How much do you genuinely care about your audience members as real, live, flesh-and-blood people? How much do they care about you?
Recently, in her delicious Friday newsletter, coach/author/friend Judith Morgan put her finger squarely on something I consider a key aspect of truly healthy, nutritious relationships with clients and customers:
I care about my clients’ dreams but here’s the important bit, they care about mine too. They care about me. It is reciprocal.
Being the obsessive ponderer that I am, I poured another cup of coffee and margaretted out for a while on this thought.
How important is this kind of reciprocity in our relationships with the people we serve? That it goes both ways, not just one way?
To me, it’s very important, but I’m open to the possibility that Judith and I may be the exceptions rather than the rule.
First, how often does it really happen, in our work lives? Do some (most?) businesspeople consider it an absurd thing to wish for? Stranger still, to expect? And, even more outlandish, how many of us dare to make it a deciding factor in whether we choose to invest our energies in serving a particular person/company?
Like most things, it can get a little complicated when you unpack it.
I picture a self-employed woman who has a startup business selling a product – a book, for example. Her income may depend on simply selling lots of them, and to many different kinds of people. Is it important to her that the people buying the product care about her as a person, or care about her business/livelihood? Is that even possible to know or intuit that, when often we have is a receipt from an online store?
What about service providers? Most of my people are in the business of offering a service, wisdom, knowledge, help. From this high-touch angle, it seems simpler on the surface. But is it? If you offer an online workshop to 100 people, is reciprocity something we can hope for? Are we allowed to hope that all of the attendees who purchase the workshop consider, “This sounds great to me, and it’s also a person/business whose work I’d love to support”?
How important is it to you? And how possible?
I feel as though mutual respect and reciprocity are possible in almost any situation, as long as we have the audacity to show our real selves to our readers and clients.
For many years in my work, I was afraid to show too much of myself, for fear someone would find something to object to. Oh, she supports that charity. Yuck, not another treehugger. She doesn’t have an MBA?
So if people read my sanitized bio, it was difficult for them to discern what sort of person I was. They’d piece it together this way: She knows websites, so she must be a techie person, who probably likes gadgets and programming and spreadsheets and stuff. She also works with people doing good things in the world, so she’s probably honest. I don’t have much in common with geeks, but it looks like she knows her stuff, so I may as well give this Margaret person a try.
Nowadays, it’s not hard for potential clients to get a clearer picture of who I am as a human. They can see me hiking at sunrise. They can read my book. They know I have a strange little dog named Gordon, that I volunteer in my small community, and that I believe self-employed people are probably the ones who are going to save humanity.
Even bigger, though, they know that I dare use “the ‘L’ word” in my business. I do a lot more coaching and teaching now, and I do it with my feet firmly rooted in love. They see me interacting with perfect strangers with respect and kindness. They can easily see how I thoroughly (and sometimes embarrassingly) geek out on helping good things come to life.
So I attract clients who are attracted to that emphasis on community and compassion.
And I repel clients who might grumble about that all as ‘namby-pamby new age BS.’ Sometimes they leave skid marks.
And that works perfectly for me.
In most cases, I end up with clients who want something more from a coach, consultant, or even a website person. They want someone that genuinely gives a damn about them as individuals, and so will offer up his or her best energy. In the face of SO many possible service providers for all of our “stuff,” these clients also prefer to support good, caring people whenever that’s possible.
With the selling of products (or causes, or companies, or politicians) we are all witnessing a shift away from blindly supporting those who are abusive, disrespectful, or simply indifferent. That shift, I believe, is trickling down into even the smallest of businesses: All other things being equal, we want to give our dollars to people we feel are likely to care—about us, and about the world.
It’s a pragmatic, empathetic kind of reciprocity that literally changes everything, from creativity to productivity to profitability.
George Kao even defines true productivity as valuable interaction with the people your business can best serve, that inspires their reciprocity. When we’re generous in providing something valuable, when we do it genuinely and directly from the heart, readers and clients feel it. They engage with us. They read, watch, “like,” share, follow/subscribe, inquire, purchase, and refer.
We each try to help the other to succeed, by whatever tape measure “success” is being measured.
Honestly, we live in a society that’s simultaneously accelerating, darkening, and increasing the emotional distance between us. I look for any and all ways to slow down, pay attention, and remember what matters.
Here in my working world, this sort of caring reciprocity is key to my happiness, and so has become pretty non-negotiable.
How about you? Does this matter to you?