How to Build Relationships Online…The Right Way – Annelise Worn

Business relationships are obviously different than personal relationships, but both are very important. In life, we look to connect with people that share similar interests, live close to us, or have kids the same age as us. But how do we go about initiating relationships with businesses, and more importantly, what criteria do you use to go about this?

Annelise Worn takes a creative approach to helping businesses with relationship building as part of their marketing plan. Learning how to foster customer loyalty and long-term engagement by providing information that is directly suited to your customer’s needs, will go a long way in helping you build trust and move the needle and drive sales.

Rich: Alright. My next guest is a business strategist, marketing mentor and marketing agency EO. Her work with clients lies in developing and implementing efficient, effective, high converting marketing strategies that actually move the needle. She supports entrepreneurs to transform their business and discover the profit and freedom they started it to achieve. And one of the areas she helps them with is relationship building, online and off. So let’s dive into it with Annelise Warren. Annelise, welcome to the show.

Annelise: Thank you so much for having me.

Rich: Glad you’re here. So let’s just start with, you’re running an agency, how did you get started in marketing and helping other companies with their business strategy?

Annelise: So about three and a half years ago we started our agency and that was going really well. And then I was speaking with – I’ve got three little kids – and so I was speaking with more mums who wanted what we had created for ourselves, which was working from home around the kids. Which seems really funny, right? That’s what most of us are doing now.  

And so I started teaching them how to DIY their own marketing. These were women who the business models that they were after, they weren’t going to hire a marketing agency, and they wanted something smaller scale. And so I started mentoring them and going down the strategy route, and it started from there.

Rich: Excellent. Now, like I said, I wanted to talk to you about relationship building. So I’d be curious to know how do you define it, and what are we looking to accomplish by doing relationship building in our work?

Annelise: Yeah, it’s one of those funny terms, isn’t it? Because all marketing should be based on true relationships. But primarily this is how I speak to my clients about building those connections online and really thinking about not how great their product and service is, but how it can serve their customer and how they can cultivate that relationship over the long term, rather than just ringing the bell and trying to sell their product.

Rich: Alright, so obviously business relationships look different than personal relationships. In personal relationships we’re looking to connect with people who we have mutual interests with, or we live near, or our kids are friends with their kids. So in business, how do you determine who we should be building relationships with?

Annelise: Well, I think it just goes right back to the start, and that it’s our ideal client, our avatar, whatever you want to call it. We will know who we are trying to serve, and we will know what we are, what problem we are solving. And those are the people that we want to be cultivating relationships with in terms of a client.

We can also look at it from the other end and be thinking who can we collaborate with or who can potentially fit, who else is potentially working with those types of clients who could be like a feeder in terms of giving us clients as well.

Rich: Well, that’s interesting. Let’s talk about that for a second. So I was thinking more about customer or client relationships, but you’re also talking about partnerships with other vendors. So what have you helped your clients with in terms of identifying some of those potential partners out there? And then how do you initiate that first step towards building a relationship with it? And if you have examples of like specific companies you’ve worked with, feel free to share those as well.

Annelise: Yeah, great. I think probably the best example is our own example. So our marketing agency works with home builders and trades. And so of course we’re looking to cultivate relationships with those people, but we also work with people like builders, business coaches, or with architects. So that if I’m working with a builders business coach, then their clients are the people that I want to be getting in touch with. And they’re probably more on the strategy of the operations, the mindset side of things. Whereas we are going to be building the actual website and helping them implement those strategies.

And so that kind of thing works very well, especially we offer referral fees as well. And we successfully have, that’s how we primarily get a lot of our work now because of what we’ve done. How I initially cultivated them relationships was actually, I did one season of a podcast. And so then it gave me an excuse to go and reach out and speak to these people without trying to sell, just to legitimately try and offer value to the people we were both trying to offer value to. And then now its three and a half years later, those relationships are still going.

Rich: That’s awesome. And certainly podcasting is one great way of building some of those relationships, rather than just outright asking people to refer business to where you are or doing something like that. It’s a great way to just kind of vet people, I would argue. And do you want to be working with these sort of people. If somebody’s starting from square one and starting a podcast may not be in their repertoire of skills, what are some other ways in which they might broach the subject of a partnership with a potential partner or a vendor?

