On my way to the airport the other morning I saw a sign in front of a church that read “It’s About Relationships.” It struck me that no matter who you are or what business you’re in, developing and maintaining successful relationships is extremely important in every aspect of your life.
Effective networking is all about building relationships. Most successful business people understand that networking and relationship building are essential to grow and maintain their businesses. Personal relationships are no different. It's all about building long-lasting associations with others, whether they are friends, customers or other industry professionals. My friend Howard Partridge describes networking as “the process of building relationships with the mutual desire and intent to connect to others.”
Any successful relationship, whether personal or business, is unique and evolves over time. Relationships don't just spring up overnight; just like a flower or a child, they must be nurtured. And as they grow – fed by mutual trust, understanding and shared benefits – they evolve through several phases.
Most relationships start out uncertain, but also full of possibilities and expectations. They grow stronger with time, experience and familiarity. As a relationship matures, it turns into trust and commitment. This trust is then used to further nurture the growth of an effective and rewarding relationship with a prospective friend, client, co-worker, vendor, colleague or family member. When fully realized, such a relationship is mutually beneficial and therefore self-perpetuating.
The first phase of growing a relationship is visibility
: you and another individual or business associate become “aware” of each other. In business terms, a potential source of referrals or a potential customer becomes aware of the nature of your business, perhaps because of PR and advertising efforts, at a meeting, or through someone you both know. This person may observe you conducting business or relating with the people around you. You begin to communicate and establish mutual interests. You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other. A combination of many such relationships forms a casual-contact network.
This “visibility” phase is important because it creates recognition and awareness. The greater your visibility, the more widely known you will be, the more information you will obtain about others, the more opportunities you will be exposed to, and the greater will be your chances of being accepted by other individuals or groups as someone to whom they can or should refer business. Visibility must be actively maintained and developed; without it, you cannot move on to the next level: developing credibility
Credibility is the quality of being reliable, worthy of trust and confidence. Once you and your new acquaintance begin to form expectations of each other, and those expectations are fulfilled, your relationship can enter the credibility stage. If each person is confident of gaining satisfaction from the relationship, then it will continue to strengthen and mature into something worth continuing.
Credibility grows when appointments and promises are kept, facts are verified and services are rendered. The old saying that “actions speak louder than words” is true. This is very important. Failure to live up to and keep both real and implied promises can kill a blooming relationship.
To determine how credible you are, people (read “clients or customers”) often turn to third parties for advice or referrals: a friend, neighbor or a mutual business acquaintance. They ask someone they know who has known you longer than they have. Will that person vouch for you? Are you trustworthy and honest? Do you stand behind your word, actions, products and services? Are you someone who can be counted on in a crunch? Do you maintain confidentiality? Do you gossip, criticize or try to manipulate others? These are all important qualities in building a lasting relationship.
Finally, the mature relationship, whether business or personal, can be defined in terms of its usefulness
to the parties involved. Is it mutually rewarding? Do both parties gain something from it? Is it profitable? Do you enjoy each other’s company and share the same interests? Does it maintain itself by providing benefits to both? If it doesn't, it probably won’t last.
So, how long does it take to build a good relationship?
Well, the time it takes to pass through the phases of a developing relationship – visibility, credibility, usefulness – is highly variable. It's not always easy to determine when it has been achieved. A week? A month? One year? In a time of urgent need, such as during a flood or fire, or a personal crisis, the relationship may develop overnight. It depends on the frequency and quality of the contacts, and especially on the desire of both parties to move the relationship forward.
Impatience can hamper the complete development or fulfillment of a relationship. Becoming too eager for results may stifle it or even destroy it completely. It must be cultivated, and, like gardening or rearing a child, it takes allot of patience and understanding.
Each of us maintains many successful relationships both in our personal and business lives. We have families and friends, co-workers, fellow club or association members, customers or clients, and many other business affiliates with whom we “network” throughout our lives.
It’s no different in the IICRC. IICRC executive committee and board of directors members, committee members, consultants, approved instructors and administrative staff all have worked diligently for many, many years to develop sound, lasting relationships with each other, industry partners, consumers, registrants and students. These relationships are built on many of the key principals I’ve mentioned. Rest assured that they are fostered and maintained with the best interest of IICRC registrants in mind.
I am extremely fortunate that I have been blessed with some wonderful relationships with many people throughout my life. I have a loving, supportive family, a handful of very close friends (the kind who would drop everything they’re doing to be with you in a crisis, who know you very well and love you in spite of all your faults), and many other great friends and business colleagues who support me in both my personal and business life. It doesn’t get much better than that!