Technology has made collaboration incredibly seamless for businesses and clients around the world, and it’s impressive what can be accomplished on a global scale. When we toss about the term “collaboration,” at least in a business sense, we think of Skype calls, conference meetings, and accommodating emails. These methods of communication are largely used to help develop respectful, professional relationships. However, building a collaborative relationship takes more than carefully crafted dialogue and obliging manners.
If you truly want a sustainable connection, you must apply a personal touch.
Prioritize human interaction.
Every business could benefit by demonstrating a bit more empathy. This could be as simple as sending a thank-you card for a referral or letting your client know that you’ve remembered their birthday. Celebrate successes together, whether the achievements have anything to do with business. Genuine human interaction is what will inspire loyalty for years to come, and your clients will come to trust your business judgement. We discovered that one of our clients enjoys amusing little messages on each invoice, so we make an effort to think of something witty to say each time we send one. Another client provides us with a significant amount of mentoring and has helped us grow our business; we’ve kept her rates the same for several years as a way to say thank you.
Let your personality shine.
Yes, you should be professional, but don’t be afraid to veer away from stiff email etiquette. Feel free to incorporate humor when appropriate, and although it sounds cliché, it’s always important to be yourself. We send pictures of our grandkids to some of our clients; others we schedule phone calls with, not because we really need to talk, but rather, because we enjoy the chance to visit with them. If your clients want a robot, there are plenty of automated services available. Your personality will be what sells your business to existing and future clients.
If there has been an upheaval in your life, negative or positive, it’s critical that you share this with clients. If there’s a new baby in the family, share your excitement and explain why you’re unavailable. If you have a funeral to attend, or you’re very ill, don’t try to keep that same-day conference call. There are moments when everyone must step away from work, and your clients will appreciate your honesty much more than mysterious silence.
The truth is, we have learned through experience how difficult it is to partner with someone who won’t tolerate that we work from hotels in Montreal for a couple of months out of each year, or don’t understand that, while we endeavor to give our all for them, we still prioritize our family (we rarely schedule calls in the evenings, and we take the occasional day off to do college visits or play with our grandkids). We do promise, however, that we’ll never miss a deadline and we’re always available by text for urgent needs, even when we’re out of the office.
Share personal details.
When you share details of your life, your clients are likely to share details of theirs. This connection will deepen your business relationship, and potentially build a partnership and friendship. Some of our clients have become trusted advisors that have helped us shape and grow our business; others have connected with us more personally as we share not only business success but parenting moments and vacation ideas. Some clients have shared other passions with us that have led to side collaborations. Sharing your hopes and dreams with your clients can help chart new directions for both parties, which is where you’ll really discover true collaboration.
Collaboration shouldn’t be about the latest communication technology and productivity tool; it should be about how we can be more connected, and more about what we can do as humans to bond emotionally. Wearing your heart on your sleeve in business can be frightening, but the results are well worth the risk. You’ll quickly discover the clients that are worth having, and your business will be better for it.