The other day I was having a meeting with the founder of a local startup, who some have described as a “serial entreupreneur”. I asked him the “secret” to his success, and without hesitation, he said it was simply about “relationships.”
I immediately knew what he meant. I began my official career in social media at a startup working with a founder who spoke almost daily to our small team about the impact of relationships on business development, client acquisitions and most importantly, client retention. At the time, I admit I found this constant talk about relationships to be somewhat like talking about other buzzwords like the need to be “engaging” or “influential”.
The reality is, though, relationships are the key to building a business – any business. Solid relationships (and several of them) in the early stages of your startup will help you find the right team and also find the resources you need (perhaps even at a lower cost.) They will also help you find those first few crucial leads, especially if you’re more of a service-oriented than product-oriented.
Either way, you’ll need to reach people, and having strong relationships with people who trust and believe in you will help spread the word about your idea, your product, or your service, thereby getting your startup off the ground and actually launched as a business. This is part of word of mouth marketing, and it relies 100% on relationships. Of course, if your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances don’t have great relationships themselves, this is a dead end – but if you have already done a great job building up dozens (and hopefully hundreds) of great relationships, this won’t be an issue.
It’s important to keep in mind that as a startup, you need to build relationships with several types of people, and like a plant, keep nourishing them on a routine basis. This doesn’t mean you have to (using this analogy) “water” the relationship everyday, but if you know you’ll need press in the future, you’ll want to start interacting with specific writers at specific blogs now (such as by commenting on their posts, sending them an occasional email, and interacting with them on Twitter), so you actually have a relationship with them when you hope they’ll write about your new app when it launches in a few months. (As I mentioned at a talk at thinkspace a few weeks ago, the press is much more inclined to write about something when its pitched from someone who has taken the time to get to know them.)
On the flip side, if you have not built, maintained, or leveraged relationships prior to or in building your new business, you may find it difficult to get, well, really anywhere. You’ll likely find it difficult to find business partners, and especially find it hard to land clients as there will be few others in the community who will vouch for your credibility. If you’re still in the early stages of your startup – or still thinking about one – consider what bridges you may have burned, and what relationships you could strengthen to not only benefit you personally, but also professionally.
But don’t just stop there. The importance of relationships when running a business only increases as your business grows – and as you do as well. It’s critical to keep this in mind during difficult situations – especially those that are internal. Every relationship you form will have an impact on the entire lifespan of not just your business, but your career.
While the “secret” to success might be relationships in and of themselves, the real challenge is learning how to maintain and build upon them to achieve the success you desire.
What’s your secret to success as an entrepurener? Share your thoughts in the comments.