Get to Know Your Clients

By Megan McElwain, president & CEO of McElwain & Company and a former EO Accelerator participant

My elevator pitch to Entrepreneurs Organization member Jody Steinhauer took on new meaning when it took place on the elevator ride down from the top of the CN Tower.

As a member of the EO’s Accelerator program, I had attended an EO event at the Toronto landmark. Jody, President and Chief Bargain Officer at The Bargains Group and 15-year veteran of EO, told me about Project Water and Project Winter Survival, two events that provide basic necessities for not-for-profit companies. These events are part of The Bargains Group’s “Give Back Where You Live” initiative.

We had the long ride down—553 metres worth of time—to get to know one another. I told her about my company, McElwain & Company, and offered to shoot a video for her upcoming event, Project Water. A partnership was formed.

On 5 July 2012, my team and I took to the streets with the hundreds of volunteers to document the day, and what we saw was truly overwhelming. With business leaders and young professionals banding together to help the less-fortunate members of society, it brought into focus how even a small gesture like handing out a bottle of water can make a huge impact in someone’s life.

These person-to-person interactions also reinforced an important lesson in business for me: while it may seem that the majority of the day is taken up by dollar signs, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations, the heart of business is people.

It’s seeing the faces of these people you are dealing with and getting to know them on a one-to-one level that will differentiate your company and make you stand out from the pack.

Let me reiterate: For me, face time is everything. If you can get in front of people and show them your skills and passion, people are not going to turn away: they are going to be drawn to that excitement and want to get involved.

I would rather take someone out for a relaxed lunch for an hour than have a 20-minute meeting in a boardroom. Typically when I first meet with clients in this setting, I spend the first half hour getting to know them—who they are, their family and what they like to do in their free time, and then we can talk about my product as it comes up naturally in conversation. People want to work with people they like, and people they trust, and there is no better way to gain that trust than by getting to know them personally.

Building and maintaining those personal relationships will ensure you have a long lasting relationship with your client—and they remember you.

With Project Water and Project Winter Survival, it wasn’t about making money (our videos were produced pro bono), it was about promoting and assisting an amazing cause. The more people we reach and inspire through our videos, the more volunteers they have for their charity events, and the more people we can help every year.

Jody’s company mantra is, “Giving back makes great business sense.”

She says it’s in the best interest for companies to donate their time as Canada’s volunteerism sector is in trouble. “People want to do business with people who are giving back.”

Later, on 9 July, we filmed our second Project Water event. While this started out as simply pitching in to support a worthy cause, I realized that these events not only help our community, but that they also help me grow as an entrepreneur.

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