This is Part 2 of my blog series on how to build business relationships. Part 1 focused on the face-to-face, or offline, side of things. Today’s post, however, is about building business relationships online.
When I first started building my relationships and online brand, I did three things everyday. I sent out one helpful article for small business owners, I shared one personal thing about my day and I answered one small business question. I did this Monday through Friday for several months. I also researched who the other key influencers in my niche area were. Once I had a list of those experts I approached them by sharing their content, leaving comments on their blog posts and eventually reaching out to them directly online to see if we could strategically build a relationship.
I once heard a speaker say, “It takes three quality contacts to build face-to-face connections.” Online, I believe it takes seven quality interactions. And as you think about how to build relationships online, there is only one thing to know: the HELP Mantra.
Use the HELP Mantra
Help others: One of the keys that I have used to become a recognized small business expert online is to help others regularly. I find resources, answer questions, and I blog about challenges that would cost business owners thousand to learn about elsewhere. I also host a weekly Twitterchat called #Smallbizchat. It takes a lot of time, but it helps me share my expertise with more people and build relationships with other small business experts.
So don’t be afraid to spend hours on unpaid work for an online contact. You should not mind helping if it means you can ask more questions and receive answers they wouldn’t share with others. The payoff is the moment when you can ask someone you help for a recommendation on LinkedIn or in writing to use on your website.
Engage with contacts: One-way communication does not work when building online relationships. It has to come from you, not just from your contacts. Give updates on your daily or weekly activities. When I am travelling to new city, I will often ask for suggestions for tourist sites and restaurants. Sometimes I will send out questions just to interact such as, “What are you grateful for today? What’s your favorite holiday song? What is your favorite free tech tool?”
Listen first: Do not assume that you know the culture of the social networking site that you plan to use. Listen first so that you can add value to the conversation. You also want to listen to what your target customer is saying so that you can make sure that your content and conversation is exactly what they need. Twitter and groups on LinkedIn are great places for current information.
Promote yourself: Once you have a reputation for helping others, engaging with colleagues and your target customers, you can promote your original content, coupons and special offers on your website. But be careful with this. Traditional selling is dead. Your best bet is to demonstrate your expertise through white papers, special reports, free consultations and blogging. I would also suggest using a four-to-one ratio of promoting other people content and sales materials over your own.
The Next Step
Building relationships online is just the first step. Next, you have to transition them offline. My favorite thing to do is to get is get someone I meet via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn on the telephone for a conference call. That’s when the real relationship starts. Do your prep work online, and you’ll end up on the phone in no time.
What do you think? Are there other ways we can build relationships online?
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Read more great articles from Melinda Emerson and find out how pbSmart Essentials can help you better connect with your customers.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is one of America’s leading small business experts. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. Forbes Magazine recently named her one the No. 1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9 p.m. ET for emerging entrepreneurs. Melinda is also the author of the national bestseller Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. (Adams Media 2010)
Melinda is not a Pitney Bowes employee and shares her insights on this blog as a paid contributor.