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Massage Today
December, 2015, Vol. 15, Issue 12

Building a People-Powered Business by Cultivating Relationships

By Marshall Dahneke and Lynda Solien-Wolfe, LMT

Order stacks of business cards, put on your sharpest outfit, and shake as many hands as possible. If this classic vision of networking fills you with dread, we have good news for you — you can skip it.

Sure, traditional networking might bring short-term gains. But to build a successful, and fulfilling career, focus instead on cultivating relationships. Long-term, sincere connections propel your business forward and ultimately make life worth living. Harnessing the power of people in this way relies on authenticity; there's no single way to proceed. We'll explain how we've forged these connections in our own careers and outline some guiding principles. But in the end, "networking" only works if you honor your own style and strengths.

The Un-Networking Approach

We're not suggesting transforming every business associate into a best friend. Over time, a professional contact might cross into your personal sphere. However, this won't happen every time and isn't required. What we're emphasizing is this: People form the backbone of your life and your business. You need a support system to succeed in either. To begin building it, turn the tables on networking, focusing on what you can do for someone else rather than what they can do for you. This can be as simple as treating a client well without immediately expecting a big tip or referral, or as grand as making a cross-country trip for an event important to a collaborator.

As the great Stephen Covey said, "Empathy takes time, and efficiency is for things, not people." View each interaction with others through a long-term lens, recognizing it as a contribution into your bank of goodwill. The return on investment? A powerful community of people willing to help you because of all the support you've given them.

people relationship - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Lynda's Un-Network

I'm a natural people person. In The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell describes three personality types: mavens, salesmen, and connectors. I'm often called a connector. I know a lot of people — and enjoy introducing them to others with complementary goals and interests. The entire foundation of my business rests on relationships I've built. When I meet someone, I almost automatically consider how I can help him or her. I genuinely, sincerely want to improve people's lives, whether by bringing them pain relief through massage or supporting their growing business.

When I was working as a business development consultant, a well-respected massage therapist and athletic trainer made a video and placed my client's product on his cover. I flew to the National Athletic Trainers' Association show in Kansas City to meet with him and even purchase some videos. In this way, I demonstrated that I didn't just want to take from him — I wanted to build a solid connection. Now, 20 years later, our relationship has flourished. If I needed something, I could pick up the phone and reach him, and vice versa.

In my massage therapy business, I incorporate small gestures to show clients I care. I make notes about their health issues, their families, and outside interests, and check in between appointments. I have one couple who have been clients for 20 years. I sent cards and gifts to their kids when they graduated high school and college. The clients didn't expect that, but they certainly appreciated it. I know they'd never hesitate to send a friend or family member to me. I call this getting "sticky" with your relationships. What you're building are "PECs" (personal-emotional connections) that really put the magic in your relationships and earn you the trust of others. This goodwill serves you especially well in intimate, wellness-focused massage therapy, but this helps in any field, and also carries over into the rest of your life.

Marshall's Un-Network

Lynda may be people-focused, but my personality style leads me to emphasize the tasks and results necessary for good business. Throughout my career, I've found ways to turn these tasks into opportunities for establishing and deepening connections. I start by scheduling time on my calendar to be with people — walking the floors of the plant to talk to operators, eating lunch with employees, making visits to business connections when I travel. During these interactions, someone might give me an idea or share a thought that turns into a business strategy. Also, by listening closely, I learn about personal needs I can easily fill.

Take the time I discovered the challenging situation of a family I knew in Indiana. They wanted their sick mother to stay at home; I was working for a company that made hospital beds, and I delivered one personally. From then on, I was practically an extended member of their family. Or, the time during one of my regular rounds when an acquaintance jokingly mentioned needing help weeding a flowerbed. I showed up with a local teenager and spent three hours plucking dandelions from among daisies and marigolds. That certainly blew this person away and provided evidence of my investment; the work we did together afterward was enhanced because of it.

Relationship-Building Toolkit

We don't think networking "tips and tricks" work without solid connections underneath them. So instead, we offer these guiding principles to relationship-building:

  • Authenticity: Don't fake it. People can tell if you're feigning interest to earn their business. There's truth to the adage: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • Surprise: Do the unexpected. Even small things — handwritten thank-you notes on personalized stationery — count. In fact, sometimes simpler and heartfelt gestures work better. You're building a relationship, not buying one with pricey gifts.
  • Follow-through: Honor your commitments and customs. Say you start acknowledging clients' birthdays with cards or Facebook posts; be prepared to continue doing so. We have a fun tradition with a colleague we both like and respect of sharing a dessert at a particular industry event. Repeating this custom helps us maintain and deepen this relationship.
  • Focus: When you're with people, really be with them, not multitasking. The closer you listen, the more you'll understand their motives and needs, and they'll clue into yours. You'll be able to help before they even ask; in return, your community will come to your aid in ways you couldn't have anticipated.
  • Matchmaking: Consider ways your connections can fill each other's needs and introduce them. You'll provide two people you know with valuable resources and stay intertwined in a way that ensures they'll think of you when a new opportunity arises.

When you reflect on your career and your life, you won't remember the extra meeting you attended or project you completed. Instead, you'll recall what you did for someone else, the difference you made in their life and the difference other people made in yours. We strive to do well in our careers in order to do good in the world, and finding ways to integrate these two can add daily joy to the journey. Conduct all your interactions with this knowledge and intention, and you'll not only soar professionally, you'll look back years later with little regret and greater joy and satisfaction.

Marshall Dahneke, CEO, is responsible for global management of Performance Health's business, including people, talent and strategy development and execution to better serve customers and promote growth. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Master of Business Administration, both from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Lynda Solien-Wolfe is Vice President, Massage and Spa at Performance Health. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and has been in private practice in Merritt Island, Florida for more than 20 years. Lynda graduated from Space Coast Health Institute in West Melbourne, FL.


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