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7 5 Simple Acts to Take Right Now

Summer

photo credit: UGArdener via photopin cc

The months of July and August can be slower ones for many small businesses in the U.S. While we’ve got a thing or two to learn from some other cultures about taking a “real” holiday, many business owners and their clients take vacations and spend less time thinking about business during the summer months.

You may still feel just as busy doing busy kind of things, but the key to making this mini breather pay is to look at the summer months as a launching pad for growth and improvement into next year. Many times we keep our head down doing the work and can’t seem to find the right amount of time to dedicate to the needs of the business.

Below are five things that I try to do each summer as a way to make the rest of the year more fruitful.

1) Find some new inspiration It’s pretty easy to get in the habit of reading the same blogs, following the same people, and picking up the same magazines. You may have developed your go to list and that’s great, but in doing so, it’s easy to miss fresh new voices with lots to say unless you get outside of your bubble.

Take one hour and reshuffle your RSS Reader. Think about some new categories of information you should be consuming and search around and find some lists of “who to read” in that category or industry. Clean out those newsletter subscriptions you never seem to read and make room for some new inspiration.

2) Start planning 2015 now Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to plan the week ahead much less dream about the vision for the future. The problem with this trap, however, is that where you want to go in 2015 and beyond should inform how you plan next week and maybe even tomorrow.

Take a day, or half of a day, and think about the big picture for 2015. Don’t wait until December to do it or you’ll find that it’s March before you actually start to think it’s 2015. (And then March Madness starts and you’re really in trouble.) Break the rest of this year into 90-day blocks and map the big projects you need to accomplish to make the big vision for next year happen right now!

3) Deepen a relationship When’s the last time your reached out to someone you hadn’t spoken with for a while just to say “hey let’s get coffee this week.” It’s probably been a while, right? We’re all so darn busy “building relationships” we don’t have the time to do what it actually takes to build relationships.

Whether you’ve slowed down a bit or not during this time of year, it’s a perfect time to identify a handful of relationships you’ve neglected and put some very mindful energy into renewing them. You pick – a couple of key customers, a strategic partner, a college friend, your brother, or maybe, even your spouse!

4) Learn a new skill I like to use the summer months each year to tackle something hard and confusing and valuable as a way to remain relevant and useful to my clients and my business. This year I’m diving deeper into analytics. It’s a bit like math to me, but may be the single most important gap I have in my ability to apply both experience and process to help make sense of marketing for my clients and readers.

I’ve subscribed to relevant blogs, picked up some books and tracked down an online course or two to create my curriculum. Of course, then I’ll immediately apply what I can in the real world.

5) Create a new habit Good habits are awesome because they do two things. If chosen wisely they can bring the benefit of doing something good for you on a consistent basis and they can help push another, not so good, habit out of the way. In fact, it’s been proven that the best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a better one.

This summer I’m getting back into yoga. I’ve been a long time practicer but somewhere in the stress and chaos created from my last book I lost it. My knees and my blood pressure tell me it’s time to get back to it.

There you have it – an entire plan for how to wisely use your August this year. Of course taking a little time off wouldn’t kill you either!

And finally – this sounds so ridiculous to say, but I’m just going to say it anyway – I’ve started turning my phone off for extended periods and I can’t believe how much less stress I feel. Give it a try!

1 How to Honor Your Most Important Relationships

One of the things that technology has surely enabled is the ability to build a truly global network.

relationships

photo credit: weeviraporn via photopin cc

People we call thought leaders and influencers can quite easily build a community following that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Much of the attention on this development is focused on the score keeping aspects of building large networks. Increasingly, the attention has shifted to the impossible and exhausting nature of viewing relationships through this mindset.

Real relationships take work. That’s the bottom line. An important relationship requires love and grace. I don’t know what else there is to say about that. Without attention, care and service it’s hard to build something as real as an authentic relationship.

Now, not every single person that comes into contact with your business need be seen through this lens, but most business need at least a handful of people that will run through a wall for them – and that requires genuine, thoughtful appreciation over time to develop.

And mind you, we could be talking about staff members, customers, suppliers, mentors, industry gurus or prospects – you get to define what an important relationship is.

I’m here to suggest, however, that the number you can manage with love and grace is probably far fewer than you might think. A few years ago it became fashionable to cite some research by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar’s number, as it is called, suggested that people could effectively manage about 150 relationships.

The thing is I think that number gets even harder due to the potentially distributed nature of many of our most important relationships. When you rarely sit across the desk from an important person in your life it’s harder to stay in touch.

Add to that the fact that some relationships may be deemed important by factors beyond our choice – a large customer may be defined as an important relationship by default.

If you want to get good at nurturing relationship you need to develop a system designed to allow you to do just that. Nothing can replace your authentic desire to build durable relationships, but employing a few strategies and processes can help you keep priorities where they should be.

Shrink your pond

The number of relationships you can actually attend to will differ for each person, but part of the refocus process must involve acknowledging this fact and doing something about it.

Here are two approaches I employ.

I’ve created an entirely separate CRM just for what I call important relationships. This small group is set up in Nimble, a CRM tool that allows me to easily unify all of my interactions with this group including social interactions.

The second thing I did was unfollow everyone on Twitter. I know this sounds a little harsh, but like so many I followed thousands on Twitter only to realize it made Twitter somewhat less useful as a relationship tool. I slowly refollowed several hundred people for various select reasons and now I can interact with this group in ways I had lost.

Collect better information

Two good books on relationship building are Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and Harvey Mackay’s Swim With Sharks. Both suggest building and keeping a file on your most important relationships that allow you to better stay in touch and on top of the most important moments in their lives. The Mackay 66 profile is a great starting place.

Social media participation has certainly made some aspects of this easier (Facebook birthday notices), but I wonder how many actual snail mail addresses you have for those you would deem important relationships. When’s the last time you dropped them a note card or box of flowers?

Create behavior nags

Remember I said this relationship stuff takes work? It’s not that it’s not enjoyable, it’s that other stuff gets in the way. How many times have you returned home and night and wondered what you did all day?

It’s important to set up routines so that you make the time to do the little things that keep you connected. Tools like Boomerang in Gmail and Nimble can be set up to nag you if you haven’t reached out to someone in, say, 30 days. You don’t want to be a pest, but sometimes you need reminders to help you say, “hey, I’m here for you” and “what are you working on?”

Give

The last standard bit of advice is to serve. Social media allows us to see people who do this quite well. People like Bob Burg, Pam Slim and Chris Brogan are constantly caught in the act of giving and sharing value. It’s a mindset and perhaps a personality trait, but once you realize how satisfying a place it is to go, it can become your first and most important relationship tool.

The context of this post is meant to be one of business relationships, but we all have other, really important relationships we need to honor and, frankly, this advice might just apply to those as well. (Call your mom today!)

So that’s my story and part confession. What tools and tips can you share to help people make 2014 the year of honoring their most important relationships?