Annelise: Yeah. I tell my clients to just literally start talking to people. And so in some cases, so I work with an interior stylist, for example, for her she’s trying to network with real estate agents so that she can style homes that are getting ready to be sold. She will drop gifts around or she will drop like a plant. I think it was last week she dropped cookies. Because at the moment it’s a bit tricky to say, “I want to take you out for coffee and show you how much money I can make you by increasing the perceived value of these homes.”

And so just connecting, just identifying who it is that you would like to work with and reaching out and saying, “I think there’s a mutually beneficial, you know, there could be some synergy here. Can we have a coffee? Can we jump on a Zoom call?” And even if that is too forward or people, I know I’m really protective of my time, so I’m not just going to jump on a call with just anybody. Then take it back and just send them something on LinkedIn, or just start that conversation and start qualifying them to see whether they’re going to be a good candidate to either refer, or a good candidate in terms of being a client. And so you will have that qualifying criteria based on what your ideal client or your ideal partner could will have.

Rich: And, you know, not to belabor the point. I’m just thinking about, if you’re just getting started and maybe you aren’t 100% clear on who your ideal customer is. Do you have any tips on, it sounds like you’ve worked with some startups, do you have any tips on how people might figure out who those people are? Do you go to the local Chambers of Commerce, or you look up online to find out where membership organizations might be and whether or not they have vendors and partners? Is that like some of the places that you might start that search, if you really are starting from square one?

Annelise: If you’re really starting from square one, then I would hope that you know what problem that you’re solving. At least that. And then you will know who that client is. In a lot of cases, your client is you. If you’re a coach or a consultant or something like that, I know that for me in my business, my client is me three years ago. So think about where are they hanging out online? What other brands do they like? Where are they? What are their frustrations? What are their needs? Just brainstorm a whole list of places and then go and find them on Facebook groups.

I mean, you can do local Chamber of Commerce and local things, but most of my clients – apart from the tradies, of course – they’re not local. And so they’re looking worldwide. And so it really is primarily going to be Facebook groups, and then they can just ask questions in those groups. They can go to LinkedIn and search and they can search by location, you search by their title, and then you can search by connection type.

And then the other way is on Instagram by having a look at the followers of the people that you want to, that you’re similar to. So look at your competitors on Instagram and who’s following them, and have a look at those people because they are likely going to be your ideal client. And you just have to start speaking to people and connecting with them to figure out who that is, if you don’t know already.

But you need to qualify them. So do they have the problem that you solve? That’s kind of number one. Can they afford your product or service? Are they looking for a solution? Because even if you sell something to do with weight loss and you have found someone who you would think that to lose weight, maybe that’s not where they’re at. Maybe they’re perfectly happy where they are right now, or they haven’t reached that point where they’ve decided that this is what I need to do. So they’re not. Even though they could be your client, they’re not your client yet because they’re not in the right head space.

So do they have your problem, the problem that you solve? Are they looking for a solution? Have they put money in that space before? Because it’s unlikely you’re going to find someone that has just discovered their problem. It’s probably more likely that they’ve tried a few things and they’ve been experiencing this thing for a little while. So just literally messaging people on whatever platform you’re on and sending them messages. I mean, we’re not doing unsolicited messages here, so connect and engage with people legitimately that you would like to develop this relationship with. When they come over and follow you, then send them a message. We’re not stalking.

Rich: Obviously you need to do a little bit of research here. And I’m thinking about my own business and the B2B space. I don’t really go out onto LinkedIn and pursue a lot of people, but I do know that can be a very effective technique. And often when people look to connect with me, I’ll see if it’s a relevant sort of thing, and then I’ll ask them, “What’s up? How can I help?” that sort of thing. And that’s the building blocks, I guess, of some of that outreach. So doing that identification.

On LinkedIn it seems easier in some ways, because you’re there for business. But you mentioned some tips that you’re using on Instagram about following hashtags. There’s always that moment where it’s like, okay, maybe you found a group where their conversations are correct or people who might be good prospects for you. Do you have any tips for that first step? Because I know it can be intimidating. Some people are a little bit shy, even on social media, about making that first step. Do you just come out and say, “Hey, listen, I’ve got a solution for you”, or do you send them to a website? Do you give them a white paper? What does relationship building look like in that stage, in your opinion?

