How well do you know your clients? How well do they know you?
Most of us who set out to start our own businesses did so for the same reason: to be financially self-supporting while also conducting our lives by our own values. We became tired of the constant parade of corporate life, the pressures to conform to any standard other than that of our own authenticity. Of course, we learned later that running a small business brought with it pressures of its own.
Follow these six basic laws to develop the kind of authentic client relationships that can revolutionize a business and cement true success - financially, personally and socially.
Scout ahead: maintain a list of useful contacts and don't be afraid to make referrals.
One of my clients recently discovered roof leakage in her house and over a phone call happened to mention her concern that a black mold infestation could be putting the health of her and her family in jeopardy. She needed an experienced mold inspector to examine her attic, but had no idea where to start looking or who to talk to.
Now I'm a copywriter, not a building inspector, but collecting people is a hobby of mine; whenever I meet someone particularly experienced and established in their field, I make it a point to get their business card and to keep it. In this case, I suffered through my own mold remediation nightmare about a year ago and happened to get the card of the inspector who did the job - one of the most experienced mold inspectors in Florida. I was happy to pass the contact along to my very grateful client.
Be the person who knows everyone, who only works with the brightest and the best, and who can always be counted on to know just the right person for the tough job. Develop the contacts that your clients don't have the time to develop, and make referrals freely. They'll appreciate the resource.
Educate yourself in the causes that your clients care about.
Everyone cares about something: what drives your clients, or keeps them up at night? Find out. If the opportunity arises (and you can do so honestly), look for opportunities to lend your clients a hand in supporting the causes that mean most to them. At the very least, educate yourself on their interests, passions and dedications, and let that education deepen your respect for them.
Beware excessive professionalism: be yourself and encourage your clients to do the same.
I have a confession to make: in person, I'm very - sometimes painfully - human. I'll never be the slick and polished infomercial professional, and I'll never be a politician. I've been known to trip over my sentences by talking too fast, and I often conclude a successful meeting with the conviction that some misstep of mine ruined my presentation. That's probably part of why I became a writer.
I stopped neurosing over my perceived flaws once I realized that, usually, the person on the other side of the table was pretty much going through the same thing - and that it didn't say anything negative at all about the professionalism of either of us. Our flaws reveal who we truly are, and my best client relationships have grown from those moments of shared, awkward humanity. On the other hand, excessive professionalism on either side usually foreshadowed a bad relationship in days ahead.
Don't be afraid to show the vulnerable, neurotic, awkward side of your personality from time to time. You are a human being, and pretending otherwise only adds a dishonest pressure to the relationship. It's far easier - and more profitable - to be a quality you than an imaginary someone else.
Help others succeed, even if you aren't directly profiting from it.
The most reliable method of becoming financially successful in the long term is to make others successful. Look for opportunities to contribute to the joy, happiness and success of others - even if it doesn't translate to money right away. A moment of kindness today can turn into a sea of quality referrals tomorrow.
Develop a public persona that extends beyond your professional life.
Get a life: when you started your own business, you didn't sign a blood oath to never do anything else.
Playing the professional role nonstop is a mistake. Have you always wanted to be a sculptor, a painter, a race car driver, a pilot, a musician? Don't worry what your financial consulting clients might think - by all means, develop that side of your public life. Show your clients that you have a life beyond the job.
Encourage your clients to develop authentic client relationships of their own.
There are still many, many people out there who don't yet realize that they can develop rich, successful relationships with their clients - building their businesses while improving their quality of living. Be an evangelist for authentic client relationships, and light the way for others. Demonstrate with your actions that honesty really is the best policy.
Business is about relationships, and success is a shared quality. Share some of yours today.