Most creatives tend to focus on their technical skills, and neglect their people and relationship marketing skills. By nature, creatives and designers struggle to balance the two because they are, more often than not, introverts.
While sharpening your technical skills is important, your people skills are going to give you the best returns. If you work hard on fine-tuning those skills and build your ability to engage with people, you will open yourself up to more leadership opportunities and a growing client list. Tom and Mike share experiences and insights they’ve gathered over the years.
If you are in a rush, here are the key takeaways from this article:
- Give a face to your brand
- Start with baby steps
- Nice guys or girls don’t finish last
- Create multiple different touchpoints to build trust
- And finally, don’t be too pushy or sales-y
For all the juicy stories that Tom and Mike have never shared before, click on the topics above or keep scrolling.
Tom & Mike’s experience
Over the years, Mike has learnt that sharpening your skills in different softwares such as Photoshop and Illustrator isn’t necessarily going to level up your business. It’s your people skills that will help you in the long run. He swears by the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ where Dale Carnegie states that 85% of your success will come from your human engineering, your ability to lead and engage with people. The remaining 15% of your success will come from your technical skills.
Tom and Mike both try to do this with their personal brands – they try to be as personable as possible. For them, the decision to be caring and unafraid to put themselves out there has been very deliberate. But interestingly, this is what most people struggle with.
From a company standpoint, when Tom was strategizing around the launch of his company, Design Cuts, he was very deliberate about wanting to be the best in his space. He realised that most of his competitors were mostly faceless companies – this proved to be a golden opportunity for him. He didn’t want his company to be perceived as impersonal by his audience. So from day one, he decided that they were going to put their faces out there. They were going to be silly, vulnerable and truly authentic. They decided to connect with people and build lasting relationships. Not only was it fun, but it was also effective because no one in the space was doing it.
When there’s a face associated with a company, clients are more comfortable putting their faith and trust into it. Tom and Mike equally benefited from each other’s client base because they were both able to vouch for each other’s skills. And because their clients trusted them, they got new projects to work on.
5 Strategic Ways to Approach Relationship Marketing
Give a face to your brand
Don’t be afraid to be the face of your brand. Brands with generic logos are easily forgotten because they get lost in a sea of other brands and businesses. Unless you’re a highly recognisable brand like Nike or Apple, a logo will not differentiate you from your competitors.
Some brands have been successful at building a deeply loyal audience because of the faces associated with the brands: Even though Tim Cook has been at the helm of the brand for many years, people still consider Steve Jobs to be the face of Apple. Similarly, Bill Gates hasn’t been running Microsoft for at least 15 years after he decided to focus more on philanthropy, but everyone still associates him with Microsoft computers. Another example is Jack Ma. Although he stepped down as chairman, he is still seen as the face of Alibaba.
In the world of sports, Nike and Under Armour pay a lot of marketing dollars to individuals to be the face of the company because people can’t build a personal one-on-one relationship with their logos as deeply as they can in their affiliation with LeBron James or The Rock.
Another thing worth noting here is that this strategy is effective for companies at all scales – big or small. Tom’s business partner Matt ran a small agency for many years. And because he was the face of his agency, his clients trusted him and he was able to be very successful. Even the local cafe he grabbed his coffee was called Nikki’s which is run by a lady called Nikki. She gets many customers because everyone trusts her. And you see this play out across every industry and scale of business.
Ultimately it isn’t about B2B or B2C, but about P2P which stands for people-to-people. Every business has a face, whether it’s of a founder such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates; or of an influencer such as LeBron James and The Rock.
So, now that the importance of being the face of your company is established, how can you get out of your shell? The answer is, slowly lean into the uncomfortable consistently. Start small by taking one step at a time. If you’re terrified of putting yourself out there in any propensity, Tom’s step-by-step guide might come in handy:
Stage 1: Do something as simple as using your name for your Instagram bio instead of something generic. You’ll notice how people will be more open to responding to you and trusting you.
Stage 2: Put up a picture of yourself on Instagram. This will allow people to associate a face with your brand, and immediately help build trust.
Stage 3: Introduce yourself in the bio. Talk about what you do, your hobbies and that you would be happy to connect via DM or comments.
Stage 4: Put up a selfie or a video. If you feel uncomfortable about it, add it as a story instead of a post so it doesn’t occupy permanent space on your profile.
Stage 5: Make a video of yourself and post it on your Instagram page even if it isn’t perfect. And try doing it in front of people as the next step. Once you’re comfortable with that, consider doing it in front of a large or medium-sized crowd.
The basic premise is that the only way to get over your fear is by doing it consistently in small ways. It’s like going to the gym and progressively getting better. So if you’re at stage one or two, give yourself some time to settle in and get comfortable.
How Mike overcame his fear of being on video: When Mike left his agency two years ago, he left with the intention of maximising his book ‘Burn Your Portfolio,’ starting a YouTube channel and building thought leadership. It was almost six months before he decided to make his first video because he was afraid of how he’d look on camera. And even though his first few videos aren’t perfect, he never deleted them up because the content was good. He would shoot for two hours or more to get a three or two-minute video and do multiple retakes. But over time, and with a lot of practice, he is now able to shoot without getting nervous. Because of the number of hours he put into speaking in front of the camera, he is now able to speak in front of a gathering of 2000 people.
