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Grow: Mia Pearson

Networking lessons learned in St. Lucia Add to ...

It’s not often that the inspiration for a column comes from a day sitting on the beach, watching the waves roll in.

Then again, it’s not every week that I’m in paradise drinking margaritas while I plan out what my family will be doing for the next seven days in St. Lucia.

This week in the Caribbean I met Captain Tom, owner of Exodus Adventure, a charter boat company that gives personal tours of the island, goes on deep-sea fishing excursions, and organizes moonlit cruises to your favourite restaurants.

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As an avid fisherman, Tom is definitely the guide you want when you venture out to catch the biggest blue marlin, wahoo or dorado. The look on my son’s face as he pulled in his first fish exceeded every expectation I had before leaving the dock. The crew took care of every detail, demonstrating a level of customer service I have rarely experienced anywhere on the island or back home in Canada.

From the moment we stepped on board the boat the following day, we felt as though we were a part of an elite group about to be treated to our own private tour. This was in stark contrast to other tourists, who were herded onto other crowded group excursions that were much less personal, but cost about the same.

If you have travelled to St. Lucia you know that the roads are winding, the mountains are high and the views are beautiful. The Exodus offering was unique: I could customize my trip for the day, and if I changed my mind or wanted to stay longer it was no problem – the crew was accommodating. With two kids, that flexibility was priceless. We were able to see everything we wanted from our private viewing deck before jumping off the boat between the majestic Pitons – something I’m sure my kids will never forget.

But that’s not where the lesson lies.

What struck me was the way Tom and his team were able to leverage their unwavering focus on customer service to not only engage, but quickly expand their trusted network. This was something I watched with adoration from the beach. I thought about entrepreneurs I know who are great at running their businesses, but still ask for advice about how to network. As part of their PR campaigns, business leaders often speak at high-profile events and attend trade shows to market their products and services.

But for many, after they leave the stage, they struggle with how to work the room and turn the PR opportunity into a sales lead.

Tom and his team were a great example of entrepreneurs who have this figured out. They were different than most business owners on the beach, who sometimes seemed intrusive. He engaged his audience by exuding passion for his work, but more important were the endorsements I saw from the other guests. Within minutes of meeting him, I knew my kids and I would be in good hands.

The Exodus team took the time to survey the scene: gaining a good sense of who would be interested in their services and left others alone – those settled in with a book or enjoying a drink with friends – to enjoy the beach. But what struck me was the trusting relationships they had developed with recurring customers, and the obvious network they had built over time. Returning customers welcomed the crew with handshakes and big hugs, as they booked their excursions for the week.

As an onlooker, I wanted to be a part of it.

At any given time, often when you least expect it, you have the opportunity to engage new contacts and inspire new opportunities through your current network. Leveraging your customers as brand ambassadors is more powerful than anything you can do on your own.

As business owners, we are all passionate about what we do. But so are our customers. We just need to be better at leveraging them as we grow our customer base.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

Follow on Twitter: @miapearson

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