will clarify any confusion and give you a written record if anything goes awry.
# Be fair. Last but not least, always treat your teaming partner fairly. “[Your actions] should be for the mutual benefit of both parties,” Butler says. Your success is contingent on your ability to work together, so having their best interests at heart will serve you too.
As an entrepreneur, strong relationships open doors and empower you to succeed. When you are getting started, you’re constantly calling on your network for help. To do that successfully without straining the ties, you need to make sure that you are giving as much as you receive.
As you work hard to make connections that will help your business grow, you can unwittingly slide into selfish relationships, often with the best of intentions. Others will rarely tell you directly if you’re taking more than you’re giving, so you need to watch for signs.
The most common sign is avoidance. “It can be difficult to tell someone that they expect more than they give, so [people will make] excuses about being too busy to avoid a potential conflict,” says Marilyn Belleghem, an Ontario-based business relationship consultant. If people stop returning your messages or start saying they’re too busy for you, that change can indicate that they’re not benefiting from the relationship.
More subtly, you might sense that you’re struggling to make a connection or you’re doing all the talking. Or, you might draw a blank when you ask yourself what others need or what you’ve done recently for them.
We’re all guilty of taking more than we give sometimes and a simple reminder may be all we need to get our relationships back in balance. To become a more generous business leader, here’s what you can do:
# Learn more about the person. When a relationship is all business, people can start to feel used. Take the time to get to know someone before you ask for support. Learn what they’re struggling with, what they’re interested in, and what they’re working toward.
“Feeling that you really care about being in the relationship creates trust,” Belleghem says. A foundation of trust and understanding helps you offer appropriate support and makes others more likely to recommend you to people they know.
# Share your successes. After someone helps you out, always follow up. Tell them how their help led to success for your business, thank them, and let them know they made a difference. Keeping them in the loop shows that you’re generous with your success, welcoming others to be part of it.
“Sharing successes is important to maintain cooperative relationships,” Belleghem says. If the other person feels good about what they did to help you, that positivity will inspire them to help you again in the future.
# Ask what you can do to help. Whenever you meet with someone in your network, ask what you can do for them. It doesn’t matter if you are less established — the offer is what counts. “People make deals where there is a win/win,” Belleghem says. “Good deals create good relationships.”
You know your network and expertise better than anyone else, so listen for ways that you could help as others describe their goals or struggles. You might put them in touch with a contact, offer to help with a skill-based task, or simply think through a problem with them. Ultimately, a healthy business relationship has a balance of give and take.
nfluencers — those well-connected, knowledgeable voices to which others listen and respond — are coveted connections. They can provide insight, recommendations, introductions and opportunities.
Most people already know who the influencers are in their industries, says attorney and entrepreneur Steven Babitsky, co-author of The Street Smart MBA: 10 Proven Strategies for Driving Business Success (Apress, 2012). They’re often popular authors, speakers, bloggers, columnists or successful businesspeople. Babitsky has an effective formula for connecting with many of them. Here are his six steps to connecting with influencers in your industry.
# Get in touch
Babitsky likes to reach out via phone or email instead of social media because it’s more personal, he says. However, take your lead from the influencer’s cues. If he or she is active on Twitter or carries on online conversations on his or her blog, that might be a good way to get in touch, too.
# Keep in touch
Maintain a database of contacts that also includes searchable keywords related to interests. That way, if you come across an article or information related to some of your contacts’ interests, you can easily send it along, keeping you relevant and memorable.
# Offer something
“Give three things and ask for one,” Babitsky says. In other words: Give more than you take. When he’s interested in making contact with an influencer, Babitsky first determines what he can offer that will be of value to the contact. He may be writing a white paper or book or be organizing a conference where he can offer the individual a speaking gig.
Of course, not everyone is writing books or organizing conferences every day. However, you can offer to interview the person for your blog or for a special report on your web site. Alternatively, you might be involved with a professional or trade organization where you can introduce the individual to your own network of influencers.
# Do your homework
It’s usually possible to research influencers’ past writing and speeches, interests, and pet causes with a simple online search. Don’t waste their time asking basic questions or for information that is easily available online. Instead, find common points and use those to find areas where you might connect.
# Limit the ask
When reaching out for the first time, make it short and sweet. Don’t ask for anything that will take more than 10 or 15 minutes — a brief interview or a straightforward question or two. People generally like to help, but they may not have time to answer lengthy questionnaires or get involved in a seemingly endless back-and-forth.
# Ask to reciprocate
If someone has helped you, Babitsky recommends asking the individual if there is anything you might do to help him or her. The individual may be dealing with a challenge you can help alleviate, he says. If not, the ask is another form of relationship building, showing the influencer that you’re interested in giving back.