At the end of this week, our nation will pause to cover chops in charcoal, raise a glass and enjoy some glorious weather. Australia Day. It’s a day to celebrate national identity, our superiority at cricket, and – at its most prosaic – surviving the first few weeks back at work.
Our tradition of gathering with friends and family on Australia Day celebrates another constant in our lives: our social circle. Like them or not, the people in your life are predictive of your success and failure. Trailing in the wake of innovative, highly creative people can inspire and energise you to change. Spend significant enough time with people who are bitter, and it’ll rub off on you, too. Wealth breeds wealth.
Social atom theory is not new. But it is enduring. After growing in popularity in the first half of the last century, it’s since formed the basis of broader economic and political theories, and social physicists use it to predict everything from public health campaign outcomes to technology growth and crime sprees. But its core message remains: we reflect the company we keep, and we’re predictable about the way we do it. Like it or not, we unconsciously organise our behaviour like the people around us.
As a business owner, I’m self-made. I have an independent streak a mile wide, and I’m justifiably proud of the strength and tenacity it’s taken to survive and thrive. Truthfully, the idea of being reliant and reflective of others doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably with any of us.
But your independent strength can also be your greatest weakness if you don’t consider the social needs of your business. Networking goes some of the way, if it’s done intentionally and well. So can maintaining a strong social media presence, but only if the connections you form are meaningful and enduring. The discipline of a customer relationship management methodology like Net Promoter Score, which tracks the supportive behaviour of clients, is also part of the answer.
But the social atomism of your business must go deeper to the relationships you proactively build and sustain, because these are the people who will seek the best for your business. If I plotted the social health of my business at the moment, I’d presently list just four individuals outside of our team who are committed, proven advocates for New Word Order. They get us, they value the work we do, and they constantly grow our business through meaningful referrals. A few suppliers check in with us personally, too, because they care about us as people and believe in the future of the business. Both of these social framework sets are valuable, because they stand firm during adversity: the referrers keep referring, and the suppliers remain appreciative and flexible.
If I reflect back on social atom theory for a moment, my business does look like the company it keeps. The types of referrals reflect the people who suggest them. And the people who like us tend to also be like us – and while they’re wonderfully easy to work with now, I need to be careful we don’t become too predictable.
With the creative economy greedy for value-adds but unwilling to pay for quality, our services are shifting to be smarter, more responsive. Our social framework must also grow to match. That means we still have plenty of work to do on adding more social atoms to our business – the people who will help our business to look different, who will want to promote us and, in turn, whose values and success we want to reflect, too.
How am I going to go about it? It’s a good question because my keyboard is my happy place. I’m not a natural people person. To force myself out of my comfort zone, here’s my very short to-do list for how I’ll grow the social strength around my business this year:
1) Get more involved in my CCIQ membership. The opportunities are there to meet more prospective clients and, even if they’re not a perfect fit for where I’m at, I can make better use of the free chances I’m regularly being handed. This is a priority for this year.
2) Start post-graduate study. I’ve been told the study groups will be an extraordinary growth opportunity for my business… something about friendships forged through the burning fires of hell. Can’t wait. I think.
3) Participate in industry groups on LinkedIn. Such a simple strategy, but a ready-made way to start to build out new branches of my social framework. This is on my weekly to-do.
4) Thank in person. Our best client and supplier relationships are because we take the time to talk in person, not via email or just over the phone. Again, it’s an easy strategy – but it’s down in writing to make sure I don’t forget the personal touch, and I’m checking in with this priority every week, too.
5) Invest in others. It’s easy to forget I’ve clocked 15-plus years in running a creative business, and I believe my business will grow as I make time to mentor younger creatives.
Every new year, there’s an endless list of ‘shoulds’ that seem to fall upon business owners’ shoulders as heavily as tax and compliance. We should be more tech savvy. Use the clouds. Be more active in social media. Change more, and more, and more.
I’ve reduced my ‘shoulds’ this year to the most basic: building the social support around my business. That way, I know who’ll be watching my back as I push ahead.
Who’s watching yours?
First published in January 21, 2014 for Inform, the member newsletter for Chambers of Commerce in Queensland.