How to build the foundation of your business: relationships

It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do list of starting or growing your own business, so it’s easy to neglect one of the most important commitments: relationships.

You may want to do everything on your own at first, but you’ll quickly realize that you need to depend on others to accomplish your goals.

Where to start and why

This quote sums it up perfectly, “When opportunity knocks, it’s always a person knocking … and answering.” Right?

You can, and should, start anywhere. You don’t have to focus on only those you do business with. Talk to the clerk at the grocery store or someone on the subway. After repeatedly focusing on other people, it will become second nature.

Here’s an example of how relationships can benefit your business. Let’s say you’re launching your startup and need a web developer to help you get your website up. You don’t need anything too fancy because you don’t have a lot of money to throw at it.

Joe, one of your suppliers, drops off a shipment. Because you two usually talk for a little bit each time he drops something off, you tell him you’re stressing about finding a developer because you’re worried about trusting a complete stranger and going through a ton of applications.

Crazy enough, Joe has a nephew who’s wanting to build up his portfolio because he just starting out. He’s looking for some work, so Joe will hook you up.

If you never took the time to take an interest in Joe, the conversation would’ve never happened.

What does it take?

First, understand that you can’t and don’t need to try to build relationships with every one. If you come in contact with someone who’s negative and full of drama, do yourself a favor and stay away from them as much as you can. People’s moods and habits affect and rub off on you.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but the items below are a good place to start.

  1. Know thyself

This sounds counterintuitive but knowing your strengths, shortcomings, beliefs, and moods and emotions means you’re pretty self-aware, which keeps you in control of you. You’ll know when you shouldn’t put yourself in certain situations, to switch gears when you feel yourself getting upset, how to listen to your intuition, and things of that nature.

Being in tune with yourself also helps you read other people and practice empathy. According to Harvard Business Review, there are three parts to empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy — when you see something from someone else’s perspective
  • Emotional empathy — when you feel what other people feel
  • Empathic concern — when you can tell what another person needs from you

2. Be yourself

If you know yourself, you probably don’t have a problem with this one. I think it’s worth mentioning because so many people think they need to be someone else or just plain don’t know how to be themselves when they’re around others.

People can spot insincerity and artificialness in a heartbeat. So if you don’t give a crap about how someone’s day is going, don’t bother asking. And, if you’re worried that someone won’t like the real you, that’s okay, plenty of people won’t like the fake you either.

That being said, don’t feel like you have to deep dive into other people’s personal life. It’s fine if you only talk about sports with your client, Bob.

3. Practice active listening

If you’re an active listener, people will want to talk to you because everyone wants to feel understood. Active listening is listening like you’re on a mission. You pay attention only to the person talking and you strive to understand everything they’re saying, which often means you’ll need to ask questions.

Typical advice you’ll hear regarding active listening is to repeat back what you thought the person was saying to make sure you understand. For example, you might start off with, “I want to make sure I understand what you said…,” or, “I think you’re saying…is that right?”

Obviously, you don’t want to repeat every little thing, just the things that are complex or anything that you feel unsure about.

4. Don’t gossip

Most people gossip every once in awhile, but it’s a passion for some. There are a few reasons you should rise above on this one.

First, it can be passive aggressive. If you’re having an issue with someone, don’t gossip about what’s going on with everyone else but the person involved. Talk to the person directly and avoid talking to others about it.

Second, if you gossip often, some people, who don’t share the same passion, will become guarded around you because they know you’ll gossip about them, too. It’s a quick way to earn a bad rep.

It’s best to avoid gossipers. If you have to be around them, try to get to business as quickly as possible, and don’t share an interest in any gossip that comes up. This may make that person upset, but don’t sweat it. You don’t want relationships with people like that.

5. Keep in touch

The longer you’re in business the more relationships you’ll build. This can be a little overwhelming to maintain, but it’s definitely worth the effort. You don’t want to be the guy who only calls when you want something.

Set up a reminder to call or email those who’ve been a part of your business. Maybe you send a little note to your very first client during the holidays, or shoot a quick email to someone who helped you get business 6 months ago because you were thinking about them the other day.

For example, “Hey John, I was over at The Pub the other day, and the guy next to me ordered your favorite drink. I haven’t talked to you in awhile. Hope everything’s going well.”

You’re not asking for anything. You’re just letting John know you were thinking of him, and most people appreciate that.

If people don’t respond after a few times, don’t feel obligated to reach out anymore. Just make sure your attempts are sincere.


Relationships are two-sided, but like most situations in business, you don’t want to make it about you. It takes time and effort to build relationships and the skills needed to build them. Make sure these are always near the top of your to-do list for your business.