Over the past 20 years, I have noticed several interesting changes in how we do business. Certainly the era of personal computers, cell phones and e-mail have made business relationships easier to manage, but they have also helped put a nail in the coffin for a critical business practice that used to be as prevalent as cell phones: personal relationships.
Like most executives, I spend the majority of my workday answering e-mails, checking my calendar, responding to urgent messages or business, putting out fires, attending meetings, seeing what’s new at Sephora and drinking too much coffee. Day in and day out—wash, rinse and repeat. And while these tasks are definitely an important component of running a successful business, they also hasten the demise of real, person-to-person relationships, the kind that all good business is founded on and the kind that will serve you both now and for years to come. I struggle with embracing these relationships, and I think most busy executives probably do, which is why now more than ever is a good time for us all to look at business practices of the past that are the foundation of our success today.
Today, getting to know our industry colleagues and business contacts on a personal level is often easy to neglect. With so much business done remotely, interaction is typically fast-paced and highly impersonal, rather than face-to-face or in person. E-mails follow e-mails, with the occasional conference call or status update thrown in for good measure as we all strive for maximum efficiency.
When I do have the opportunity to meet and chat with executives, I try to remember to also build a personal relationship with them and everyone who does business with them. You know, the kind of relationship where you turn to the other person for advice or help solving an issue, where you have actually seen the person and shaken their hand, where you meet them for lunch or dinner and know the names of their spouse or kids.
A wise person once told me, our business is a people business, and you need to actually like people! Having built and sold several businesses, I know this is true now more than ever, and I know I never would have had the opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to experience—in both my personal and business relationships—alone. People were the key to this process, and they still are.
In addition to a great idea, solid business plan, superb employees, tight P&L and strategic execution (oh, and an 18-hour workday), to me, every solid business is also still built on the personal interaction that makes your company go around, as well as those who help you navigate all aspects of your business. And this includes personal relationships with your employees (do you know when their birthdays are, their favorite food, the TV shows they watch?) and your clients (do you know the name of their spouses or where they went to college?), all the way to your investors and suppliers and the press and editors, as well.
Although not easy, I strive to spend 15–20% of my time fostering and growing these relationships, and the only way to do that is to get out there and meet people.
In addition to meeting people face-to-face and knowing how they take their Starbucks coffee, another important (and to some people, old-fashioned) method of contact is the database. Perhaps considered archaic, a solid database of contacts is still a vital business asset, and one I encourage every brand and business I work with to utilize. When carefully cultivated with contacts that encompass both existing personal and professional associates, as well as potential future contacts, a well-maintained database is like potting soil, and when effectively utilized, can provide your business with greater industry awareness, increased Web traffic and influential word-of-mouth to your brand or business.
However, where database outreach used to be more linear in execution—write a newsletter and drop it in the mail to everyone on the list—today’s multi-faced communication channels give brands and businesses an unlimited creative playground on which to play. Newsletters may be printed, but they can also be e-blasted via e-mail, posted on Facebook, tweeted to all your followers and “pinned” on Pinterest. Content can and should be interactive. Provide links to other services or products you offer, or to interesting news or announcements about your business, and lead partners deeper into your corporate landscape, which will only incrementally increase your chance of positively influencing readers with what you have to offer.
Ah, lunch. Often taken at my desk or forgotten completely, the lunch hour is a much overlooked opportunity in business today. Perhaps because e-mail and the Internet and teleconferencing have made us all ultra-efficient, it seems the idea of stopping work for an hour to eat lunch, away from the office, has become the exception to the rule when only a few short years ago it was the norm. As with reaching out personally to meet and know your consumers and colleagues, going to lunch (or even dinner) is another one of those old-fashioned practices that I believe has been undervalued for the benefit it can bring to a business relationship.
Something happens to people when they share a meal. Whether it’s the fact that food makes people feel relaxed, or the fact that one has to stop texting, typing and tweeting to actually eat, the act of sitting down together at a table and eating signals trust, comfort and interest in a far more visceral way than even the most elegantly crafted e-mail. What better time to broach a new business venture or strengthen an existing one than over food? And coming from a woman who struggles with finding time herself, maybe every week you challenge yourself to schedule lunches with one or two of your top executives or clients. Or, if every week seems too hectic, you simply promise yourself that once a month you will engage with a client or colleague over the lunch table rather than the web.
When all is said and done, we all know that reaching out, connecting and embracing more personal relationships—whether over lunch or simply a meeting in person—helps us forge the kinds of strong foundations needed to both create and nurture our businesses and brands. By starting to pay attention to these foundations in creative new ways, we can use the proven business tactics of days gone by even more successfully for our brands and business tomorrow.
Alisa Marie Beyer is the founder and creative director of The Beauty Company (TBC), a global beauty consulting firm offering business, strategy, consumer intelligence and branding. Serving its clients at every stage of development (from start-ups to 13 of the top 15 global beauty companies), TBC intimately understands the industry, the consumer and the market, and becomes an integral part of each client or project team. [email protected]; thebeautycompany.co