By Steve Whitehorn
For our third post this month, we welcome Steve Whitehorn, managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which provides architects and engineers with strategies to maximize profitability, while reducing risk and improving cash flow. Steve is a relationship expert whose firm created The A/E Empowerment Program® and is the author of the upcoming book, Empowerment by Design.
The A/E/C industry is a relationship business. Many architects have built their entire careers on strategic relationships. In fact, a recent study by the Society for Marketing Professional Services showed that regardless of the economic climate, firms had a 70% greater chance of getting a job if they had established a solid relationship with the decision maker at least seven months prior to the RFP.
Unfortunately, most architects and engineers didn’t learn how to build relationships in school. Don’t worry – great relationships aren’t born, they are bred. You can learn how to cultivate strong relationships that can help you win the projects you want.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
For me, leadership expert John C. Maxwell’s words sum up the process of building relationships. Don’t worry about trying to impress a new contact with your skills or your portfolio when you first meet. Instead, show them how much you care about him, his business, and his interests.
2. Know your target.
New York Times best-selling business author and acclaimed CEO Harvey Mackay built his $100 million envelope business around this concept. His tool, the Mackay 66, is a simple list of background information about his customers. Keeping a file on each client allowed his sales team to personalize their pitches, which drastically improved success rates. Take the same approach with your business relationships. Do your best to gather pertinent information and write it down. If you can remember some of these details in your communication, it will show how much you value the contact and the relationship.
3. Relationships are not a noun – Relationships are a verb!
In order to be of value to you, a relationship must be active, not dormant. Commit yourself to taking meaningful actions to sustain and develop your relationships on a regular basis, such as reaching out by e-mail, meeting for coffee or drinks, or sending a gift you know they’ll appreciate. Little gestures and personalized touches go a long way toward strengthening the relationship.
4. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Oscar Wilde said it best. Authenticity is crucial when you’re networking, because people can sense when you’re not being yourself, and they’ll react poorly to it. Be confident and aware of your specific skill set when you make new connections.
5. It’s a process.
Even if you follow the steps outlined above, don’t expect to build a relationship overnight. And be careful not to focus all of your efforts on one relationship above others, no matter how valuable it is to you. Your goal is to cultivate a wide network of relationships, so that you never feel dependent on just one.
There are lots of firms out there that do what you do. How do you get ahead? Develop effective, meaningful relationships with decision makers. These relationships will give you a strategic edge over your competitors.
On February 15, couples around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Whew – another 364 days until you have to shower your partner with material displays of affection! You may be off the hook in the romance department, but when it comes to developing your professional relationships, you’re on call year-round.
We think February is a great time to re-focus your attention on and re-direct your efforts around your professional relationships. That’s why our theme for this month’s installment of Design on the Haus is Build Relationships, Build Influence. Your network of professional relationships is a pipeline that brings you new business, new partnership opportunities, and recognition in your field. Overall, it enhances your credibility, and can make your job a bit more pleasant, to boot!
In 2014, building relationships involves more than just facetime and power lunches. If you harness the power of social media, you can truly make your relationships work for you.
Relationships that bridge both the online and offline worlds are the most valuable assets in today’s social landscape. In order to create these relationships in real life, start from the first point of contact. For example, whenever you meet someone in person at an event, follow up online the next day. Connect on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, like their company’s page on Facebook, and follow them on Pinterest.
Then, take it a step further by actively engaging. You can retweet, favorite, or respond to their tweets, comment on their LinkedIn updates, or repin their pins on Pinterest. Be creative! These little touches take only a few moments of your time, but they’ll remind your new contact that you are thinking of him or her. As we mentioned in our first post on relationships, it takes three to five touch points, on average, to build a strong relationship. Social media engagement is an efficient way to hit some of those touch points.
But social media is not enough to solidify the relationship. As you probably know, just because you’re Facebook friends, doesn’t mean you’re friends in real life. By the same token, connecting to someone on LinkedIn doesn’t mean that you have a viable professional relationship with that contact.
In order to do that, we recommend you meet any new contact in person. If you’re in the neighborhood, suggest a coffee date or offer to drop by his/her office. If he or she is too busy to meet that day, follow up a few weeks later with another invitation. If you’re attending a conference together in a different city, set up a time to catch up over dinner or breakfast. Setting aside the time for a face-to-face meeting shows that you are serious about developing the relationship. The best connections are memorable ones, and people are far more memorable than screennames!
This month, commit to getting outside your comfort zone as you develop your relationships, whether that means engaging in person, or online. We think you’ll find that when online and offline intersect, the result is a relationship that’s twice as strong.
Posted by Beth Connolly
In February, you may be thinking of the important relationships in your life – and planning to give them some extra attention. By all means, treat your sweetie right on February 14. During the other 27 days of the month, we suggest you dedicate yourself to strengthening your professional relationships. Whether you are looking for new clients, increased exposure, a fruitful partnership, or additional hands at your firm, proactive and strategic networking can get you there.
How do you create valuable new connections and maximize the potential of your existing relationships? Professional organizations are a great place to start. Here are our top five suggestions to get you off on the right foot:
1. Check out your options.
Start by doing your research on a variety of relevant organizations. Consider which will benefit you most. Look for opportunities to be in front of potential clients, or to meet those who can provide referrals. Be realistic, and take into account the location and expense of the organization’s events, as well as the size of its local chapter.
We suggest that you attend events at a handful of organizations to get a feel for which are the best fit with you, your goals, and your personality. Once you determine that, you can focus your energy on one or two.
2. Gather your motivation.
After working all day, you may not feel motivated to attend an event. Let’s face it: showing up is half the battle. Just remember, if you don’t show up, you’ll never know what you missed!
3. Start talking.
When you arrive at the event, approach one person or a small group and strike up a conversation. If you feel nervous, remember that everyone else in the room shares your purpose – to meet new people. Need some conversation-starters? Here are a few tips from Fast Company.
As you mingle, be sure to keep your conversation light and positive. Don’t dive straight into business topics – even when you’re networking, your conversation should be about life (90%) and business (only 10%). Beware of sharing any details that are too personal. Overall, be memorable! If you came to the event with a friend or coworker, be sure to break apart and mingle separately for part of the evening – you’re more likely to create a meaningful connection and make new acquaintances if you’re on your own.
4. Follow up.
After the event, stay in touch with your new contacts. Send an e-mail to follow up on something you discussed, connect with them on LinkedIn, or share an article you think will be useful. Remember, it takes three to five touch points, on average, to form a relationship.
5. Take it to the next level!
In order to get the most out of your participation in any professional organization, we suggest you join a committee. This gives you the opportunity to truly engage with others in the organization. If you can, try to participate in a panel or speaking event, as well.
Invest now in your business relationships, and you’ll see the benefits bloom with the spring flowers!
Posted by Beth Connolly