Start with baby steps
If this makes you uncomfortable, break things down to the bare minimum and start implementing them into your life gradually. Take baby steps into the next stage of discomfort. Don’t skip ahead into something that is too terrifying. Make yourself do something uncomfortable and do it over and over again till it becomes mildly comfortable. Move into the next stage after that.
Read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People: Mike recommends taking one principle a day and putting it to practice. Each principle is about 2-3 chapters long and is supplemented by stories and quotes. One is about smiling and how it can touch people and help you build trust with them, another is about asking people questions – take simple principles like these and practice them for a day before moving onto the next. Practice each principle for about two to three months and over time, you’ll notice that they’ve become a part of who you are.
You will also realise that it’s no different than learning a software tool like the pen or pencil tool in Photoshop. In fact, it’s probably a lot easier. If something feels intimidating to you, pare it down to its most basic and start there.
Pro tip: If you’re in an elevator, don’t look down at your feet the whole time. Look up, make eye contact with the person standing next to you and smile at them. While it may seem scary to do, it will become a lot easier once you practice it often.
Nice guys or girls don’t finish last
You have to go in with pure intent, and not only to sell. Build a relationship that has value whether there is a transaction related to it or not.
Tom recently posted on his Twitter about being nice as one of the greatest business strategies. Several people wrote back to him saying the opposite, and that being nice in business makes you a doormat, while some agreed with him and said that being nice doesn’t necessarily mean being a pushover. You can be incredibly nice, but also be a confident, assertive, and professional leader.
Mike’s approach towards relationship building: For a decade, most of Mike’s business was based on building relationships. So his first three clients were friends of his from the ABC family, Warner Brothers, Sony and TDK. So he had four initial clients who were all his friends and the rest came from their referrals. His strategy was to just be a nice guy. He would go to their office, take them out to lunch and start talking and building relationships with people. After this meeting, he would go home and email all the new people he met. Aside from that, he would friend them on Facebook and add them on LinkedIn.
When one of his key clients left ABC, he thought he would lose all the business coming from the ABC family. But in fact, the same client who started working at TV Guide soon after offered him projects to work on because they needed to outsource some things. This pattern helped him expand his pool of relationships with these specific companies and over time, his business and referrals grew.
While it was all a part of the business-building strategy, he went into it with the mindset of becoming friends with people. He didn’t try to sell anything to them because he hates being sold to. Having a pure intent in terms of friendship is very powerful.
If someone doesn’t have work to offer but you’ve built a solid friendship with them, that’s an emotional return on investment. That’s a big win.
Over the past 15 years, Mike’s built a business of over $30 million, and he has always maintained his nice-guy approach. He never became the hard-nosed businessman who steamrolls his clients and relationships so he can be the biggest gorilla in the room. People always thought of him as friendly and sociable, no matter where he went. It’s the way he chooses to run his business. He believes that the biggest benefit of being a nice guy is that he is able to build long-lasting relationships that have tremendous value. If he doesn’t get work from someone, but he is able to build a solid friendship with them, he views it as an emotional return on investment. The biggest win here is that you go home feeling like a good, decent person who did a good job.
Create multiple different touchpoints to build trust
Follow the rule of seven: The rule of seven in marketing or branding is that somebody has to have seven touchpoints with your brand before they convert to brand loyalty. This is the generic rule of seven in marketing. Think of seven different touchpoints where a potential client could be interacting with your product.
Don’t just take them out for lunch, follow them on LinkedIn, email and other social media platforms. Write to them saying you had a great time and would love to catch up again. This will allow you to be on their radar in a positive way.
For example: If you see a giant Nike billboard while you’re driving, that’s touchpoint number one. Then you open your Instagram and see a Nike ad, that’s touchpoint number two. Touchpoint number three is when you watch LeBron James putting on his Nike shoes just before a big game. You keep going down the list and realise that Nike has created seven or more touchpoints for you to interact with.
Say someone refers a person to you. You send them an email saying – hey, thanks for referring Sally to me. Now you have touchpoint number one with Sally. You ask Sally to check out your website and the work you’ve done and ask to set up a phone call the next day. So Sally goes to your website to view your work – that’s touchpoint number two. Your phone call the next day is touchpoint number three. Then you set up a discovery meeting for their project, that’s touchpoint number four. A proposal meeting would be touchpoint number five. Now, this is where a lot of people go wrong in relationship-based marketing, they jump to the proposal too fast. If your client isn’t ready for your proposal, you haven’t had enough touchpoints for them to trust you.
As Gary V says – there are too many people trying to close on the first date.
That’s how people think and act in business. They try to get a proposal meeting and close before creating more than seven touchpoints for your client. Building a relationship with your client is a long process. You can’t cram all seven touchpoints into one day and expect to close business the very next day. You can’t go to lunch and get the project the next day, it’s about building touchpoints that over time turn into trust and eventually good business.
And finally, don’t be too pushy or sales-y
Going by Gary V’s slightly crass analogy, don’t try to close on the first date. Be personable and audit your client’s surroundings. Understand their behaviour and their pain points, calibrate your strategy to it as much as you can.
Try not to be generic or pushy like a sleazy salesman. Understand that it’s all about them and what makes them tick. Make them feel like you value them and that you’re building a relationship with them with the best intentions.
The biggest takeaway here is that we are people, no matter what we represent as a business, it’s always going to be one person dealing with another. And ultimately your ability to build an honest relationship with your client is what is going to help you land work from them.