When I was 15, I had an arch nemesis. Let’s call him Mark.
We both wrote about video gaming tournaments. Only he got the best scoops. He got the special access to VIPs. He got let into the ‘players only’ areas of tournaments. He got asked for his opinion by mainstream publications when they wrote about the topic. I was the better writer, he was the better journalist.
I earned a good part time income, he sold his gaming site for just over a million bucks.
The difference was relationships. He was fantastic at building them. I showed up the day of a major event, he showed up a few days early and hung out with everyone (organisers, security, gamers etc…). I locked myself in my hotel room to write up my stories, he wrote his in the thoroughfares – complete with the annoying interruptions from friends and acquaintances.
You get the idea. The difference between us was relationships. He spent about half of his time and maybe a third of his revenue building them. He flew to places to meet people. He visited the top gamers at home to do interviews. He bought people drinks. He showed up every day and helped others.
In 2013, I took a month-long work trip around the world. I went from London to Dubai to Australia and then across the USA and back to the UK. I had dozens of meetings, coffees, breakfasts, lunches (sometimes two on the same day) with community professionals, friends, event organisations, platform vendors etc…
I can probably trace around $500k in revenue to relationships established (and solidified) during this trip over the following years. The next year (2014) I spent a few weeks travelling through the USA again. There was no clear purpose of the trip. Yet the trip yielded a future employee, a new idea for our courses, and a couple of new clients (eventually).
And this is the problem. If you’re doing this work, you understand the value of relationships. Yet because this value is so difficult to quantify, we don’t invest anywhere near as much time building them as we should. Even when we do establish a relationship, we don’t maintain it.
When there is budget to spare, it goes towards more staff or better technology. But the best results will usually come from radical relationship building. Your best members, future staff, new ideas, and great feedback is going to come from the relationships you’ve literally invested in.
Travel more. Host meetups in different cities. Segment your mailing list by location and meet people everywhere you go. Bring new groups together and start regular meetups. Take people out for food and drinks. Hear their stories. Look for trends and new ideas. Identify possible future super users. Post photos of meetups with members in the community if you like. The cost of doing this is miniscule compared to the possible benefits.
If you think this only works externally, try it with your colleagues. Host a weekend barbeque and invite your team. Set-up a regular coffee or lunch with your boss or acquaintances from random departments in the organisation. It’s a lot easier to get support for your ideas when people already know and like you.
Don’t forget the bible neither.