15/07/2015

By Dominic Irvine, founder of Epiphanies LLP

Relationships are between people. A business is not a person. You don’t establish relationships with businesses, you establish relationships with people. The business is simply the legal identity that happens to employ them. So don’t think about having a great working relationship with a company, think about the specific people it employs.

If you have a strong enough relationship with the right people they will take you from organisation to organisation as their career progresses. In just the same way, build a strong relationship with investors and they will follow you from business to business. For example, if you look at the companies I have worked with it’s an impressive list of Blue Chip organisations. The reality is, as each of my core customers has got themselves promotion in a new company, they have asked me in to help them in their new role, hence the list of companies is directly related to the success of those with whom I work.

Relationships last because of the notion of reciprocity. There’s something in it for each person; be that stimulating interesting conversation, help, insight or advice. The starting point is not what they can do for you but what you can do for them. Focus on what matters to them and the things in which they are interested, rather than what matters to you. Treat people as they would like to be treated – this may be different from what matters to you.

But this is not ‘game-playing’. You have to genuinely be interested in helping them. Why? Helping someone succeed is a sure fire way of ensuring they want to spend time with you. And, the more time you are around people, the more opportunities will emerge.

You don’t make best friends with someone instantly outside of work so why assume the same will be with others in business? Relationships are a build based on years of experience. It takes a lot of effort so choose the right people carefully. Look at the people you are dealing with today, take your best guess and who will be a significant person in the future and invest in that relationship today. And yes, depending on your personality type it can be hard work. Sometimes it can take years of quietly and peacefully investing in a relationship before it starts to deliver value. It requires patience.

There’s a few things that seem almost counter-intuitive but are essential:

1. Less talking more listening. To really understand someone enough to be able to provide genuine assistance you need to stop talking and do a whole heap of listening and probing to understand their hopes, fears, issues, perspective and aspirations. It’s a well proven phenomena that the more people do the talking the more they will like you.

2. Less is more – don’t hit people with vast tracts of information about you and your business. I’ve yet to meet a Board of a company who enjoyed 60 slide presentations of dense detail. If you know people well enough you will know where to focus your efforts.

3. Treat people as equals and as colleagues. If you see them as a very important person in whose presence you are not worthy to be, you will come across as subservient and lacking gravitas. People want to work / invest in people they have confidence in and who demonstrate confidence.

4. It doesn’t need to always be through formal meetings. I’ve enjoyed great conversations cycling with current and potential customers. I’m just back from a delightful weekend of walking with an excellent new addition to my network having suggested a weekend walking with our daughters, enabling both children to complete the Three Peaks challenge (plus a few more hills).

Let’s not lose sight of the most important fact. You need to be good at what you are doing. There is no substitute for the hard work required to become good. Take a good long hard look at what you are doing and assess what’s good and what’s not so good. Don’t make excuses – work on the weaknesses and keep polishing the strengths. After all, it doesn’t matter how good the relationship is – if it’s not backed up by substance it will all be for nought.

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