"Follow Up Tips to Build Relationships and Referrals"When it comes to finding ways to market a small business both offline and online its all about building relationships. With so much competition and so many ways people can “reach out and touch someone, today more than ever selling products and services is begins with the relationship between buyer and sell. People hire people they know, like and trust. Oftentimes they hire people because they trust someone else who has used the service or patronized a business because they trust the person making the referral. Referrals are one of the best (and least expensive) ways to build a thriving business. Especially in this economy, when so many people are deeply discounting their fees and prices just to make a sale.

When you build a relationship of trust you don’t have to resort to “giving away” your products and services because you have built the value in by building the relationship with your client or customers. This may seem like a simple process, but building relationships is not simple. You may know what to do but do you do it? Do you take the time necessary to nurture those relationships? I dare say most of us do not. At least not to the extent that we could. And by the way, I may “know” how to build relationships, but it is just as difficult for me as for the next person. So I decided to create a list of ways to build relationships that don’t require a Ph.D (painful, hard, and demanding) approach. They do however, require time and a little effort. That little effort can pay off in BIG ways. One client can give you a referral that becomes one of your top ten best customers.

That happened to me. All because I sent a postcard thanking someone for their business (it had a picture of me on the front) and they kept the postcard. That picture was me as a 4 year old on a swing having a great time. I told my customer I hoped they had as much fun doing business with me as I had with them and they LOVED IT! That postcard is still hanging on her cork board in her office. That was 14 years ago. How many people do you think have seen it since then? Hundreds maybe. I know it works because people call and tell me. They do business with me. They tell their friends. One lady said she wanted to do business with me just to get a postcard to hang on her wall? Imagine?

So my first tip to be a smart marketer when coming up with strategies to market your small business offline is to do something memorable. Sending postcards is always a good idea. But sending one that is unexpectedly fun or different could be a conversation piece for years to come. I still use that postcard today.

Here are 12 other tips to build relationships and referrals to build your business:

1. When you have the chance to meet someone at their office or place of business you can get to “know” a little bit about them by the things they have hanging on their walls, sitting on their desks and decorating their space. Make mental notes of those things as they will come in handy. For instance if you see a picture of them catching fish, then chances are they like to fish. Even if fishing does not interest you, this can be a great tidbit of information to draw upon later, when you recall the mental note while deciding a proper way to thank him or her for their business.

2. Become a GREAT listener. Listen more than you talk. It will gain you the trust of those around you. And you will likely learn a thing or two about the individual you would not know otherwise. When people have a chance to talk about themselves, they will. It will give you insight into “who” they are. If they are having a bad day you will be able to find out the “why.” You may not be able to do anything about their bad day, but you can be empathic and lend an ear, oftentimes all someone really needs to make it “better.”

3. Be authentic. Don’t pretend to like something you don’t just because you think it will please the prospect. It will backfire on you in the long run. Imagine having to remember all those things you pretend to like and then one day it slips out that you didn’t really after all. I am going to go out on a limb here and confess that I am not really crazy about racing. My husband loves it but I am hypersensitive to the “noise” and don’t really enjoy it because of that. It would be exhausting for me to have to pretend to like it if I really didn’t. And eventually he would find out (which he did). Not good.

4. The same is true of doing things that don’t really interest you. If you don’t like to play golf or attend the theater, don’t do it simply to get the sale. It is really painful, hard and demanding to do those things you don’t enjoy. And life is really too short to be someone you are not.

5. Don’t rush or force the relationship. Most relationships do not develop overnight. In very few cases is it “love at first sight” except in the movies. Take your time. Getting a good customer is like getting a good mate. It takes time, effort and a little “courting.”

6. Speaking of COURTING, when building relationships with clients and customers it is a good idea to take time to reach out and reconnect. Just because you mad e the sale, don’t for a moment think you will make another one if you ignore the person. Send a thank you note for the business, send a follow up a few weeks later and stay in touch. That could be in the form of regular postcards, a note, a phone call and yes, even an email from time to time. And not to sell him or her something, just to say, “how are you doing.”

7. Follow up quickly. If you meet someone at a networking function and decide you want to get together with them, call or e-mail them within 24 hours to set something up. Commentary: Quick follow-up increases the chance that you will actually do it. It also increases the chances that the contact will remember you. Following up right away does not mean that you have to meet right away.

8. What do Oprah, Barbara Walters and Jerry Springer all have in common? Yes, they are all talk show hosts. Why? Because they have mastered the art of interviewing people. While each of them has their own style, they each know how to draw things out of people to get to their core. When you become a good interviewer, you become genuinely interested in others and what makes them tick. This may be the single most important skill in the art of following up.

9. Think about ways to “stay in touch” without being perceived as a stalker or pain it the back-side. If you read an article that you know would be of interest to someone in your circle, mail a copy to her or him. Or email it along with a note that says, when I read this I thought of you (your situation, your interest… etc.). Make it pertinent and meaningful. Your thoughtfulness will not go unnoticed.

10. Support a cause. Nothing solidifies a relationship more than like-minded, like-hearted activities. Its the things we have in common that endear us to one another. And it gives us something to talk about, and a goal to work together to achieve. Be sure you believe in the cause, that it makes you feel good to of give your time, talent and treasure, otherwise again it will be painful, hard and demanding to keep participating.

11. Refer business to those you are building professional relationships with. If you cannot do business with him or her right now, find ways to send business their way. When you make a referral, a strange thing happens. The person you refer business to has an innate desire to return the favor. Be sure the referral is one the other person would appreciate and want as a client or customer.

12. And finally, make introductions. Find others in your own sphere of influence others would like to meet. Even if it is only by email. When you make quality introductions, again those being introduced will be more likely to do the same. You never know where that introduction will lead.

Follow-up is critical to building relationships and ultimately increasing sales and your bottom line. Its the ultimate relationship marketing. Become a shining example of the art of follow up. Who knows, you could start a movement!