Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and, most importantly for business professionals, LinkedIn are all important tools for many creative small business owners. Besides places to connect with new prospects and networking partners, these are also places where we can collaborate online with our peers and trade ideas and insights.
However, for many creative small businesses (including freelancers, graphic designers, ad agencies, PR firms, web designers and professional photographers), these online relationships will often only produce results if they grow into a rich offline, real-world relationship. Don’t get me wrong … many rich and fruitful online connections (especially those with our peers in distant climes) we make will stay online, and that’s perfectly fine. The main reason Facebook and LinkedIn are so huge is the fact is that they provide for an easy way to maintain contact with acquaintances and distant friends.
However, for those strategic partnerships and client relationships you are seeking, you usually need to make some kind of offline connection to solidify the relationship and give it the chance to grow beyond online acquaintances. There’s something about hearing someone’s voice, seeing their face and even shaking their hand that strengthens bonds and gives an added feeling of comfort and trust, and no level of online collaboration or communication can replace these modes of interaction.
Another thing to remember is that this online thing is only a recent development and that human beings have only been experimenting with it for a decade or so, while face-to-face communication has been here since time immemorial, and the telephone has been with us for over a century.
So here are 4 steps for transitioning those key relationships into the real world…
1. Determine your goals in the relationship
Can this person be a potential client that you can help? Could they be a peer that you have lots in common with? Could they be able to refer potential clients your way? Might they even be a mentor who could help you advance your business or career?
These are all things to consider when thinking about taking an online business relationship to the next level. Developing offline business relationships take a lot more time, something which most creative business owners don’t have. This may sound cold, but for you the risk of time needs to be worth the reward, whether it be a new client or a relationship that can benefit you in other ways (professional growth, maintenance of sanity, etc.).
2. Locate your intersection of interests
This new relationship can’t just be a one-way street where it’s all get on your end and all give on their end. Both of you need to benefit, so start looking for ways in which the other person will prosper from the relationship and where the relationship is a win-win for both of you.
Maybe you each have contacts that you could refer to each other. Maybe you each have a particular area of expertise that you could assist the other in. Maybe you each have resources that the other could use once in a while. Or maybe simply you share a common approach to business and simply like chatting and hanging out. Whatever the connection, make sure that your interests intersect and that you both have something to give to the relationship.
3. Initiate the offline connection
Approach the other person in an open and honest way about wanting to get to know them and their business better, and in your message tell them how you’d like to talk to them about how the two of you could help each other achieve your respective goals.
You may find that the person either doesn’t reply or is reluctant to make a more personal connection, and that’s okay. Many people are still have a mental dividing line between their online life and their personal relationships. So if you get pushback or silence, reach out to them again to tell them that you are really sincere in your request and give them an example about how you may be of assistance to them (and vice versa).
It’s best to try and set up a face-to-face meeting, preferably in a coffee shop, restaurant or some other public place. If that’s not possible, a phone call will suffice,; it’s not quite the same as pressing the flesh, but it’s a step up from online collaboration and communication.
4. Find ways to stay in touch and offer continuing value
Once you’ve met and established a basis for a business relationship, find out from the person what kind of ongoing communication would be of benefit to them.
If they are a potential client, offering them free resources or reaching out with occasional advice or guidance could demonstrate your expertise and desire to work with them. Even suggesting resources that can help them (like online apps or various business management software tools) can set you apart as a thought leader.
If they are a networking partner, offering up potential leads could prompt them to return the favor.
If they are a peer, sitting down every once in a while to commiserate and exchange ideas might give you both a better sense of where your business is at and how to grow it.
Just make sure you establish a way to stay connected and follow through, as this is the most important part of maintaining relationships that are mutually beneficial in the long run.
Looking for a better, smoother way to collaborate with clients, staff and contractors?
Planning Pod’s online collaboration tools and Web-based project collaboration software app gives you and your team an easy way to stay on task.