“Hey Sam, how’s Spencer doing? And how does Holly like being a big sister?”

As Sam, an industry colleague, answered my questions with a huge smile on his
face, I could not help but notice the quizzical look on our fellow colleague Patty’s face.

Later, Patty pulled me aside and said, “It’s been a while since you’ve talked to Sam, right?”

“At least two months,” I said.

Then she asked me how I remembered the names of his six-month-old son and two-year-old daughter.

Patty told me that she was simply not a “kid person” — and even though she sees Sam almost every day, she had no idea what his kids’ names were.

“How sad,” I thought.

Patty, Sam, and I run in the same industry circles. I see them two to three times a year. But Patty and Sam work closely together. Patty has been in meetings and at business lunches and even social events where Sam has talked about his new baby boy. Yet she never bothered to remember the baby’s name. This isn’t just a social faux pas. It’s a big business mistake.

Building strong relationships is one of the most important business tools you can master. When you have good relationships, running a business is much easier. People respond to you faster and are willing to go the extra mile for you.

Once word was out that I was starting my own business, I received nearly one hundred e-mails and phone calls from industry colleagues offering assistance. These offers included advertising my business to their customers, copywriting, product development, and brainstorming.

Over the years, I have cultivated numerous business relationships. I recently examined them and tried to figure out what made them work. Here’s what I found:

The 10 Best Business Relationship Building Tips for 2010 and Beyond!

1. Know something personal about each person you do business with.

Some people don’t believe in mixing business with pleasure. But your business should be your pleasure!

Think about how much time you spend on your business. You can make it much nicer when you know what’s important to your colleagues.

For those who have kids, there is nothing more important to them. So make an effort to know their children’s names. And if a colleague is an avid golfer or tennis player, ask how his game is going.

This kind of small talk doesn’t have to monopolize the entire conversation. But it is a great way to start off a business lunch or meeting, especially if you have not seen the person in a while.

2. Always be sincere.

Has this ever happened to you? You are at a conference, and you meet someone in your industry. Your new acquaintance initiates a business card exchange, and says, “I’ll give you a call next week.” You know that you have no intention of cultivating a relationship with this person, but you say, “Sure. Call me anytime.” And you spend the next two weeks dodging his phone calls… until he finally realizes he’s wasting his time.

If you hit it off with someone at an industry event and you think they could be a good business connection, go ahead and exchange cards. But it’s really okay not to. And if someone asks if they can call and you know you are not interested — tell them up front. Be polite and respectful, but never give the impression that you are going to do something when you know you will not.

3. Respond to colleagues in a timely manner.

We are all busy. And someone else’s biggest priority is usually not yours. However, if you agree to do something for someone, do it in a timely manner.

Recently, a colleague wrote a book and wanted some feedback on his first chapter. Unfortunately, his request went onto my junk e-mail folder. When I saw the request three days later, I immediately sent him an e-mail explaining what had happened and told him I would read the chapter right away and send him my comments.

It was 11:00 p.m. when I saw the request, but I still read the chapter and sent off my comments just before midnight. Yes, I would rather have done it in the morning. But I knew this was important to him. We had been colleagues for 10 years. We had worked on multiple projects together, and he’d never missed a deadline.

Sure enough, he was online and sent me a big thank you as soon as he received
my e-mail.

4. Always arrive on time.

Fashionably late does not exist in business. Showing up late for business meetings or lunches tells the other people that you don’t respect their time and that you think your time is more valuable. It also makes them worry that the project you’re working on with them won’t get done on time.

5. Never use your children as an excuse.

Many times, the reason you’re late with a report or late for a meeting has something to do with your children. Maybe one of them isn’t feeling well… or they missed the school bus and you had to give them a ride.

Regardless of the reason, never walk into a business meeting that you are late for and announce that the dog ate Bobby’s homework and you spent an hour helping him redo the assignment. Simply apologize for being tardy, ask what you missed, and move on.

There will be times when real emergencies arise while you’re in the middle of something at work. When they do, it is perfectly fine to let your colleagues know that you need to leave because your child needs you.

6. Be positive.

No one likes to be around captious people. Aside from the fact that they take the fun out of things, their negativity can be draining and counterproductive. A study published inthe Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, for example, shows that positive people accomplish more than negative people.

7. Know something about your potential business associate’s company.

If you are off to meet with a potential business associate, make sure you’ve done your homework. Understand his company’s main function and core competencies. Know how long they have been in business. Have a basic understanding of how you can work together. With the Internet, all of this information is just a keyboard away.

8. Never, ever gossip.

Becoming known as a gossip is the fastest way to destroy business relationships. Regardless of your skill set, no one will want to work with you. Gossip not only takes up valuable time, it can destroy your career.

9. Give more than you get.

Karma does exist. If you are known as the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) type, you need to work on changing your image. When you are willing to help others without asking for anything in return, your efforts come back to you ten-fold. Helping a business colleague without the expectation of payback will always be beneficial to you in the end.

10. Just say no.

Being a working mom, I know what it’s like to try to please everyone. However, there are times when saying no to a request in business is better than saying yes. If your plate is full and you know that you will not be able to honor the request in a satisfactory manner, don’t do it. If you know the outcome will be substandard, you are at risk of hindering your credibility, disappointing your colleagues, and missing deadlines on projects you’re already involved in.

By saying no, your colleagues will respect you for your honesty and commitment to finishing what you’ve started.

Make it your goal this year to work on this vital business building skill. Improving
your relationships with business partners, colleagues, and all those you work with
will bring many rewards.


“Bob Irish’s piece today reminded me of an adage a friend taught me a decade ago: ’90 percent of the things you worry about never happen.'”

Hank Bordowitz

The Bordowitz Media Werx

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO's Edge and WorkingMomsOnly.com.