Relationships can be defined as the way in which two or more concepts, objects or people are connected. The art of building long-lasting relationships is essential to growing your business and flourishing in your respective industry. Successful people have the ability to develop relationships that are effective, beneficial and endure over time. Given the current economic climate, establishing and maintaining relationships has never been more imperative. Even with the best products and business practices, you still need strong relationships to succeed in the real estate industry. Building strategic alliances and partnerships is an important aspect of keeping your business relevant and enabling you to grow as an individual and an organization. The art of developing and maintaining relationships comes more easily to some people than others. However, with a strategic plan, a little practice and determined follow-up, anyone can become an effective networker. The first step is to identify your target: Who are the individuals and businesses that can enhance your bottom line or play a vital role in the growth of your business? In addition to prospective clients, think about contacts who might be good referral sources or can connect you with those hard-to-reach people that may have work for you. Establish a priority list and map out a plan as to how you can connect with each of those resources. Your goal should be to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. The concept of reciprocity in business has been around for ages, but too often we forget that sometimes it’s better to give than to receive—especially in the beginning. The next time you meet someone who can help your business, ask first what you can do for them. There are many different ways to effectively build mutually beneficial relationships. It starts with doing your homework in advance, so that you have pertinent knowledge about the individual, their employer and their business in general. Being able to identify common interests, work-related and non-work-related, also provides a solid foundation for establishing an effective relationship based on personal camaraderie. And finally, you must put yourself in the right situations to meet your top tier contacts and capitalize on the encounter through diligent follow-up. Doing a little research before you approach a potential client or business contact sounds obvious, but a surprising number of people don’t take the time to do it right. The company Web site, if there is one, is the place to start. Here you’ll find information on what the company does, who its clients are and, if you’re lucky, a bio of the person you plan to meet. Of course, there’s always a Google search and other online tools that can lead you to news articles, organizations and other tidbits about your contact. Check Web-based networking and social sites such as LinkedIn, Plaxo or Facebook for more details with an eye for other ways to engage with and establish a concrete connection. And don’t forget to tap the knowledge of other people, including your own team. Our firm has a bi-monthly meeting to talk about new contacts, relevant events and changes in the industry. It’s also a great way to get feedback on your networking strategy or find out if any of your co-workers can help you with a connection. We keep details notes on our networking in spreadsheet format and note contact information for each person or business. Our combined contact list—accessible to the entire team and constantly updated—forms the database through which we send e-mail announcements on our services and recent accomplishments. Perhaps the most challenging step, and the one that some people dread, is the face-to-face meeting with a potential contact. At times, it can be challenging to initiate, let alone maintain a relationship, but below we have outlined some successful tactics that have been beneficial for our business networking efforts: ►Always be prepared! It is amazing how many times you will meet someone of related interest when you least expect it. Being open to all options is crucial because sometimes you meet people in the most ordinary of places. How many times have you been at a restaurant, on a plane or at your kid’s soccer game and started talking with the person next to you—only to find out that at one point you both worked for the same company or on the same project. Being able to leverage past experiences or encounters on the fly will prove to be extremely beneficial for establishing or rekindling a relationship. ►Face time is very important to maintaining a relationship. With all the text messaging and e-mails these days, the importance of putting a face to a name has taken a back seat. Stopping by a client’s office to say hello or asking them to lunch will imply that your client is always on your mind. Remember, in order to maintain a relationship over time, they must be nurtured and taken care of with the required components noted above. ►One way to engage quickly with people is to establish a common interest or friendship prior to discussing business. Being able to relate on a personal level first will make future interactions about business much more effortless. Don’t try too hard to force the issue. Allow the conversation to dictate the topics of interest. ►Get involved with industry committees and community activities. Making time for groups play a vital role in how well-rounded an individual you are. Look beyond the obvious professional organizations that relate to your own industry. You may want to be a member of a group that includes your potential clients, rather than your peers. ►Honesty is the best policy. Being honest and truthful at all times will show your credibility and prove that you are the real deal and that you are always looking out for their best interest. ►Provide a service that is unmatched by others in your industry. At the end of the day, providing a great service is what will make your clients continue to do work with you. The above-mentioned tools have given us an advantage in building our network. There are times when we do not want to attend events or meetings, but at the end of the day, if you are diligent with your efforts the rewards you reap will be immense. Relationships are great and essential to your business, but it is the ones that can be sustained over time that will prove to be profitable. You can go through the trouble of preparing yourself and putting yourself in the best position, but all will be for naught if you can’t sustain those relationships over time. Being proactive and anticipating your clients’ needs will give you a leg up over your competition. You need to show your potential client you have the skills and knowledge to anticipate their every need and that you will put them in the best position to benefit. Relationships are something that constantly needs to be nurtured and taken care of. It is not easy to establish a firm relationship let alone sustain one for the forthcoming years. Relationships can be compared to a redwood tree. A redwood has a solid foundation based on enriched roots and can grow to be the tallest tree in the forest, but without the necessary ingredients, it will not achieve its greatest potential. Consistency and timeliness in a relationship provide an individual and/or client a mechanism to depend on you. It is going to take time to establish a worthwhile relationship and being consistent and unrelenting with your efforts, will significantly increase the effectiveness of your hard work. It has been said that you have only ten touches (phone calls, personal interactions or e-mails) with a prospective client before the opportunity is lost. That being the case, it is vital to treat each interaction with the importance it deserves because it could be your last. In today’s challenging market, you have to build successful relationships and interact with people in a positive way to attain your organizational goals. Building relationships is such a vital aspect of your business, so vital, there are divisions within your company where their sole task is to bring in business. Remember, respect and trust are the glue that holds together functioning teams, partnerships and managing relationships. Through hard work and persistence, you can really make a difference in establishing an effective relationship that is mutually beneficial to both sides. This article was co-authored by Tim Markel. Greg Perrine is a project manager and Tim Markel is a CFD administration/reimbursement division manager at The Moote Group, a full-service construction management firm serving California, Nevada and Arizona.