The power of good relationships is often underestimated as an important marketing tool for business development.

Whether your business has a product to sell or is a service you provide, strong relationships can help you grow it. Relationships are the key to referrals, because people refer business to those they like, respect and trust. A good business treats its clients well. A successful and great business treats all its relationships well.

Here are some relationship-building tools that will energize your business:

  • Thank people who refer business to you. At a minimum, call them or send them a personal note.
  • Keep track of who referred business to you. Keep a database of some sort and make a note in it that shows who referred you business and who was referred to you by a contact. This is important because referrals affect your bottom line and should be treated like good clients/customers.
  • Look for opportunities to refer business to people you know (especially those who have referred business to you). You can refer business to more than one person in a field. You are not making the sale, just suggesting good contacts with whom to do business. The person referred will make the decision.
  • Join organizations specifically to meet other business people (e.g., Rotary Club, social clubs, Chamber of Commerce, NAWBO, etc.).
  • When you meet new people, in addition to exchanging business cards, take an interest in them. Follow the 80/20 rule of good conversation – they talk 80 percent of the time and you talk 20 percent. Ask thoughtful questions about them and their business. Give them ample time to respond. Learn about their business needs. You can even ask who would be their ideal client/customer.
  • Make notes on the back of business cards afterward and enter your notes into your contact database. Include where and when you met, and key points to remember (son’s going to baseball camp; ideal client/customer is someone building a new home, etc.).
  • Find opportunities to stay in touch with those you know. The obvious is to send holiday cards. But in addition to that, a simple phone call on occasion to inquire how things are going is even more valuable in establishing good relationships.
  • Don’t forget that invitations for coffee, sporting events, group picnics, etc., keep relationships alive and strong. The stronger your relationship, the more people will value you. People do business with people they like and trust.
  • Consider who is already in your network with whom you can begin to expand your relationship: family, friends, neighbors, other businesses in your location, people you do business with (banker, accountant, lawyer, plumber, etc.).
  • Schedule some time and mark your calendar to give people a call. Think of the time spent as business development. The conversation doesn’t need to be long.
  • Keep track of your calls and plan follow-ups. Did you offer to do something or should you just check back? Your time is valuable, so be sure you spend it well and make the most of it. Speaking to lawyers, but applicable to all, David Maister (a marketing and management guru for professional services firms) said, “What you do with your billable time determines your income, but what you do with your nonbailable time determines your future.”

Keep and nurture your business relationships. They are an investment in your business and will pay you back tenfold.