If your business is national or even international, it may not be possible to travel to meet potential customers and partners. Many of us start working for ourselves so that we can work around family life and sometimes that means that putting in the extra time to build those relationships face to face is just not an option.
So how do you build meaningful relationships remotely?
LinkedIn is a great way to network online. It helps to use the networking platform strategically. Many of us only accept connections from people we’ve already met, but one of the most successful networkers I know has turned that strategy on its head and uses LinkedIn like a business online dating service. She searches out people with the background and interests relevant to her ambitions and sends them a personalised connection request. Then when they’ve accepted, she sets up a phone call or skype to cement the connection. Those connections then see her updates and feel like they really know her. Some significant contracts have come her business’s way as a result.
If at all possible try to talk to people by phone or video call. But if you have no alternative to email, then remember to make it conversational and friendly. You do need to keep emails fairly brief, but within that constraint be warm, ask questions beyond the work situation, even if it is just how is your day going? Show an interest in whoever you communicate with as a human being. If they have to make a choice between two businesses in future, all other things being equal they will definitely opt for the person they feel any type of connection with.
Get on the phone
The phone remains your most powerful business and relationship building tool. Next time you have to communicate with a customer or a new contact, try picking up the phone. Email and texts have no nuance at all – people overlay their own mood onto the message, which is why email flaming and misunderstandings often flare up. Pick up the phone and listen. In a phone call there is scope for a conversation to evolve, for customer or partner needs to emerge and for understanding and connection to grow.
For important relationships try to schedule regular phone or video call catch-ups. Work through the business agenda and make time for personal conversation at the beginning and end. Make it your business to know the key people you work with or for, just as you would if you saw them regularly.
Social media updates
Social media updates on their own are not a replacement for direct 1-1 communications, but they are a useful complement. When you rarely see people, social media updates give them a reminder of what you’re up to and what you’re capable of and what’s special about you and your business. Social media can help to keep you ‘top of mind’. It’s not at all unusual for customers or partners to get in touch after seeing an update, which reminded them that, of course, you are just what they need right now.