Annelise: Yeah, you’re right on LinkedIn. It is definitely easier because people are there for business and they expect that. That’s what we’re talking about on Instagram and Facebook, people are relaxing, they’re looking at pictures of their nieces, they’re shopping. So you’re right, it is a different headspace.

So what I do when people start following me. So I have a Facebook group where I’m live every week and I just tell them about that. And that’s step one. And then at the end of that, I say, I’d love to learn more about you. And maybe 10% of people actually will respond and say something back, and then we can start the conversation from there. And once they start that conversation, I can send them something that’s going to be useful to them. So I have blog articles, I have podcast episodes, I’ve got different resources at my fingertips. So we need some form of content that we can say, “Oh, that’s great. I’ve just done an article on this. Here you go. Here’s the link.” And then you can follow up. “How did you find that? Do you need any help applying it? What existing problem are you struggling with in this area?”

 So it starts by not going, “I have this product or service, that’s going to be fantastic for you.” It starts by legitimately saying, “This is what I’m doing in this space. I’d like to know more about you”, and then qualifying them to see if they’ve got the need and serving them. Legitimately, not asking for anything back. Your thing that you’re giving them shouldn’t be hidden behind an email barrier, just send them a link to a blog. Or if you don’t have one, send them something that you’ve read recently.

  We don’t want to be sold to online. We love to buy, but we don’t want to be sold to. And so if there is someone who legitimately seems helpful and is providing value, then we’re going to build that reciprocity and we’re going to build that trust from the start. And then if you realize they’re not a right fit for you, then you can tame that down and you don’t need to be as active with them and you can move on.

But if that relationship is good, then you can say once you’ve built it up saying, “Okay, I have some ideas for you around this area. Would you be open to jumping on the phone?” If you have a service based business you can send them a link to your product or some testimonials or something like that saying, “This is what clients find that really helps with this issue.”

Rich: One of the things I am hearing you come back to is that even though we could share something that somebody else has created, and I’ve definitely done that with clients, usually it’s like I see something in the newspaper or on the online news and I’ll send them a link. I’ll say, “Hey, I was thinking of you”, which in and of itself is just a great thing to get from a vendor who’s not trying to sell you anything at that particular moment.

But the other thing that I’m hearing from you is, you do spend some time creating some valuable content so that when somebody has a problem that you can help with your able to send them over. You’re also doing live video, something I don’t usually love doing myself. I like the editing process. But you’re putting yourself out there in building trust through some of the tools that we’ve talked about already. Would you agree with that?

Annelise: Yes.

Rich: So that is a part of it and building that trust, so that when people Google you to see is Annelise really worth this, we’re going to see that you have a website and that you’re connected online and that you share all these contacts, whatever. So that’s part of the trust building process, it sounds like, when it comes to this relationship building.

Annelise: Of course. Because otherwise you’re just someone selling something online. You’ve got to think about the buyer journey. You’ve got to think about building that one awareness, which you’re doing because you’re approaching them. And then how do you move them into the consideration phase and what do they need to actually know and think and believe about you in order to say ‘yes’ to your offer. And then, do you communicate that through your content? All of those things that they need to know and think and believe about you.

And so that includes talking about their problem that they’re having and the outcome that they want, so that they know that you can get them there. And at that point, earlier in the funnel, you’re not going to be talking about your solution because they’re not going to recognize your solution as the solution. They’re going to recognize what you’re talking about as a sales pitch. So at the start, you just want to be talking about the process and the outcome, because that’s all they know. Or they know where they are and they know where they want to be. They don’t know what the bridge to get there is yet, because otherwise they would have already taken the bridge.

Rich: So one of the things that you haven’t really talked about, and I’m kind of curious because you obviously spent a lot of time thinking about relationship building, is how much of your own person or personality to let shine through. So obviously we all have things we do off camera or off social. And you mentioned to me when we hopped on this call together, you could see a giant jigsaw puzzle in the background. And so how much do you, when you’re kind of building relationships, how much of your personal life do you share online? Or do you really keep it focused just on the business side and that’s where you’re making the connection?

