Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Maintaining valuable business relationships at a distance – Fiona Duncan-Steer, founder of RSViP Business Networking Agency

Fiona Duncan-Steer, founder of RSViP Business Networking Agency, discusses the importance of maintaining valuable business relationships at a distance and in times of crisis. 

There have been a lot of webinars, blogs and articles surrounding the current COVID-19 crisis, mainly covering topics such as ‘how to survive in business during the outbreak’ or ‘remote working’, as well as fantastic community projects and new ventures with the view of supporting and helping the vulnerable. What we must not forget in the flurry of panic and slower pace of life we suddenly find ourselves in is to really maintain those business relationships, we have spent so long cultivating.

Remember when you first started that job/business? You spent endless days and nights setting up the infrastructure of your business model, worked on your branding, felt elation when your new marketing materials arrived hot off the press? Set your website live and waited for those much-anticipated visits? Launched your social media platforms and spent so much time building momentum for the likes and followers you desired? Bought a new diary and stared at it, longing for it to be filled with opportunities – remember all of that? Turning the ‘closed’ sign to ‘open’ and waiting for the flurry of customers to come stampeding in, like something you’d see in a Tom and Jerry cartoon? And does it happen in this way?

No. Not likely.

Most businesses have had to work hard, graft and grind to build their customer base, image and to establish their reputation. All of this takes time, effort, energy and, in most small business cases, blood, sweat and tears along the way.

Many of us put so much of ‘ourselves’ into our businesses, many of us ‘are’ our businesses and taking into consideration the old cliché that ‘people buy people’, we day after day put ourselves out there to build a reputation and relationship with each and every person we encounter, who may become a potential customer, supplier or friend to us and our business. We should be doing this with everyone anyway, as we know the best advertisement is one from others.

Considering all of this, why then would, when the going gets tough, we forget all of this effort we have gone to and dismiss these relationships even if ‘just temporarily’, or ‘until we get back on our feet’. Granted, with the COVID-19 crisis it’s a very difficult time, but remember, this is a rare and unique thing we are experiencing and as such this actually brings us all together to the same level in some respects. We are all as one right now, being affected by similar issues, which in turn have detrimental effects on us as both human beings and in business.

The levels of effects will differ between industries and companies, but as a whole this is an international crisis that is bringing communities of business owners together to, for the first time since many would say the war, help support each other selflessly without judgment or agenda.

This then makes us all relatable to one another and further cements business relationships  and so with this in mind, now could well be the time to get involved in something charitable and good – such as giving up your time to help the vulnerable voluntarily or offering a free consultation to a struggling business. I have seen many business owners affected by the outbreak. Many of them, my own clients included, are clearly struggling – contracts and business lost and wiped out overnight, income stopped in its tracks, invoices not being paid. What sets these apart from others who roll over and give up is their spirit to keep going regardless, and to use the time they have on their hands to help others.

What does this do? 

  1. It provides valuable support to others, that right now is much needed and appreciated.
  2. It solidifies you as a decent person and brand – solidifying your reputation in the process.
  3. It makes you memorable.

When this is all over and we resume some form of normality, you can say you were involved in the fight to makes things better, offered what you could to someone and made a difference even in the face of adversity. People will remember those who did this post COVID-19 and will be more likely to want to support you in return somehow, someday.

This should of course not be your only motivation for doing good and nor is it an opportunity to take advantage of the situation occurring right now for self-gain, nor is it a pressure to do any of the above if you are not able to do so for any reason, it is merely a great way to make use of your time and resources for the greater good, keep visible in your market, perhaps involve your clients in your projects/ideas and to maintain those valuable relationships.

How else can you maintain those relationships?

  • Stay in touch! ITS SIMPLE.

We may be working remotely and at a distance, but we are not in hiding, so there is no excuse not to utilise the readily available platforms we have in the digital space to keep talking.

Remote working is where it’s at right now with Zoom downloads increasing by 1250% in the first week of isolation and of course if you have been planning to run that webinar, online event or record that video but have been procrastinating over it, then now is the time to take yourself out of your comfort zone and get it done!

Adapting your current business model to go online is vital and if you are not in some way taking steps to do this then you may find yourself in the danger zone very quickly if you aren’t there already.

What you have is the blessing of time, so use it wisely to watch ‘how to’ videos and teach yourself to use online platforms that will keep you visible, connected and relevant.

Ask for help

Who in your network already uses video or digital platforms? Ask them for recommendations and assistance to get started. You may be surprised at the friendly and helpful response you receive, and this could be the difference of you having a business to go back to at the end of all this and not.

Keep connected

Those clients and customers you have great relationships with – give them a call, email, text.

Post things on social media about your clients or ask them if there is anything you can help them with.

Send a video message – via apps such as Bonjoro – it’s free.

Send them a card or gift through the post to let them know you are thinking of them and relate it to your industry – be creative: send them a tea bag in a card and say: “have a comforting cuppa on us – looking forward to seeing you again soon.”

These are simple things, but worth spending time on and there is no doubt that it will forge the path for longevity in business and maintain those valuable business relationships you’ve worked so hard to build.

It comes back to that ‘power’ question in networking; “how can I help you?”

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