On the train, I watched the sun rise from inky black still-night to the glow of autumn sunshine over a cool morning, with rich hues of gold backlighting trees. I took the 5:30 a.m. out of Windsor, Ontario, headed for Toronto, to meet a potential client in person. Time to sit together, to hear each other’s voices, as we noticed the nuance of glance and expression, of eye contact and chemistry.
Then, at day’s end, the 5:30 p.m. back home from the cosmopolitan Canadian city, the train barreled southwest as the sun faded behind the trees, creating silhouettes of blackness against an ink-dark sky. Two ends of the spectrum, the effort put forth to secure a new client.
With all the technology we have today at our fingertips, good old-fashioned face-to-face relationships cannot be replaced. In fact, in an era of quick hits, easy likes, and too-fast emails, having time in person with another human is more important than any other effort to secure new business.
We’d been in conversation for half a year, and I felt hopeful as I purchased the round trip train ticket and planned for a full day away from the office. And yet, I had no guarantees. Investing in the effort to meet a client on their turf is an essential step in determining if we should go forward and begin to work together.
In 13 years of business, I’ve learned that nothing is guaranteed, and nothing good comes easy. I want to work with the Toronto client. But that doesn’t mean we will. If in the end, it doesn’t come through, it won’t be for lack of effort on our end.
First, we had calls and emails. Then I sent a proposal. Questions followed, seeking clarity.
And then there was a pause. When a client seeks to invest resources in an outside agency, it’s understandable for them to take their time to make sure the investment is a worthy one.
What if the money is for naught? What if it doesn’t work? What if we invest and we are no better off, no better known in the marketplace?
All very real concerns.
Years ago, I met a potential client at a conference in Wisconsin. She was based outside of Milwaukee and had partners in New England and Texas. She wanted to work with us, but her partners weren’t so sure. Could we meet in person, she asked?
Of course. But how?
This was early in my effort to build Your People LLC. I hadn’t yet landed opportunities to court out-of-state or cross-border clients. In turning to my wise father, an entrepreneur himself, I learned how valuable it is to put yourself in front of people.
When we meet in person, face to face, heart to heart, good things happen. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to skip a networking event, or move a client meeting to phone rather than get in the car and drive to them. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I resisted the urge to cancel and was infinitely glad I did.
The Wisconsin client came on – after I bought a plane ticket to fly to Milwaukee and meet with all three partners in the airport, and fly out two hours later. The most expensive and quick plane travel of my life to date, but entirely worth it.
You can’t put a price on the opportunity to have time to get to know one another.
Relationships are everything. I’ve talked to people on planes, shared stories with fellow guests at bed-and-breakfasts, struck up conversations with folks waiting in line to board a train or buy a coffee. We exchange business cards. We connect on social media. And years later, we feel like we know each other and have reason to interact or refer business back and forth or otherwise deepen the connection.
The Wisconsin client took me to Bali, Indonesia to blog and do photography for her. The contract was short-lived, but the relationship has endured. We still wave to each other on social media. And that experience was truly one-of-a-kind, opening doors to the next experience, and the next.
For the Toronto client, I knew that nothing would bloom if we did not spend time in the same space. And it had to be their space, if we were to benefit them. We must know our clients if we are to be effective for them.
When we bring on a client, our role is to build them up, boost their ability to succeed. And in doing so, we succeed.
I boarded the train, tired, in the still-night. I worked on my iPad as the train catapulted northeast hugging the shore of Lake Ontario. I watched the beautiful city silhouette unfold from the window of a taxi, seeing possibility in searing skyscrapers, meandering university campus, boulevards and museums.
We met. We shared lunch. I toured their landscape. I got to know their key players. I watched. I listened. I observed. I took mental notes. I answered questions. We talked longer than they had time for.
And then I left, letting things marinate on both ends, eager to continue the conversation.
The next step is still uncertain until it becomes clear, but I am optimistic. I slept once I crossed the border and drove home, and the next day, I penned handwritten thank you notes to every person I met on the visit, thanking them for their time and interest.
It’s encouraging and kind to receive a handwritten note. It says something about the character and focus of our business, of our corporate values.
I’ll nurture this relationship until the time is right to come together for the greater good, for mutual benefit.
This is how we do business. Without taking risks, we risk never creating greatness.
Lynne Golodner is founder and Chief Creative Officer of Your People LLC. She is also a Fulbright Specialist, author of 8 books and thousands of articles, and the mother of four teenagers.