6 It Takes a Village

Customers and partners, peers and mentors, local communities and online communities. Strong relationships with them can provide true sustenance both at work and in life.

Building a successful business “takes a village,” as they say. And for many women, connecting with people and nurturing relationships is a natural strength. But are you nurturing the relationships your business needs to grow?

To help you get to the heart of the matter, we asked our summer panel of entrepreneurs and experts the following question in this sixth and second-to-last installment of our “Get a Life” series:

How and why should small business owners nurture relationships — personal, professional and community? What are the work and life benefits?

Rieva-LesonskyRieva Lesonsky, SmallBizDaily.com, follow @Rieva

Relationships, professional or personal, are all about connecting. People do business with people they know, trust and like.

Establishing relationships with your customers helps secure their loyalty. And loyal customers not only continue to buy from you, but recommend and refer you to their friends and colleagues. Back in the day, neighborhood businesses thrived because the owners knew their customers well, enabling them to establish more personal connections with them.

Relationship building with customers and clients is the first step in creating a strong relationship with your community. Of course, you have to work for it. Attend civic events. Sponsor a kids’ sports team. Donate to a local charity. Treat your employees well (they are, after all, a part of the community).

I grew up with these types of businesses. My dad knew the customers of his men’s clothing store. If someone was going through tough times, he offered special discounts or financing on the spot to help them. He always hired a neighborhood kid, which attracted their friends to the store. My uncle’s liquor store was spared being burnt down during a riot because the locals said he hadn’t abandoned the neighborhood and always treated them with respect.

As for personal relationships, that’s what keeps entrepreneurs sane. I can’t imagine making it through the day without the support of my friends and family.

Garnett-NewcombeGarnett Newcombe, CEO Real Talk, follow @CEORealTalk

What I know for sure, from experience as a small business owner, is that trying to build a business alone is almost impossible. It requires nurturing our personal, professional and community relationships. These relationships come in different forms and are not created in a day. Two critical areas of focus are:

Adopt a relationship mindset. Some business owners are stuck on the idea that because they are passionate about their service or product, it’s a must-have. But it’s not about them and their passion; it’s about the customer’s need. Adopting a relationship mindset entails nurturing and engaging your customer by listening and identifying their top-priority needs. This increases your chances for repeat or new business and recommendations to colleagues, friends and other business owners.

Get a personal business banker. Find a bank in the community that will assign you to a personal banker and that has the products or services you need to grow the business. If there is a match, establish a bank account that will allow you to make direct deposits from your customers, and then maintain enough money in the account to cover expenses plus have a little cushion for emergencies. This shows your banker that you are consistent in making deposits and have an ability to handle money. You establish a history with the bank, and when the time comes for a loan, your business banker will represent your business with confidence to the team that makes the decisions.

Stacy-FrancisStacy Francis, Francis Financial, follow @FrancisFinance

Nurturing relationships is one of the most important aspects of driving your business forward. Our firm is 98% referral-based. As a boutique wealth-management firm, it is that personalized, one-on-one attention that sets us apart from other firms. We like to really get to know our clients’ goals and values, the relationships that are important to them and their interests. By taking the extra time to do this, we can better help them achieve their goals. Similarly, we believe it is important to build a strong network of “centers of influence,” or referral partners. These are the key professionals that truly support your business and help it grow.

Here are just some of the ways we like to nurture relationships with clients and referral partners:

  • Send handwritten notes for birthdays, anniversaries, achievements, as a thank you for referrals as well as get well soon or sympathy cards in hard times
  • Host appreciation events for clients and centers of influence
  • Make introductions to different professionals with similar synergies
  • Host lunches for power partners in key industries (ours are real estate and divorce)
  • Educational events (we offer Finance 101 for kids, retirement planning, identity-theft ed)

Going the extra mile and having a good client relations and PR plan can support the specific goal of your organization by increasing client retention and referrals, reaching a broader customer base and enhancing your image in local, professional and national communities.

Kimm Alfonso, Etsy, follow @kimmchi and @EtsySuccessKimm-Alfonso

Community, or finding your network, can be a powerful way to help your business grow, while also helping you feel inspired and connected. It can simultaneously feed the soul, while helping your bottom line. On Etsy, we see these connections form and take root through comments, forums and teams, which are self-organized groups within our community.

