March 17, 2014
Talking Points

Putting people first to build your business

Bernard L. Kavaler

It's not about marketing. It's not about branding, labels, logos, likes, tweets, websites or apps. It's about relationships.

Why would a public relations professional suggest that marketing is not the center of the universe? Because, as much as marketing matters — and it surely does — it is the relationships that will most enduringly make or break a business. That, too, is communication — a combination of back to basics and back to the future, proof positive that little things do indeed make a big difference.

Here are a few tips on how to build better relationships, both with clients and employees:

1. Say thank you. All that stuff your mom told you — well, she was right. Give serious consideration to being considerate, and then do it. Not everyone does. Turns out it is not only good etiquette, it is good business.

2. Be helpful. That may mean understanding an employees' personal situation and demonstrating flexibility, following through on community service, or cutting a client some slack in tough times. Will you get burned? Perhaps. More often than not, you will be appreciated. Even if you're not, you should derive personal satisfaction, and Mom would be proud.

3. Be persistent, but be nice. Repeated reminders are often necessary, driven by overdue invoices, delayed deliverables or unsatisfactory results. None are a license to be nasty. Raising the volume may get results in a particular instance, but earns repeat business much less frequently.

4. Use technology to build relationships, not replace them. Staying in touch with clients and customers is easier than ever, but texts, emails and e-newsletters should not replace face-to-face merely because they are more efficient or economical. View social media and the latest technology as value added, not replacement parts.

5. It's better to give than receive. As true in business as in life. Dick Gregory once observed that “one of the things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people.” Seen from another perspective, it has been said that “what goes around, comes around.”

6. Old fashioned can still be fashionable. The trend is called “vintage” — rediscovering value in the traditional. And it is as right for business as it is for style. Some time-tested approaches remain as effective as ever. Determine which apply to your business, and hang on to them. Your cutting edge status and forward thinking don't diminish — everything old does not need to be jettisoned to be what's new.

The oft-repeated phrase “be nice to people on your way up because you might meet them on your way down” is truer than we'd like to believe.

Businesses can reinvent themselves, make mid-course corrections, seize unexpected opportunities, and break new ground. All of which is made easier — or made possible at all — because of the good will that has been accumulated along the way.

Whether business challenges lead to a soft landing and rebound or being shattered to smithereens often has more to do with demeanor than destiny. Opting for the “might makes right” approach can swiftly turn into “how the mighty have fallen.”

So, by all means, freshen up the logo, target the audience and tighten the branding. But don't forget the line item that may be unseen on the balance sheet. Relationships ultimately define the bottom line.

Bernard Kavaler is founding principal of Express Strategies, a Hartford-based strategic communications, advocacy writing and public policy consulting business at

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