28 October 2013, by A. Cedilla
The level of technology accessible to people today has certainly let single proprietorships flourish. Solo-preneurs can make their mark on their own website, or manage sideline businesses on virtual marketplaces like Etsy and Artfire for the crafters, or eBay, Craiglist and Amazon for anyone wanting to sell particular items.
The other half of the paradox fueling this phenomenon is that nobody ever really does it alone. Businesses have always needed customers, yes, but nurturing successful customer relationships is only part of the whole network. Establishing the network itself takes all kinds — technical support from your internet provider, for example, and your web-host team. Then there’s stuff like suppliers, delivery services, payment processing, security in terms of information protection (back-up and encryption) and keeping financial details secured, then there’s financial services (yes, credit lines are important, even if you’re keeping it ‘in the family’ — if not also keeping one with actual banks.)
Nobody does it alone. In tough times, relationships help us keep afloat and somewhat sane. In tech times, relationships still help us survive, and when we use them to help others up, we end up helping the whole network get better.
Strong networking gets you the following:
- More people in the pool of knowledge anchors (experts) and exposure to experiences that sharpen your own skills.
- More exposure to practice your own people skills. One notable personal skill to have, one that many experts say ranks above technical skills (which can be addresses with training) is getting along with different types of people. Emotional intelligence is just as, if not more, important as the skill sets needed to run the nuts-and-bolts side of running your own enterprise.
- More opening to help other people up, and get the chance to be helped up as well. It’s not ‘just business’, it’s personal. You take the risk of getting out there, and in learning things about people, you also learn about yourself. You can grow as a person as well as grow a sense of community and connection. This affects all the areas of your life, not just the facets covering making money.
Think of the things businesses do to encourage and foster customer retention: quality products, going the extra mile in customer and technical support, loyalty and rewards programs, etc.
The key to good relationships is sharing and reciprocity….partnerships and group support have always been deciding factors in the survival and growth of any group. You aren’t here to give customers everything they want (unless you’re Amazon — and even then Amazon has its affiliates and in-house ‘stores’). Interlocking cooperation is the business model in this frontier.
Let’s be direct. Whatever business you engage in, it’s unlikely that you can give your customers all that they want. Desire is insatiable; as soon as you fulfill one, another pops up to replace it. What many truly successful businesses do is to know where they can get what their customers need but they themselves don’t supply. If you want to help your customers find help that you yourself can’t give, you can tap your network, and send them to people who can hep with the issues you can’t.
Business wise, it’s only good practice to build a network of trusted resources, vendors you trust with the different aspects of your own business, and ones you can depend on to offer the same superior quality of service to people who need it and just happen to also be customers of yours. Everyone wins in this case:
- You can save your customers the time and effort to look for a solution to their issues — they will remember how you helped them, and this can convert people into raving fans.
- The other vendors remember you steered business their way, building goodwill and strengthening the network.
Human nature being what it is, you will encounter some bad apples along the way — and you don’t have to keep them. It’s still a network and word gets around. Learn from these kinds of people and you’ll develop a BS meter that protects you from slackers and freeloaders, and a spidey-sense that can help you strengthen the entire network you’re a part of, much like building up an immunity for the whole system.
One good step to building stronger networks is by posting a list of your trusted vendors and suppliers at a resources pages on your website, complete with contact information
Customers can see instantly that you have recommended vendors that can cover other related issues they want resolved, and that the contact information is right there so they don’t need to hunt for it anymore. You have already done the work of testing the quality of service of these particular vendors and are comfortable in recommending them.
Referral feels when it comes to this kind of information aren’t a good idea, because to many, the thought of paid recommendations put a negative slant on the whole thing. Make recommendations because you trust these people to do good work, not because they’re paying you. It might be seen as a conflict of interest if you accept referral fees. Having no incentive other than trust makes the recommendation more valid, and a network grown through trust and supplying consistent quality no matter where the work comes from is greater than the sum of its parts.
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