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8 Tips for Building Stronger Industry Relationships

by Jonah Von Spreecken | Apr 14, 2022 6:00:00 PM

A spider web, with its intricate structure fanning out from a single connection point, is a beautiful thing. If you’re a business owner, there’s something to that design, especially when it comes to relationships. The nexus of your web, though, is the hub of your operation, and every offshoot represents a part of your network.

Building and maintaining strong relationships is the silk you’re spinning, here. And you’re not doing it alone. All businesses are forging relationships with vendors, investors, employees, and partners. (Even if you’re running a small business by yourself, you’re still building relationships with customers.)

Why are connections important in business? They’re the threads holding everything together. The more relationships you have, the more intricate your network becomes.

The trick is to build something that lasts. That means not only creating relationships but strengthening them by honoring your commitment to others in everything you do. Here are eight business networking tips to accomplish exactly that.

1. Ask this one question

What do you bring to the table in a relationship?

Coming from a place of giving sets the foundation of any true partnership. This builds trust, which also happens to be at the top of the list in BBB’s 8 Standards of Trust.

Your skillsets, resources and insights are valuable. When you’re willing to offer those from the get-go, you create an invitation. And in return, you create a sense of inclusion, and ultimately, an opening for others to bring value to you. This kind of sharing is best summed up in this quote from Harvard Business Review: “When your networking is driven by shared interests, it will feel more authentic.”

2. Build relationships with clear expectations

What you want out of a professional relationship starts with where things currently stand. A simple exercise is to do a mental check of the following:

  1. Who do you know?

Take stock of your current contacts. Are they providing value to your business? Are they helping you achieve your goals? Are you doing the same for them?

Outlining these expectations might inspire you to reach out to a colleague, especially if it’s been a while since you last met. Use the opportunity to open up about what you’re getting out of the relationship and invite them to do the same. Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be a formal event; a simple conversation over a cup of coffee could illuminate new benefits as you share ideas on how you’d like the relationship to thrive.

  1. Who do you want to know?

Start keeping a list of people you’d like to connect with. Outline what you know about them, and what value you hope to gain. Then, when initiating those new relationships, keep your expectations as fluid as possible. This goes back to the first tip above: Think first about what you bring to the table.

In some circumstances, it’s completely understandable if you have a need that’s top of mind like, say, meeting a new investor who can provide financial support for your business. But coming to the table with a focus on how your business provides value to them creates a conversation which sets the stage for a richer overall experience.

3. Consider contacts a part of your team

Olive Garden says it best: “When you’re here, you’re family.” Take the same approach when you meet the business owner of a company by treating them like one of your own. Keep them in the loop with decisions that affect the relationship. This not only builds trust, it keeps you accountable and transparent with your professional contacts.

Treating your contacts like team members also promotes better communication. The more you communicate, the less misunderstanding you have. This doesn’t mean you have to share every detail about your business with your external vendors and suppliers, but when you keep the communication lines open for matters that affect your relationship, the relationship flourishes.

4. Social media is key to networking in business

For starting new relationships:

Every social media channel has its benefits, but LinkedIn was built for networking. Have you tried reaching out to others in your community on the platform? Even if you don’t know them, you can always float an invitation to connect with a note of introduction.

Outside of LinkedIn, most social media websites have a direct message feature. Use it to reach out to new contacts, and when you do, remember that a compliment can go a long way. Start off with something like, “I’m a big fan of your work and I’d love to connect with you.” If you can strike up a conversation, even better. See if it can evolve into a relationship.

For maintaining existing relationships:

For all your social media posts – don’t forget to tag your contacts. Got a vendor who’s come through for you? Tag them in a post and say so. When working on a campaign with another partner, make a commitment to tag each other in your social posts. This boosts both businesses on a platform as you market to new audiences.

Want to connect with customers? Invite them to tag you in their posts and comment in your threads; then, enrich your posts by re-sharing the experiences of those who are championing your business.

5. Connect people

This tip is about having a matchmaker mentality. Sure, you're looking at what's good for you and what's good for those you’re building relationships with. But, if you know two parties would click, why not facilitate that relationship? The big payoff in connecting others is that you will be recognized as someone who’s in it for the greater good. When you work to see others succeed, they will very likely want to return the favor in the future.

6. Find small business networking spaces

  • Join community organizations. Is there a chance to get involved with your local chamber of commerce? Volunteer opportunities? Join an advisory board? Pro Tip: BBB is always on the lookout for new BBB advisory board members in different regions. (These positions are by invitation only, so please reach out to your PR & Communications team if you’re interested.)
  • Attend local small business gatherings like networking get-togethers, industry trade shows, and lectures. Keep tabs on what’s happening in your area and stay tuned to your BBB emails for upcoming events in your community.
  • Attend a conference. Do your homework on what you’d like to learn about in your industry and conduct an online search that includes your topic and “conference.” There might not be a result for everything but keep trying. You might be surprised at the events that pop up.
  • Attend a class. Are there classes related to your industry? Even if you feel you’ve got a handle on how your business works, a class could be a productive networking event. Your insights might also be a valuable resource to the class. And maybe, you’ll meet someone who you want to keep in touch with. Learning with others is a great way to show you are open to new knowledge and the people who provide it to you.
  • Host an event with another business. Is there a campaign that would make sense for you and another company to cross promote? For example, if you’re a construction business, maybe you could host an event with your roofing, flooring, and tile companies to get some facetime in front of new clients. These occasions are an opportunity to meet new people and even swap products or insights to ignite new long-term relationships.

7. Keep up the Correspondence

There are three tiers to this:

  • For close contacts: Go the extra mile for your top connections. Send congratulatory messages when accomplishments are made. Make plans to meet in person. Make a point to send them personalized notes for birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions.
  • For other important contacts: Create reminders in your calendar to reach out. Pick up the phone or schedule a Zoom call to keep in touch. Stay committed to that “how can I bring value to the relationship” mentality in all your correspondence.
  • For those in your general audience: Do you have a newsletter? Use it as a chance to provide general updates on your team and your operation. You might even consider two newsletters for your different audience sets: a B2C letter for customer relationships and a B2B letter for building industry relationships. As an example, you can subscribe to BBB’s consumer newsletter here.

8. Follow through and stay organized

Once you’ve collected all those business cards at a business networking event, stay on top of your follow-ups. Send those “great to meet you” notes, and make a plan to call, email, or meet your new connections again.

Your organizational skills are key during this phase. You might consider a task management app that allows you to create notes and files for your contacts; some CRM systems have similar features as well.

The benefit of using these platforms is that you can set reminders to get in touch, keep notes on personal details, and generally store a lot of information for a lot of people in one place to access when you want to reconnect with someone.

The most important thing: keep at it. You can’t do great things alone. For small business owners, this is especially true. After all, you’re not going to get very far if you don’t have customers; you’re not going to have customers if you don’t have a business; you’re not going to have a business if you don’t have a product; you’re not going to have a product without a vendor… and so on.

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