Relationships. In business, that single word may be the most important.

Genuine relationships were the foundation of our partnership. This helped us earn the trust of our first few clients, which in turn provided us with mentors to help avoid the common pitfalls of start-ups, created strong advocates for us in the business community, and motivated early employees to take a chance on working with us. And that's just the beginning.

Recently, at Slingshot SEO, by request of our new CEO, we dove into exploring factors that led clients to renew at the end of their 12-month contracts. We put together a task force including the three founders, the director of SEO performance, and the VP of client success. During our first meeting, members of our leadership team suggested seemingly obvious answers like ROI and ranking results. Not satisfied, we decided to dig deeper. We brainstormed a list of possible factors, surveyed our client success teams and their clients, analyzed results, and sifted through Salesforce data.

Over a month later, our report concluded that the No. 1 reason clients renew with us: strong relationships.

While results and ROI are elements we focus on for every client, these factors placed second to a positive relationship. Some clients, despite witnessing amazing campaign results and phenomenal ROI, opted out of renewing due to lack of a strong relationship or bond with our team. Others failed to renew because our champion within the client organization moved on.

With our newfound understanding about the importance of relationships, we now ask ourselves, how do we build these strong connections? How do we maximize the benefits of them?

Most successful entrepreneurs quickly realize that time is one of their most valuable assets. Forging and maintaining strong business relationships while trying to run a business can be extremely challenging. Often our personal lives suffer as a result, much like in the movie CLICK, featuring Adam Sandler, which hit so close to home that it brought tears to my eyes.

Fortunately, the advent of smart phones and social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook has allowed us to expand the number of people we can effectively maintain a relationship with. I once heard that the typical number of people you can truly maintain a solid relationship with is somewhere between 150-250. Generally, this number is displayed by how many people will come to your wedding or funeral.

I’ve found that staying in touch with business contacts via email, LinkedIn, and Twitter has reduced the number of in-person meetings required to keep relationships fresh. This practice is extended company wide. At Slingshot SEO, we use Twitter to socially interact with and support our clients, supplementing more standard communication such as in-person meetings, conference calls and email.

Networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter are especially useful, as they also allow you to influence your networks' perceptions of your key contacts. Leaving recommendations on LinkedIn or custom, personal FollowFriday suggestions on Twitter are a couple of ways to earn relationship karma. You can also leverage these social networks to forge and strengthen relationships by jumping into public conversations and answering questions related to your expertise. A simple tweet, retweet or comment on these social networks can help keep your name in front of your contacts.

Looking for more? I highly recommend reading Branding Yourself by Kyle Lacy and Erik Deckers. This book dives into how to use social media platforms to attract new business and job opportunities.