Seven Ways to Form Meaningful Business Relationships

By Susan Matthews Apgood, News Generation


Susan Apgood (middle) at the 2015 Thoth Awards

No matter your industry, the benefits of knowing how to form meaningful relationships with other professionals are exponential. And while maintaining relationships may be as simple as sending an email once in a while, forming those relationships is a whole other story. All meaningful business relationships have one key factor in common: mutual benefits. Being able to give is just as important as getting, and one cannot happen without the other. Each of these seven ways to form relationships rely heavily on mutual assistance:


  1. Find a Mentor and/or Mentee: Early in my career, I viewed asking for help as a sign of weakness. As a young business owner, I feared that not knowing how to do something would turn away potential clients and make employees nervous. It wasn’t until I found myself in a position where people came to me for assistance that I realized the true benefits of asking for help. The mentor-mentee relationship is a great way to build a strong business relationship early in your career, and even decades in. But the most important factor of a meaningful mentor-mentee relationship is mutual benefit. The relationship must go two ways. Don’t overlook how much your mentee can teach you, and don’t ask too much of your mentor. If the relationship becomes too much of a “take” on one side, it will not last.
  2. Consider Joining a Peer Group: Peer groups are an easy way to meet other professionals in different industries, that are in the same position as you, and faced with the same challenges. As a member of Vistage for seven years, I came to realize how much others can help you, and how much you can help them in return. Not only have I gained insightful advice from my peers, I’ve also seen first-hand how giving, but not getting in return, can limit business relationships. Like all networking groups, you get back what you give out. And don’t overlook the benefits of joining industry-specific groups, like PRSA. Getting to know peers within your industry in your community is invaluable. My experience with PRSA-NCC here in the D.C. area has allowed me to build some of the best personal and professional relationships I have.
  3. Understand Who You’re Working With: Everyone differs in how they like to be communicated with, and nothing is more beneficial than understanding what type of person you’re trying to form a relationship with. A simple way to read people is by evaluating their personality based on tests. Some people like quick and to–the-point communication, while others prefer more personal sentiments like starting an email with “Hope you had a nice weekend.” Knowing how people want to be communicated with, and showing them how you want to be communicated with in return makes a balanced, meaningful business relationship. For example, if the person I am working with is a “red,” I don’t have to go through the formalities when asking a question of them, but if they are a “green,” I definitely do.
  4. Help Others Get Valuable Experiences: In the business world, few things are more meaningful than helping others get valuable experiences. Connecting one meaningful business relationship with another that will provide mutual benefits for both will not only help out a peer, it will strengthen your relationships with both parties. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask someone you know professionally to introduce you to other people. If you think a connection would be great to speak on a panel or serve on a board, speak up and ask them if they would like you to nominate them. Many people are too shy to nominate themselves, and if you do, they will not only be grateful to you, but so will the beneficiaries of their talents at the conference or on the board.
  5. Work with Clients with Similar Office Cultures and Thoughts: As a business owner for 20 years now, I’ve learned how I want to represent myself and my business, and how I don’t. Staying true to your office culture by working with clients that hold those same values is a great way to form relationships with both individuals and companies. Working with and trying to form relationships with those who have very different ways of conducting business may make it difficult to form meaningful relationships. It is important to know when a culture is not a fit, and potentially walking away from a client that is not a good match for you and your time.
  6. Be Persistent: Being persistent is important, but there is a huge caveat. Be persistent, but always have a reason. Emailing prospective clients to just ask for work can quickly read as too sales-y. But, when you have a reason such as “I was recently reading about your work” or “I loved your post on LinkedIn,” can make the difference between a read and unread email. One easy “reason” to connect clients is by sending out a newsletter, which involves minimal work on the receiver’s end, but can keep your business in the back of their mind. My goal is never to convince clients and potential clients to use broadcast services in general, because they can come to that conclusion on their own. But, if a client is in the market to buy products that we offer, we want them to choose us over a competitor. Building and maintaining a strong relationship before it comes to decision time is one way to do that.
  7. Know Your Industry: Being a master of your industry will allow you to fully understand how to give and receive in your business relationships, especially when they are with professionals outside of your industry. Even if that means working with competitors, being able to recognize a mutually beneficial opportunity comes from a deep understanding of your industry. This understanding will also help you identify ways that you can give in a professional relationship, thus making the relationship stronger. Let your hard work speak for itself.

The key to making it in the business world is to know how to interact with other professionals, and form mutually beneficial relationships with them. Having these meaningful professional relationships will allow you to advance your careers and find opportunities that may not have been presented to you otherwise. But always keep in mind, you will only get out of your relationships what you put in.

Stay tuned…

3 Lessons That Every PR Pro can Learn from a Mentor


I received a desperate email from a friend looking for PR help with an event she is working on. I told her that I would help with no problem. Her response was, “You are always there for me.” Interesting she felt that way because this is someone that has always been there for me. Six years ago, I was on the Internet, believe it or not, looking for a mentor. I was determined to find someone that had an impressive career record and to be honest, an email address or phone number I could use. There she was; my mentor.

My newly found mentor had over 10 years of experience in Sports PR and since has started her own PR firm. I emailed her and within a few hours she emailed me back and was nicer than ever. Since then, she has encouraged me during my lay off days. Had lunch and dinner with me so I wouldn’t eat alone and most of all gave me the best advice in life lessons and career. Over the years, I have had several mentors and have discovered that Mentorship has been a vital organ to my career as a PR professional. Finding an experienced professional, one who you trust to help work through a situation or guide you in your career could be the missing puzzle piece of your success.

These are the three things that my mentors have taught me to remember as a PR professional:

Work Life Balance

I can’t think of the last time I didn’t work on the weekend or answer my cellphone after 5pm. As a PR professional, it seems like we are always on the clock. Taking a break from work can make you a more effective and engaged professional. Everyone should unplug from work and focus on other activities that bring them joy. One mentor told me to “Do what you can, but don’t overdo it.”

Navigating Work Situations

If you have ever had a situation pop up in your professional life that you weren’t sure how to handle, talking with a senior leader or someone you look up to at the office could be a great way to solicit feedback and help you find a solution. You will not like everyone and everyone will not like you. That is hard to do when you have a job to do. Always keeping clients is not a bad idea, but in the work environment you must remind others you all have a job to do. One of my mentors once told me no matter what, keep my cool and that my boss will notice that I handled a very difficult situation with professionalism.

Advancing on Your Career Path

When you have opportunities to express interest in joining a project and sharing your ideas with organization leadership take the chance and don’t look back. Having a mentor can help you define an effective strategy to help you stand out within your company. While your ideas may not make the final cut, people will notice that you are thinking, and working hard. You’ll soon realize that by speaking up, you are also advancing your career. My very first mentor told me never stay at a job too long. Explore new opportunities when I can.

Want a mentor?

Interested in finding a mentor? PRSA-NCC has a Mentoring Program lead by Fred Whiting, APR. PRSA-NCC matches young PR practitioners with seasoned professionals who provide guidance on job searches, professional development, ethics, and other interests. Since 2004, the mentoring program has matched more than 100 protégés and mentors. Participants find the program well worth their time.

About the Author

Tiffany Young is the manager of public relations for American Public University System. She has more than seven years of experience in media relations, event management, and public relations. She earned a certificate in Public Relations from the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies and received a B.A. in Mass Communications from Virginia State University. You can find her on Twitter @SocialPRLady.