Over the last few months I’ve truly enjoyed being out in the Ann Arbor community, drinking lots of coffee or tea with people I am meeting for the first or perhaps fourth or fifth time.  Most of these meetings with otherwise very busy people are possible thanks to the referral of another friend or colleague who was willing to open a door.  What has struck me in the process of trying to grow a business is that the steps I am following  are pretty simple, yet incredibly effective if they are followed in a thoughtful and disciplined way.  These steps can be applied to fundraising and business development or any other relationship-centric endeavor.  They are not hard to follow per se, but they must also be accompanied with drive, diligence, and genuine enthusiasm.

Four steps to growth in any relationship-centric business

1) Ask for help.

When we don’t ask for help, we don’t invite others to join us. So many of us think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help, but asking for help is another way of inviting others to participate in what we’re trying to achieve. I have been amazed at the response I’ve gotten when I merely let someone know that I have a new consulting practice that and that I’d love their advice on individuals or organizations who might be a good fit with my skills and background.  If we don’t begin by asking for help, we keep others’ talents and networks unconnected to our own.  I’m a huge believer in leveraging the power of networks, and asking for help is a way of linking people and ideas in new ways. Asking for help takes humility, but ultimately builds confidence as new relationship bridges are built.

2) Show up.

It’s impossible to be an active participant in a community when we stay behind our desks– when our to-do list decides for us that we don’t have time to show up at that meeting or event.  Showing up is half the battle though.  By showing up to an event where we know like-minded people are likely to be in attendance, we can become more immersed in the opportunities and challenges that individuals or organizations are facing.  We live in a world of instant connection with data and news feeds, but we still need to see each other face to face to realize full solutions to complex problems or new opportunities.

3) Pay attention.

Showing up doesn’t do much good if we don’t pay attention once we’re at that networking event.  If I’m going to give up 2-3 hours of my time to attend an event or meeting, I want to have 1-3 specific goals for myself during that time.  For example, every time I go to a Rotary meeting, I want to meet at least 1 new person perhaps just by sitting next to one another during lunch. Or I want to seek out a certain person I haven’t seen in a while.  Paying attention is a multiplier. By being intentional about what we want to accomplish or guide during an otherwise unstructured encounter, we use our time more productively. We also help to generate those seemingly serendipitous encounters that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t there in the first place.

4) Follow up.

Following up is the step that is the easiest to ignore because we move on to our next activity before really doing the necessary steps to ensure that our efforts in the other 3 steps are going to stick.  The follow up is another place where the multiplier effect can be activated. In other words, I’m much more likely to have someone refer me to another person if I took the time to follow up from our initial meeting.  Follow up takes discipline and patience, but it’s what sticks long after the meeting or event has passed.

Why Does All of This Matter?

These 4 steps are simple, but I firmly believe that they apply to any effort where personal connections are vital to reaching a growth-oriented goal.  Doing 1 or 2 of the steps without the others will lead to less than stellar results.  Doing all of them, all of the time can lead to vastly better relationships and stronger networks that become more resilient.

When in doubt for how to grow a relationship-centric business or organization:

Ask for help. Show up. Pay attention. Follow up.

Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


The Strategy Tango process is built upon a foundation of collaboration, candor, and focus.

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