client retentionNetworking is a common strategy to growing a small business. But small business owners do not always think of networking in relation to customer retention. Building a community of happy advocates that are willing to share your brand is an important customer retention strategy and networking helps facilitate that. My friend and colleague Christine Clifton of Client Centric Growth has an interesting analogy about bamboo that helps illustrate the networking and customer retention relationship.

How is growing bamboo like building a business? You’d be surprised. Here Christine explains exactly how this analogy applies to your business during our interview for my podcast, Act Local Marketing.

Christine teaches service-based businesses the step-by-step process of creating powerful relationships with the people they already know so they make more money and make a bigger difference without burning out in the process.

Relationship marketing is a slow growth process involving networking and lots of client contact, but when done right, the potential is mind blowing.

Kalynn: You had mentioned revenue growth being an offshoot of this relationship building. I know that you have a story, for lack of a better word, about wild bamboo. I’ve wanted to hear this story ever since you told me about it.

Christine:  I don’t even know how it came totally into my purview, but someone said to me once that bamboo takes three years to root before you even see evidence of it growing above ground. I guess I logged that in my memory bank. It’s come back around to being a symbol for me in my business, and actually when I talk with business owners as well.

The name of my business is Client Centric Growth. It’s warm and organic and fuzzy. It’s about growing. That’s the kind of person I am: an organic person. I think the bamboo story that I’ll tell you is also just in alignment with my business and me.

With that knowledge that it takes three years for wild bamboo to root, I think the analogy in terms of business is that it takes time to grow a sustainable business. We’ve heard the statistic that 60 to 75% of businesses fail in the first three to five years or something like that. It does take time for it [business] to establish. I think that’s in alignment with the story of the bamboo.

But once the bamboo starts growing upwards, it only takes 60 days to reach its mature height and width. Once you’ve started your company, the direction will become a real clear guide and your growth comes from that.

Another fact about bamboo is once it’s established like I just described, it grows up to two to four feet per day. It just shows that once you’ve established that root system or that relationship base in your business and then support it with systems and processes, your business growth will skyrocket. The other cool thing is that the root system is so extensive; it is what solely supports that big, tall shoot. You can’t forget about it. You can’t forget about the relationships that you’ve built in your business or your current clients, which is what I see a lot of small businesses neglecting today. They’re serving, but they’re not really being a full resource to them [clients].

Kalynn:  They’re constantly going after that next new customer.

Christine:  Exactly. It’s easy to forget that they [existing customers] need nurturing as well. With that root system for the bamboo, the nutrition that comes in the soil from the root system of one bamboo plant is actually what creates the soil being fertile for additional bamboo plants to grow. It’s a colony. Bamboo is in a colony. It’s like grass. It’s in the grass family.

The root system provides the nutrients for the new shoots to come up. Whether you use that analogy as different aspects of your own business or look at it as supporting other businesses to grow, it also applies. It’s very poignant.

Kalynn:  Like you said, it takes a village to grow a business. I have a good image in my head now of this bamboo. I’m seeing the whole thing.

Networking is a good place to start when you are determined to begin better relationship marketing efforts and organically growing your root system, which will naturally lead to greater customer retention. I’ve spoken with small business owners who hit the ground running, literally, to attend 10-15 networking events a month to make the connections required to grow a successful business.

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work, tons of effort and focus on the end result. The relationships you develop along the way are going to make the difference between success and failure. Making sure you nurture the relationships you forge while networking or from your personal relationships will help you build a strong foundation and go a long way toward massive customer retention.