Businesses are built on a few key pillars: the idea, the team, the plan, and the execution. However, one pillar that is often neglected in the fast-paced world of email and social media is good old-fashioned relationships--with employees, investors, suppliers, customers, the press, and probably many more people involved in your business. For me, this is what holds everything together.
Too many founders I've met speed through their days on autopilot, putting out fires to keep all the balls in the air. You know the drill: get into the office, check calendar, respond to urgent emails, drink too much coffee, avert crisis... and repeat! Maybe you squeeze in some relationship building at the end of the day. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but in my experience, relationship building should trump all of these things. In fact, I'd say founders should spend 25 percent of their time building, fostering, and growing relationships.
It’s actually quite easy when you break it down. Here is how I look at it:
Step 1: Write down your list.
Pick five people in each category above who are critical to your success. Make a list. Refer to it weekly.
Step 2: Make (genuine) contact.
Pick up the phone and see how things are going. Be sincere. Get to know them. Use your commute to knock this one out, so you won't be distracted with other work.
Step 3: Date.
Plan dinners, break bread, go to happy hours, go skiing. Build a friendship. People like to do business with people they like--full stop. (Note: If you truly don’t like a person, don't force it.)
Step 4: Repeat. Frequently.
A few years ago, Yes To hit a bump in the road (well, HUGE obstacle might be more accurate). After two years of phenomenal growth, we faced a major production issue with a key retailer that had the possibility to cripple the company. Our supply chain was clearly at fault and we admitted so to the retailer. Upon learning of this issue, I immediately left my family vacation and flew with my entire executive team to the visit the retailer. We rolled up our sleeves and worked with them until we found a solution. We apologized. Profusely. And together, we successfully brought this account back from the brink.
A year after this debacle, Lance (my business partner) and I sat with the CEO of this company. He leaned over and said with a smile "if it wasn't for me, you guys would have been long gone." He emphasized to us that because he gotten to know us as people, he truly wanted to be part of our success rather than our failure. This was someone with whom we spent years building a true friendship, someone we trusted, and someone who truly changed our lives. The four easy steps came through for us that day.