It is literally true that you can succeed best & quickest by helping others to succeed. Napoleon Hill

How would you like to have more clients than you can handle?  Wouldn’t that be a great problem to have?  Even better, how would it be if all those clients were happy, contented clients instead of angry, frustrated clients?  As your mother used to tell you, your reputation is everything:  if you and your business have a good reputation, people will flock to your doors, happy to give you their money.  So how do you build that reputation, especially when you’re first starting out?

Face it:  people can’t talk about you if they don’t know who you are, so if you expect your business to succeed, some type of business networking activity on your part is absolutely essential, both in online communities and out in your real-world community. But just being out there exchanging business cards isn’t enough.  The secret to building an effective business network is to bring to every networking encounter the intention to provide something of value to the other person.  Although it may seem counterintuitive, the absolute best way to build an excellent personal and business reputation is to forget about yourself and your business needs completely, and to focus on helping others in your community to build their business.

Years ago I worked for a high end decorator.  One afternoon I found myself at a social function held at a federal style estate out in Southern Maryland.  The event was supposed to be casual, so at least I had appropriate clothing to wear, but I felt totally out-classed by the guests.  What could I possibly have in common with them to talk about?  Much to my delight, I wound up in the back yard, seated next to a local judge who came from some old money and a long line of judges.  He instantly took control of the conversation, but instead of telling me all about how wonderful he was, Judge Goodfellow asked me questions.  He asked questions like, What do you like best about what you do?  If you could do anything in the world that you wanted, what would your day look like?  Tell me about where you live?  What does it look like?  How does it feel there?  What is your favorite part of your house?  What do you like to do when you’re not working?  What brings you the most joy?

I only met the Judge once, and years later I still remember that conversation.  Mostly I remember how the judge made me feel:  He made me feel valued, he made me feel heard, he made me feel relevant.   If Judge Goodfellow had called me later asking for a business meeting, you can bet I would have taken his call.  And if anyone had ever asked me to recommend a Judge with high personal integrity, Judge Goodfellow’s name would come immediately to mind.

Building business relationships is no different than building personal relationships.  All relationships are built upon mutually shared experiences, and are nourished by intimacy.  If you want people to remember you with the same intensity that I remember the good Judge, then make every encounter about them, not about you.  If you belong to a leads group (and you absolutely should), remember that you are there to give leads, not to get them.  That means that you have to get to know these people on a personal level.  Get to know their hopes, their dreams, their frustrations, their challenges.  Really listen to them when they speak,  and actively search your brain for ways that you can help them to reach their business and personal goals.

Bring an attitude of gratitude and appreciation to all your business relationships.  Find specific things to appreciate about your business colleagues and your customers.  You’ll see whatever you look for, so look for the good, and then be very vocal about singing their praises.  Say good things about other businesses in your community.  Tell your customers how much you appreciate them.  Learn to send genuine, heartfelt thank you cards. You will always get back whatever it is that you put out there, so if you consistently express your gratitude  for your colleagues and customers, and if they truly feel valued and appreciated, they will gladly send you as many referrals as they can.  I guarantee that both you and your business will flourish.

Valerie Saurer is a shopkeeper at Ashley’s Pool Store in Cocoa Beach, and is an active member of the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Portside Pros, and the Soaring Success Leads Group.