These founders open up about how personal connections helped them build lasting businesses.
That’s exactly what LaToya Bass, owner and CEO of Alignment Business Solutions, and Andy Rieger, founder and president of J. Rieger & Co, emphasized during a panel discussion in Kansas City in September. At a Meta Small Business Studio event, co-hosted by Inc., the two opened up about how unexpected connections helped grow their businesses.
“You never have any idea who the people are that you are talking to. And if you burn a bridge, you are only going to shoot yourself in the foot,” said Rieger, who runs a distillery in the West Bottoms Livestock Exchange district of Kansas City.
After building a retail location and a production facility for his distillery, Rieger needed a way to expand his product and get it in more locations. He spent four days a week grabbing coffee and drinks with whomever he could find in the area; as a recent Dallas transplant, he was looking for local connections. During a New Year’s Eve party in 2019, he met an investor who seemed interested in his whiskey. Instead of playing host and enjoying his night off, he took 20 minutes to show him around the facility. When the pandemic hit and Rieger needed emergency capital to keep the business running, that one conversation led to a $2 million investment.
“When it comes to raising money, the number one thing that you can do, whether you’re a coffee person or happy hour person, is get a drink with someone, no matter who they are,” says Rieger. “They might not be your financier right away, but you never know how they could be there in the future.”
Bass agrees. She says her company, a professional services firm based in Kansas City, grew entirely through word of mouth and the relationships she’s built with clients. She started the business with no money; her first client actually paid her $5 an hour. The more clients she found, the more she was able to up her fees. It was the positive interactions with clients that she says propelled her business forward. Simply listening to people, she notes, goes a long way to building lasting relationships.
“When you’re talking to people, actually care about the conversation,” says Bass. “We only see people for a little bit of their day, and so make sure when you’re coming in contact with people, be positive and make sure you take care of them.”
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