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Relationships 101: going beyond sales tricks and contact lists to grow your business.

AS SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS AND ENTREPRENEURS, professional real estate appraisers often must juggle daily administrative duties with financial responsibilities and general business logistics--and that's in addition to conducting appraisals and generating corresponding reports. With so many tasks demanding your attention, it may be easy to neglect strategic and proactive business-development activities. But falling into that habit is a big mistake.

When it comes to business development, you can't just sit there and wait for the phone to ring; being proactive and making connections has to be a top priority--otherwise, you'll be out of business. So, in a sense, business development and relationship management are really one and the same.

In other words, growing your business means going beyond traditional sales techniques. It means establishing and building good rapport with clients, referral sources and other business associates.

FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS

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At their core, business relationships are still human relationships. Your BlackBerry or iPhone may be full of "contacts," but if you only call to sell your services, those individuals may start avoiding you. Healthy and productive relationships are a two-way street, involving trust, honesty and flexibility.

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With a little strategic thought and a healthy dose of networking, you can grow your business by remembering other people's needs. Here are some tips to help you establish meaningful business relationships:

* Network, network, network. Almost any activity--joining a group or professional association, attending a workshop or conference, even mingling at a luncheon or cocktail party--is an opportunity to introduce yourself to people who could directly or indirectly help your business. And remember: Your networking energy is wasted if you don't follow up with those you meet, so always ask to trade business cards.

* In any exchange, ask how you can help that person--then shut up and listen. Refrain from dominating the conversation. Instead, invest some time in asking prospective clients or contacts what they do and how you can help them grow their business or achieve some goal. You may be surprised at what you learn and at the positive impression you make.

* Be a matchmaker. Appraisal professionals often serve a wide range of industries, so identify and connect clients and colleagues who could do business together. (Before you know it, you'll likely find yourself on the receiving end of such goodwill.) Of course, your reputation is on the line when you recommend or refer someone, so it's best to vouch only for those you know and trust.

* Offer helpful information. If you see a great article or find a useful website, it takes almost no effort to pass it on to a new contact or client with a personal note or e-mail. Sending value-added content tends to work best, but even a simple gesture like a holiday card is a good way to ensure that contacts remember your name--and your services.

Expanding on this last point, it's important to follow up with new contacts within two to three days of an initial introduction. From there, hold yourself accountable for fostering the relationship by personally connecting with contacts at least four times a year.

What means of communication works best for such relationship building? Well, that depends on the individual contact.

NETWORKING KNOW-HOW

The best teachers understand that reaching many different students requires a variety of teaching styles. For instance, many students can just read the textbook, but some need audio or visual reinforcement to understand the material. In a similar vein, the communication method that connects with one client may be ineffective with the next.

Bear the following in mind with each client or contact on your list:

* The digital divide -- If the contact is young and/or tech-savvy, then e-mail, e-zines, social media and other helpful websites are great, but these may not be as effective for reaching some older clients or certain types of businesses. And when using social-networking websites, especially professional-networking sites like LinkedIn, it's important to decide whether your approach to building connections is based on quantity or quality. For some, it's purely a numbers game: The more people I have in my network, the more business opportunities I create, the thinking goes. However, for more customer-service-minded users, LinkedIn connections are simply extensions of active or very promising relationships. Weigh these approaches against your business model and determine what makes sense for you.

* Phone and snail mail -- Making a phone call or sending a handwritten note are good ways to stand out in an increasingly digital world. Even for computer-literate contacts, receiving a more personalized message is so unique that it becomes memorable.

* Lunch, with a side of firm handshake--Lastly, don't forget to make time for lunch, a drink or other face-to-face opportunities. A 10-minute conversation over coffee can often be the deciding factor that turns a mere business acquaintance into an engaged customer.

CULTIVATE REFERRAL SOURCES

Clients give you business, but it's smart to cultivate relationships that can deliver multiple clients, year-in and year-out. This requires some strategic thinking on your part about your business, the business and real estate climate in your area, and your target market.

For example, businesses often seek commercial appraisals when change occurs, so explore relationships with people who know about new or expanding businesses. They may include:

* Bankers -- Identify bankers who cater to your target market as many businesses will require outside financing for new ventures.

* Attorneys -- Find attorneys who specialize in incorporations and establishing other business entities, such as limited partnerships and LLCs.

* Accountants -- Most small businesses cannot afford financial consultants, so they often rely on their accountant for advice about growing their business.

These same referral sources can also help generate business leads for residential appraisals, as can the homeowners themselves who currently use your services.

MAKE RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT A PRIORITY

Time management and prioritization are the linchpins of business productivity. It's vital for business owners to make relationship management a daily priority.

Stephen Covey, the best-selling author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," famously demonstrates the principle of prioritization with different sized rocks and a jar. The big rocks represent your stated priorities, and the tiny pebbles represent all the smaller, less important daily tasks. If you let the jar fill up first with the pebbles, it's difficult to wedge in the big rocks. However, if you place the big rocks in the jar first, the pebbles fill in easily around the larger rocks.

Consider making relationship management a "big rock" on your daily schedule. Block out time to make proactive phone calls, send e-mails, schedule a client lunch, update your business blog, send a Twitter tweet, update your LinkedIn or Facebook page or attend a networking event. Try committing yourself to making 20 of these relationship-building initiatives each week.

The bottom line: Relationship management isn't difficult. However, it does require strategic and tactical planning, follow-through and a time commitment. In business--as in life--strong and healthy relationships can see you through the ups and downs, so remember: Time spent cultivating relationships is time well spent.

Business intelligence for appraisers

Rob Engelman, president of Engelman Management Group, provides marketing and management leadership through contract consulting and "best practices" seminars. He is the proud co-author of "That Was Zen, This Is Wow--232 Ideas for Transforming Your Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary."
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Title Annotation:MARKET place
Author:Engelman, Rob
Publication:Valuation Insights & Perspectives
Date:Mar 22, 2010
Words:1205
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