Driving through Virginia wine country with a fellow professional, our conversation turned to friends and how they may feel awkward and even hostile toward a new business. My driving partner is Cindy Rynning. By day, she’s an Early Childhood Special Education teacher from one of my newest favourite cities, Chicago, by night, she’s blogging all things wine at Grape Experiences.
Cindy has a wine path for her future self and with an Advanced WSET certificate and a carefully nurtured wine network she’s begun the journey on the wine-coloured road. As Cindy pointed out to me though, some friends can’t necessarily see that new path. She recently experienced the “awkward friend behavior” when a close friend did not show up at one of her events with no explanation.
As for us, my business partner GUY was surprised when a few friends began acting strangely once we took on a more public posture via social media. GUY said of the experience, “One buddy got me alone and asked with a sneer, ‘Isn’t it embarrassing putting yourself out there like that?’” GUY was particularly surprised when a friend asked him how social media worked, “I invited him to follow PROTOCOL on Facebook to watch us grow and their reply stung when they shot back, ‘I find social media disturbing and I don’t want any part of it, don’t count on me to support your business.’”
Don’t get me wrong, the response toward our efforts at opening our business have been overwhelmingly positive. But it’s hard to turn away from those few splinters of discontent once they work their way in. So we got to wondering about the source of the disconnect. Why would a close friend whose company is normally warm present the cold shoulder once we’re open for business? And what is the reason a friend may feel reluctant to participate? We believe the onus remains with us, as business owners, to find out.
Is my business my friends’ business?
Do we make our friends uncomfortable just by having a business? Perhaps they’re concerned we’ll begin hawking wares each time we see each other? Indeed we’re careful not to ask for financial support, a big part of our business model was to start this business with our own money. And we’re also careful about how we ask people to purchase wine from us. We can extend an invitation, but a purchasing decision must be the customer’s own decision, whatever that may be.
We’ve all heard the phrase knowledge is power, so applying this with something as easy as a conversation may very well be the answer. What we’ve come to realize is that it’s extremely important for our friends to know our story. It’s in this way that they become fully aware of what we do. We’ve found that sharing stories about our customer experiences (always maintaining client confidentially of course) by talking about an exciting purchase or a trip to an auction house showcases this perfectly. And this storytelling flows both ways, we always find out what our friends do so that there is a chance for reciprocity, thus extending our reach and establishing a network.
Knowledge is Power
And as Cindy and I continued our discussion of wine and friends we came to a realization: friends need not purchase a darn thing, what’s more important is their emotional support. And it’s up to us to nurture this by communicating effectively as to what it is we do and our ultimate goal. Once empowered with this knowledge, we’ve given our social network of friends the means to feel comfortable about us and how our business may fit into their lives.
Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio