Is becoming friends with your clients good for business?

Corporates have a different take on this subject – and that is not what this blog is about.  This post is written in sympathy or empathy for the confused entrepreneur. 

The person who vacillates between accepting client’s friend requests on their personal Facebook profile and then on a ‘bad day’ declines the outreach of connectivity. 

The question always seems to be – when do I keep it personal and when do I keep it professional.  We’ll here’s my very personal take on the matter.  You’re in the business of building relationships and relationships are a personal thing.  What keeps the client coming back to you – their relationship with you.  Why do they use you and not another company or someone else?  The short answer to that question is because they’ve made a personal connection with you – or they think they have… and they in turn think that you’ve made a personal connection with you and hence why they’ve opened their pocket to give you their hard earned cash. 

The goal of the self-employed is to find clients and associates who are drawn to their product, service, culture or concept in general.  In this day and age it’s all about winning friends, fans and followers.   Let’s be frank – these days it’s not about what you know – it’s about who you know. 

The move to support entrepreneurs in South Africa alone – let alone the world is a huge push – it’s imperative actually – a must in today’s economy and unemployment status throughout the world. 

So if this is the world we live in – and there’s soon to be an entrepreneurial business on every corner doing the same thing that you do – how are you going to differentiate  yourself in your market?  Service – yes – that’s an equalizer….quality – that’s your entry ticket into the game – so please don’t kid yourself… experience – yes for sure – but that’s a game of one-up-man-woman-ship that you don’t really want to get into ….PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS I tell you… it’s a game changer… trust me!

What does that call for you to do?  Well as a starter – it calls for authenticity… it calls for honesty…it calls for transparency…and here’s the clincher – CONSISTENCY… I could go on and on – but I guess you get the picture – it reads like the criteria for good mental health doesn’t it?  Good mental health translates into a balanced life with healthy relationships.   No – I’m not a shrink – but I’ve had my fair share of bad relationships and what’s more is I’ve been in the communications industry long enough to see how bad relationships affects client relationships and ultimately loosing clients, retrenching staff and resulting in low morale and broken families. 

The long and the short of it is that if you have a healthy strong relationship with a client they will send all their business your way – and they’ll tell their family and associates about you and so your network grows until you reach a tipping point in your business. 

So – the dream is happy, healthy, strong relationships with your clients and associates/service providers… how that translates into daily living:  (note this precludes professional services to some degree – but perhaps these service providers could learn a thing or two about being a bit more friendlier – more human and engagin

Consistent communication – in writing and telephonically.  If you start out friendly – don’t go all hard-ass when you’re             addressing a key issue.  Be consistent in your tone, style and manner of communication.  That goes for digital, print, press and personal emails and newsletters… the danger of lack of consistency – your clients and associates are going to think you’re a moody pain in the butt or worse yet – they’ll start answering you in the same moody tone you’re projecting – and that there is the start of the relationship going down-hill.    Another bug bear is folk who start out all friendly and then change the tone to cold aloof professional speak… you on the receiving end are left wondering what happen to the good thing we had going?  Again a point where the relationship starts changing. 

Keep a data base on your clients and associates – know when it’s their birthday at the very least, know when they’re sick, or when they are going through a personal tough time, when their kid is graduating or finishing matric or when they’re about to welcome their first grandchild into this world – and send them the appropriate gift or card.  Not only is it good manners, but it shows us you’re human and take an interest in me barring what money I spend with you. 

To friend or not friend | to follow or not to follow | to like or not to like – these are questions that can be a worry.  My thoughts on this are again – if you’re in a networking, casual service or experiential environment – they experience you personally… they are doing business with you – not your business name.  They will want to get to know you and will go to your business profile for company announcements, special deals, advice and tips and added value.  Can you add this onto your own personal page – yes – by all means – as your company profile – yes.  Now you start building your person as the expert in their field. 

So how do you avoid the crazies out there… the people who come onto your personal profile and start asking for freebies, question your ethics due to visual proof of  you being human and enjoying a glass of wine with friends.  The answer is to make use of the privacy settings on your profile pages.  Facebook in particular is quite good about this – here you can group people and communicate to separate groups on your personal page.  You can also adjust tagging capacities and mentions,  even posting capacities – so that you basically approve everything before it is shared publically for all to see.  Is it a pain to do – potentially yes?  Is it worth the time and effort taken to do it – yes in my opinion – worth its weight in gold.  

But here’s the thing – doing business with a company name – is just that…a company name.  You are blessed to have the folk engaging with you – growing your contact and connection base.  Your business page is there to build your business profile.  Your personal page is there to build your personal profile.  The day you decided to be a business owner is the day you went from being private person to a public person – from a media point of view anyway.  

Communication is a minefield of feelings and emotions – words don’t come easy for some and for some – their programming demands that they communicate in a certain tone / manner / style – that could be damaging in their business.  Communication can evoke love, hate, resentment, jealousy, heartache, pain, hurt, suffering – the gauntlet is long and wide – results vary – from success to unfriending and loss of business.  Choose wisely and be consistent and if you’re unsure – elicit help from a business coach or marketing specialist.  In the meantime – keep it real.   Oh and in answer to the initial question of – is becoming friends with your clients  good for business – in my book the simple answer to that question is a resounding yes!

  You are welcome to share your thoughts with me on