Relationships with other professionals are a great way to learn by example. The more successful growth strategies you see, the better equipped you’ll be to make those choices or create an effective strategy unique to your goals and strengths. Often, insights about your business can be most effectively pointed out by your peers. If your target-market assessment is too broad or your pricing too low, for instance, your network can help you gain those insights faster.

Connecting with other people is also a very human way to stay inspired and engaged in your work. Your network can help keep you accountable in a way that positively impacts both your business and personal life.

Take sisters Johanna and Eva-Dewi Pangestian Harahap, makers of journals, books and more at Nauli and Team Captains of the Etsy Germany Street Team. During our 10th anniversary celebrations in June, they told us what makes Etsy so special to them: “It’s the team spirit among sellers, the forums, and the mutual support among team members, even when one is down. Our business wouldn’t be where it is now without the support of the European Street Team members who warmly welcomed us newbies — almost 6 years ago. When you work from home, belonging to a big community helps to raise mood, energy, power and braveness.”

To help find your network, do some soul searching to best understand how you want to participate in a way that feels right for you. This is important because, most often, your network will require you to actively engage with community members in order to reap the benefits.

For some, this could mean joining a local group of like-minded businesses that share resources and goals through in-person networking. For others, an online network may be a better fit. It all depends on what works best for you personally and aligns with your business goals.

Emily-CoueyEmily Couey, Eventbrite, follow @Eventbrite

When going after a big dream, you’ll find yourself in situations beyond your knowledge or outside of your specialty. Access to mentors, professionals with various backgrounds and community leaders can make the difference between failing and flying.

When I was given my first break into leadership, there was so much that I still hadn’t encountered. I met and grew relationships with seasoned professionals who were willing to teach me — and take my calls late at night. They helped me fill in the gaps where I didn’t have experience and encouraged me when the path wasn’t clear. Interacting with people in a time of need forms a bond of trust through the giving and receiving of help, and stress is eased knowing you have people in your corner.

Anne-WeisbergAnne Weisberg, Families and Work Institute, follow @weisberganne

Relationships — with your staff, your superiors, your vendors, your customers, your investors and your community — are key to your success. But not all relationships are the same when it comes to advancing your goals. Research shows many women struggle to build vital relationship capital in an effective way. Here are two tips to keep in mind in nurturing relationships at work:

Be strategic. Map out the relationships you need to accomplish your goals. Look at where there are gaps — areas where you don’t have the relationships you need — and figure out how to close them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; most people are happy to introduce you to someone they know, but they won’t necessarily think to do so unless you ask.

Be generous. In 2013, Adam Rifkin, a relatively shy, quiet computer programmer, was named Fortune’s best networker. What did he do to deserve that recognition? He tried to make three introductions for people every day and spend 5 minutes every day recognizing people for their contributions. So look for opportunities to do something for another person: share knowledge or offer an introduction to someone that person might not know but would be interested in knowing. As Adam Grant details in his book, Give and Take, generosity pays in the long run — in all aspects of your life.

Crystal-ArredondoCrystal Arredondo, National Association of Women Business Owners, follow @NAWBONational

The definition of “relationship” is the state of being connected. While developing relationships is a quality that tends to come easier to women, it still can be challenging for some to effectively build connections. Best practices that have worked well for me personally are:

  • Be authentic
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Exercise the law of reciprocity, and help others achieve what they want
  • Have a servant leader’s heart
  • Collaborate with professionals to leverage expertise
  • Get involved in causes that you are passionate about
  • Be accountable

I believe there is a ripple effect when you nurture the relationships in your personal and professional life as well as your community. Some relationships require you to work on yourself, while others ask you to put yourself aside for a moment and focus on someone or something else. It is good to be mindful of how your relationships are better off because of you — and how you are better off because of the relationships in your life.

Sara-Sutton-FellSara Sutton Fell, FlexJobs, follow @sarasuttonfell

Over the years, it has become clear to me that our world is small and the connections you make, the relationships you foster — as a professional and a person — are very important.

Through developing my own relationships, I’ve found great collaborators and partners for my business, developed strong friendships with fantastic people, and strengthened the personal relationships I already share with my friends and family. By focusing on getting to know people in my life and giving what I can to support them, I have found that they’ll do the same over the long-term, and this makes for healthier, more positive and more enjoyable relationships all around.

One of the reasons that relationship development and nurturing is so important to the idea of work-life integration is that relationships help to support you. When work is overly busy and stressful, it is the people around you who can help relieve some of the pressure, provide laughter and inspiration, and give you space to take care of yourself.