Running any kind of business is hard.
When I was younger, I always wanted to run my own business but never thought that I had what it takes to do it. As a naturally shy person, I had visions of sitting at home and working from my own computer all day, and not having to commute or meet real people. I've managed to do achieve my goals but it took me many years to understand the one thing that underpinned the one thing that developed my business.
I'll take you back to 2008. My good friend Danielle and I recognised that our local village had no outlet for local businesses to market their goods and services. Danielle's more of a people person that myself. I'd rather sit behind a desk and do all the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Cut a long story short, we created a magazine called Rhiwbina Living. This, we decided, would help local businesses in getting their names out there. Starting the magazine from scratch was the hard bit. We literally had no product to sell to our first advertisers and they had to rely on our word that we were going to produce a first issue, and get it delivered. We had no capital, and very little experience.
Danielle did a lot of the talking to our advertisers and potential advertisers back then. She devoted time to speak to them, to find out about their businesses and to let them know how we could help if they needed it. She also took the time to people who she knew wouldn't advertise there and then. There was a genuine interest in each and every person she spoke to. She built bonds and friendships.
Three years into our business, we were ticking along fine when Danielle announced that she was taking maternity leave. I was left running the magazines on my own which I thought was manageable. But I failed to go and speak face-to-face with both our advertisers and potential advertisers. I hid behind my desk and wasted time pinging out emails and hoping that they would land.
Needless to say, advertising, which is our only source of revenue, began to dry up. It was only a matter of months before all the advertisers in the village that we were based, had pulled their adverts. I was left filling up the pages of our magazines with short stories and pointless features. When I look back, I cringe with embarrassment.
Then in 2015, Danielle announced that she was coming back to the business. Over breakfast in our local cafe, I had to show her the accounts for the years that she was away. It wasn't a pleasant experience. Within weeks, Danielle was back out, speaking to the people in our community, advertisers or not, and rebuilding those relationships.
Advertisers began coming back. Within a year, our publications had doubled in size. We started picking up awards. Our revenue doubled. But more importantly, our reputation began to be restored. For me personally, I was proud to put my name to my work and it became a pleasure to start helping local businesses again.
Developing meaningful relationships with members of your audience is key if you are looking to develop your brand, make sales and grow your business. A relationship is the one thing that underpins a good business. You wouldn't walk up to a complete stranger and start demanding that they buy something off you would you? Why would they? It takes time - and a good, trusting relationship.
Think of each relationship you have with a customer or potential customer as a friendship or even maybe a romantic connection. Take time to get to know them, even if they aren't going to buy off you. People prefer to buy off people they trust. Our advertisers buy advertising from us because they can trust us to do our very best to promote them. And that comes off the back of years of investing in these relationships.
Good relationships also help when it comes to settling any potential disputes. They can be handled with a deeper understanding from both sides, and there is a greater chance of the dispute being put behind you both and moving on sensibly.
Finally, as well as devoting time to your relationships, there are three other ways that they can be nourished:
- Keep open lines of communication. Don't be scared to clarify and inform.
- Show genuine appreciation and concern. People like to be listened to and it's your role to do that so that you can help them.
- Be realistic with your goals and deadlines. We aim to keep all of our advertisers aware of our deadlines so that they can plan more effectively.
I now take time to speak to my customers, something I thought I'd never do. Believe me, it does make one hell of a difference.
Patric Morgan is an award-winning publisher and blogger, and editor of Living Magazines Cardiff