Since Valentine’s Day is this week, I’ve been thinking about love, relationships and business. You may ask “What do love and relationships have to do with business?!? That’s crazy talk.”
Let’s briefly look at basic modern economic theory. It is centered around the concept of scarcity – society has insufficient productive resources to fulfill all human needs and wants. This theory affects our business practices. To navigate the scarcity of resources, we often focus on transactions to try to get what our business needs from customers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders, as quickly as possible. And, when we treat each other as transactions, we forget that we are humans who need connection to each other.
To achieve connection, we need to focus more on creating relationships, not just handling transactions. This is a process that starts from within ourselves and becomes a virtuous cycle that supports sustainable development of our businesses.
I am not going to deny that there is scarcity of resources. On a global level, we can see this with climate change, and in our businesses, we have very real challenges in generating cash flows. That being said, our ability to create and maintain relationships has a lot to do with our mindset around scarcity and its impact on our decision-making.
When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was afraid of spending money – to the point of staying in a job I didn’t enjoy and hoarding cash – so that I would be ready to retire one day. As I got older, I noticed how this scarcity mindset affected my ability to live in my values and the relationships I had with people. A little at a time, I started to practice shifting that mindset – making time to take care of myself and be with family and friends, being more generous with spending in my local economy, and ultimately, risking some savings to develop this business. I find that every time I bring greater alignment between my mindset and values and act with that integrity, I receive more from relationships.
Invest in People
Relationships don’t just happen. We need to start investing in individuals before they become customers, employees, investors, or other stakeholders. And, it doesn’t stop there – we need to be consistent in our commitment and effort to investing in these relationships every day.
We start investing in our accelerator members from the time we receive their applications. We have a one-hour, preferably in-person, consultation with every applicant, so we can get to know each other and explore their business vision, goals, and challenges. Rather than interview, we focus on how we can best serve their businesses, providing them with guidance regardless of their decision to come into our classes. We may even connect them to a different entrepreneurship program that can better serve their needs. By investing in applicants from our first interactions, we build trust.
Because we put a ton of effort into building our businesses, we might fall into the trap of thinking it’s solely ours – this is my idea, they work for me, it’s my financial gain – when it’s not all about us. On some level, people are drawn to our businesses because they want to feel a sense of belonging, like they are part of something larger than themselves. When people feel like they belong, they are more engaged in supporting your business. We can foster that belonging by stepping one foot out of our individualism and nurturing community.
Members tell us the most powerful thing about our accelerators is the community. This started with our cooperative model, where members can become owners, sharing in our profits and having a say in how our programs are run. And, as we grew, we layered in opportunities for members to actively engage and connect with each other through online social networks, mixers, skill sharing, and alumni programs. This leads to a lot of feedback from the members on a daily basis. Even when it’s emotionally challenging for us to receive new ideas, our team will listen to and evaluate them.
By focusing on relationships, we all benefit. The constant communication and feedback from members helps us improve the curriculum, instruction, technology, and operational processes to serve them more effectively. In addition, members have become the greatest ambassadors for our accelerators, and through their referrals, we are able to lower our marketing costs. Last but not least, I am grateful to receive an abundance of love, friendship, and support from our community. ❤