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March 23, 2015 How To

How to establish trust in your business relationships

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said that if people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they will do business with you. In my 30 years as a businesswoman in Maine, I have always found this to be true. Successful leaders build a network of contacts they can count on for reliability, honesty and work excellence. This extends to every profession and every industry.

Worth and trust are established over time. Here are five practices you can follow to earn the trust of those you do business with and grow your own network of business contacts:

 • Connect with people wherever you go. Finding common ground with those you work with is personally and professionally rewarding. Make it a point to reach out to at least two or three unfamiliar faces at every business function you attend. A warm smile, friendly introduction and firm handshake are good icebreakers. Making small talk to discover mutual interests — like kids, hobbies or sports — deepens the new relationship and enables you to make a memorable first impression.

 • Trade business cards. Even in the digital age, this practice has not gone out of fashion. Asking for a business card serves as a reminder to record those you have just met in your personal database and to connect with them on social media. LinkedIn is the best platform for connecting with business contacts you have just met. Depending on the individual and how they use their other social media platforms, following them on Facebook and Twitter can present additional opportunities to interact.

 • Don't underestimate the value of face time. Do lunch. Do coffee. Remain interested in what the people in your network are doing outside of work. Keep connections going by finding ways to help those in your network. It could be a business referral or something as small as forwarding an article you feel would pique their interest.

 • Send cards to recognize milestones and special events. It's now a novel and unexpected thing to get personal mail. Taking the time to send birthday, holiday and congratulatory cards containing personalized notes demonstrates you care enough about that person to sit down and put pen to paper. This small personal touch can go a long way in building loyalty, respect and trust.

 • Handwrite thank you notes. If you are like me, one of the first basic manners your mother taught you was the importance of sending handwritten thank you notes to show gratitude for a gift or special favor. When someone goes out of their way to do something special for you, an e-thanks just doesn't cut it.

As a young professional working in public relations at Sugarloaf, the president of the resort sent me thank you notes and congratulatory notes whenever I went above and beyond at my job. It made me want to work harder and do even better in my position. Nearly three decades later, we continue to exchange handwritten communications and have found many occasions to work together since I struck out and started my own communications agency in the 1990s. I also saved every one of those thank you notes.

Like personal relationships, business relationships are built on a foundation of trust and require nurturing to continue to thrive. It may take a shift in thinking to recognize networking and relationship building are just as important as the actual work you do, but this is time well spent. Every business connection you establish represents an investment in your business and your career. Some of your most successful business relationships will also become your best friendships. As a result, you'll feel much more satisfied and invested in your work and personal life.

Nancy Marshall has practiced public relations since graduating from Colby College. She has 12 people at her Augusta-based firm, Nancy Marshall Communications, and can be reached at

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