In business, relationships are everything. Something incredible happens when two people connect, listen to one another, and try to help each other succeed. An enduring bond is formed in those moments.
I know this because I have been fortunate enough to meet many incredible people throughout the course of my career. These people have been colleagues, customers, investors and even rivals. The amazing thing is that those relationships have lasted years – even decades.
The impact of these relationships is huge – and cumulative. Your network of fascinating, talented people snowballs over the years. Customers that I met when building my last business, Masternaut, over 20 years ago have followed me to BigChange. Brilliant people who have worked alongside me on previous ventures are now integral to BigChange’s success today. People that I meet at events and exhibitions often become valued business partners or suppliers – if not immediately, then often down the line.
People have long memories. We have all had conversations with friends or colleagues who warn us off working with someone because they had a bad experience with them many years previously. There’s a reason for the old adage – “Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down”– we never forget the bad bosses, the times we were side-lined or patronised. But equally, we remember all the people who were kind, honest and fair.
It is my belief that the most powerful and enduring relationships can only be forged face-to-face. It’s rare to remember someone that you’ve only met via email or online. And a lot can be lost in translation when you communicate digitally. All those non-verbal cues are lost, the tone is different, and there’s little opportunity to find common ground. Small talk gets a bad rap, but it can be a great tool for breaking the ice, creating friendships, and making people feel more comfortable. One 2020 study in California found that chatting about non-work-related subjects even makes people happier in their jobs. No wonder that six out of 10 workers said they missed “watercooler moments” in the office during the pandemic.
I’m saying this as the founder and chairman of a technology company. Yes, we make software, but we will never lose our human face. There will always be opportunities to meet us in real life, or at the very least hear our voices down the phone. Email and chat functions are great, but you can’t laugh together at a joke or show empathy through a screen.
I’m always telling my colleagues at BigChange to get out there and meet customers. When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I tell them the same thing – spend time with your customers and teams. There really is no substitute for getting out there and talking to people.
So, if you have been putting off having that coffee with so-and-so, dropping in on a colleague, or visiting one of your shops or manufacturers, let today be the day that you prioritise relationships, and get out there.