The relationships you build today could last a lifetime

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. 

Deaf and proud

I have lived with acute hearing loss for most of my life. Over the past year, my hearing has deteriorated – I am now profoundly deaf to high frequency sounds. Amazing technology exists that helps me live a full and hassle-free life, and there are new developments all the time. But I do sometimes wonder whether I would have had the successes I’ve had if I were born in a different century.
Beethoven may have composed many masterpieces after losing his hearing, but he is one of very few stories where a disabled person triumphs against adversity. In Beethoven’s case, he lived in almost total isolation once he lost his hearing. 
It’s timely to chew over these ideas. The 16th of November marked the start of UK Disability History Month. It was created to celebrate the achievements of people living with a disability and raise awareness of the challenges they continue to face. Yes, the world has become a much friendlier place for those living with disabilities. From tactile paving to hearing aid induction loops, assistance for those with sensory impairments is widespread. But there is still a long way to go.
Earlier this week, my investment company Port Growth Partners partnered with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) to help put on a little quiz night. John Bishop, the comedian, hosted the quiz – his son has an autoimmune disorder that causes deafness, and he is very passionate about the cause. We had some great supporters in the room – the likes of Sir Rocco Forte our host – and we raised £50,000. The RNID is a crucial champion in the battle for equal rights and support for the deaf – there are 12m of us in the UK alone. 
At BigChange, we have worked really hard to be an inclusive organisation, which welcomes people from all walks of life. We actively recruit those with disabilities and have programmes in place to support neurodiverse colleagues. We believe that by having a truly diversified team, we create better, more considerate technology. 
For most of my life I have tried to hide my deafness. I have shied away from wearing visible hearing aids. You worry that people make certain assumptions about you when they see those clunky gadgets tucked behind your ear.
UK Disability History Month has been an opportunity to reflect on that approach. I no longer want to hide my disability. There is no shame in my hearing loss. People wear glasses without embarrassment – they are a fashion accessory!
Life was actually easier for me – in some ways – during lockdown. We all communicated via Teams, which meant I could wear a headset and hear every word. It’s only now we’re back in the office and meeting customers that I’m reminded how little I can hear in ordinary life. 

Yorkshire Children’s Centre

Yorkshire Children’s Centre (YCC) is a regional charity that supports vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, and their families, within Kirklees and surrounding areas.

Its vision is for all young people to have opportunities for a better life, and Martin is proud to support the vital work the children’s centre does for the local community.

World Jewish relief – Ukraine crisis appeal

The impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are catastrophic. For us at BigChange, the conflict feels even more personal because eight of our colleagues are Ukrainian nationals, based in Kyiv.

So we are supporting Ukraine nationals wherever we can, and one way is by donating money to the World Jewish Relief’s Ukraine crisis appeal. It’s the least we can do at this unsettling time.