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Looking into her eyes, the rising sun shimmering through the trees, I remembered how I first fell in love.
That’s when I realized my approach to business was all wrong.
As an entrepreneur and writer, everything is a lesson about business, and (for better or worse), this moment was no exception.
Normally, Saturdays are my day to crank out as much writing as I can. I guard this time as sacred, because it is. But I relinquished this entire morning — somewhat reluctantly — to take engagement photos with my fiance.
Making the conscious effort to connect with her is something that I often take for granted, defaulting back to our daily routine. I make the coffee and put away the dishes. She feeds the dog, and then we’re off to work. We hit the gym in the afternoon, then eat quickly, sharing a few words in between bites. Every evening is a race against the clock to get the world in order so we can read our books and then go to sleep. Repeat.
My desire to work harder, be more efficient and get more done had optimized the relationship out of our partnership. We became two people who helped each other get through life on autopilot. Unknowingly, we had replaced our relationship with a series of transactions.
It’s easy to see how this is toxic to personal relationships. And yet as business owners, we actively encourage and celebrate this behavior as true success.
Related: Can Excessive Ambition Actually Ruin Your Chances of Success?
A great opportunity for business owners
Every product and service sold in the online business industry is aimed at getting more transactions faster and cheaper than you could before.
In a typical day, I see advertisements for software designed to save me time, content calendars and swipe files to squeeze every drop of engagement out of my content, and sales tactics that will double my conversion rate.
Seeking out tactics that improve your ability to transact is like going to couples therapy to better delegate your chores so you can stop fighting. This can’t solve the root problem — only minimize the symptoms.
For example, having the highest converting headline swipe is minimally useful. You certainly want to create intriguing headlines. But I rarely read the headlines in my inbox. My eyes are fixed on the “From:” line. I read the content from marketers that I trust, marketers who consistently publish quality content, marketers who have taken the time to build a relationship with me.
Several smart marketers have picked up on this trend and started to teach relationship building as a tactic to make more conversions. They reveal the optimal strategy to build a relationship so you can quickly make a sale. This is no different from the other tactics.
You can transact your way through life in this way, optimizing for the best deals and most efficient processes, but in doing so, you strip away all of the value. Transactions are a means to an end, whereas true relationships are an end in themselves.
Why we fail to make the transition
Our greatest weakness is short-sightedness, choosing the easy path today over the more rewarding path tomorrow. It’s easier to skip the gym. It’s easier to stay on autopilot in your relationship. And it’s easier to think that someone figured it all out and all you have to do is copy and paste the solution into your autoresponder.
Conversely, it requires more effort to exercise, to be honest and vulnerable with your partner, or to create unique content for your audience.
Every decision our linear minds face is a tradeoff between pleasure and pain in this moment. It takes training and discipline to break these habits. We forget the fate that awaits us down the road: hardened arteries, a cold heart, and perhaps, (not a guarantee of) financial success.
The challenge is to recognize these biases and overcome them.
While the transaction may get you paid today, the relationship will get you paid every day that you maintain it. Relationships bring subsequent purchases, testimonials, valuable customer insights and high-quality referrals. All of which allow you to get more customers, faster and cheaper.
Related: The 4 Cognitive Biases Entrepreneurs Should Avoid
A guide to building relationships
All of this preaching about relationships and taking the moral high ground is great. But let’s look at how this plays out in reality.
Building relationships instead of transacting can effortlessly increase your sales, fix the tensions with your spouse and make you a happier person. Here are five ways to build relationships with your audience, all of which also apply to the relationships you have with your spouse and yourself:
- Be consistent. Publish content regularly. Maintain a standard of quality and customer service. It’s not always easy, but consistency builds trust. And very few people are doing this. I constantly hear about people starting podcasts or YouTube channels, and then three episodes later, they’re on to the next big thing. This sends a clear message to prospects that you give up when things get tough. Yet, it’s not a coincidence that every McDonald’s burger tastes exactly the same. Their empire is built on consistency.
- Use social proof: There is too much content in the world to personally evaluate, so most people rely on the judgement of others as a surrogate. This has caused virality to replace value as the primary indicator of quality. The most-read books become widely recognized as the best. The most-shared articles quickly become the best. This effect can either kill your business or create momentum for it. Social proof and endorsements convince new audience members that you are trustworthy and that your products work. This attention gives you the opportunity to solidify the relationship with them.
- Be vulnerable. While everyone else brags on social media, vulnerability communicates empathy and builds trust on an emotional level. Sharing your journey through the hardest of times demonstrates the effectiveness of the solution you offer. Take Kryptonite, for example. Although it is Superman’s only weakness, it was invented to revive Superman comics from death by boredom. His vulnerability makes the story interesting.
- Create more content. The more you publish, the faster you can demonstrate your consistency and leadership and the more opportunities you create to bond over shared experiences. Creating content is the fastest way to build a trusting relationship with each individual in your audience.
- Share rituals. Whether in person or virtual, rituals cement a bond between a group of people and their leader. It could be as simple as a cup of coffee together, a victory chant or something far more complex. What matters is that everyone believes in the symbol it represents and participates together. Many world religions have used rituals to maintain devout audiences over thousands of years.
Related: The 4 Things Every Customer Wants
Anybody can throw up a website and offer products and services online. What sets you apart is your ability to build relationships with your audience.
Seeking a business filled with transactions is like seeking a long and loveless marriage. This is a fate I wouldn’t wish for my fiercest competitor.
Foster relationships with your customers. Both of you deserve it.