Because I see experts all over that range. I see some people who won’t share anything, you wouldn’t even know if they’re married or what country they live in. And then you see other people who seem to be live streaming everything they’re doing and eating and everything. So where do you fall on that? And do you have any recommendations to the people you work with?

Annelise: It’s a very personal decision, I think. But I do think that there is something to be said to maintaining that professional appeal, especially if you’re a high value service provider. You want to be seen as the guide, you don’t want to be sent as seen as their friend. Because if you’re seen as their friend, then why would they pay you lots of money because you’re just like them. You want to sort of elevate yourself a little bit in their mind because – and this sounds really egotistical, doesn’t it – but we like associating with people who are above us because we want to elevate our own status. You know, it comes back to the ego. We buy things that make us feel good, or make us feel good about ourselves, or make us look good to our friends.

And so online we want to make sure that we are placing ourselves in that area in their minds. And so for me if I’m sharing my dirty washing and what I’m eating and all of that, then that is a little bit too far. For me, that’s what I’m comfortable with. But for some people, they’re going to do that. And in their niche, that’s going to be totally fine because they’re helping people with healthy eating or something. And I do think you need to be a bit authentic, so choose your content pillars, and choose what you’re going to talk about.

So I talk about business. I talk about what it’s like to actually run a business around children. So I talk about my children, but I don’t really post photos of them very much. I don’t talk about what I’m eating for dinner, but I do talk about the struggle of juggling it. So just find where that line is for you and find what is applicable, so that you can be relatable and you can be real. You don’t have to tell people you’re having a fantastic day if you’re having a crappy day if you’re on live video, but find that line for you that makes sure that you are.

Also thinking again, what do they need to know, think, and believe about you?  So in the area of your expertise, they need to be placing you higher than themselves. You need to be a few steps ahead of them, and so that needs to be communicated in your content.

Rich: That’s an interesting point. Now, many of the listeners here also have businesses in the real world. So obviously we’re in the midst of a pandemic. But when things get back to regular, whatever that looks like, how do you recommend we bridge the gap between online activity and offline activity?

Annelise: Oh, that’s a tricky question, Rich.  

Rich: Or do you? Maybe you don’t, maybe you’re just focusing online. But I wonder if there is a way to move somebody from the virtual world to the real world.

Annelise: Of course there definitely is. I think that will really come down to your own personal business strategy and where you think that you can expand on things. So in every business we should have some sort of model that can move them up in layers, at least for service based businesses. You know, the base level, and then we move up to here and then we move up to here. And so how can you maybe bring them on offline for those higher levels? So if you’ve got like a mastermind or you’ve got a special VIP events or a retreat or something like that.

But just be thinking about what you want your business to look like. How do you want to work? Do you want to work online? Do you want to work in front of people? Think about how much you want to earn and how those revenue streams could come in, and then what’s the best place for that. Because now we don’t have much of a choice, but you know, at some point we will have the choice and what’s going to be best for you in terms of your business objectives. And what’s going to be best in terms of your life objectives and when and where you want to show up.

Rich: Awesome. Annelise, this has been very helpful and I appreciate all your insight into building relationships online and off. And for those of you, or for those of our audience, who want to get in touch with you and want to follow you online, where can we send them?

Annelise: So I would come on over to the Social Marketing Method Facebook group, or I’ve got the Mumstyle Business podcast. So that’s all about mums in business. And I’m going to be launching another podcast next year in 2021 which will be called Impact Business. So that’s going to be more around people who are building businesses to make a difference in the world. So whether that’s the actual business, or the business is going to fund those activities. So that’s going to be really fun.

Rich: That sounds like a great initiative. I look forward to hearing about that. In the meantime, we’ll make sure that we link to those two items in the show notes. Annelise, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Annelise: Thank you so much, Rich.

Show Notes:

Annelise Worn leverages the power of her Facebook group and her podcast as part of her relationship marketing strategy. Follow her online to learn her secrets to building and maintaining business relationships that help grow your business.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.