I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of business development coaching recently, and I often tell my clients that rainmaking is all about relationships. I also tell clients that good relationships, personal or professional, should be nurtured – even that low-level employee of a corporate client may prove to be a valuable contact one day. This past weekend confirmed that for me.
Clients sometimes question why I suggest maintaining friendships from college and law school, and the weekend offers the explanation. I recently hosted a reunion for six of my closest friends from college. Although we stay in touch by email and conference calls, we rarely see each other face-to-face. I was struck by a realization as I looked around at my friends: we’ve come a long way since college.
Of the 6 of us, I’m the only lawyer. Two are in high-level corporate positions, working with multiple law firms and (coincidentally) dealing with issues that were at the core of my interest when I was in practice. And three of the women’s husbands (who are invited for co-ed get-togethers) are in corporate positions as well, responsible for hiring or coordinating efforts with lawyers for some aspects of the business.
The other three women are teachers, and each is also active in the community in some way. One is a community actor and director who serves on several theatre boards in her city, another holds offices in various groups that her sons have joined, and the third is a leader in more community groups than I can count. These women are well-connected.
In the years since college, we have all advanced in responsibility. Through long history together, these friends (and their husbands) know, like, and trust me, as I do each of them. If I were still in practice, these connections would be ripe for business development – not because I would “use” my friends to bring in clients, but because my friends would feel confident in hiring me (or others I recommend) and referring others to me. The reverse is, of course, true as well.
Multiple referrals have passed among us over the years, and anytime one of us needs to meet someone for business purposes, working through this extended network almost always gets results. If any of us had judged whether these would be professionally fruitful relationships twenty years ago, the answer would probably have been no. We were either poor graduate students or eager but hungry young teachers, hardly ready to refer business to anyone except perhaps a great restaurant. Circumstances have certainly changed over time. But my friends’ basic attributes have not: they’re sharp, nice, trustworthy, and service-oriented. Those attributes have led them to success in a variety of businesses and relationships, and our connections are now fruitful professionally as well as personally.
This is only one example of how contacts grow. The same is true of former colleagues, junior employees of corporate clients, and so on. Regardless of where or how you meet, maintain connections with people you like and trust. You cannot possibly know where life will take you and your contacts or how (or whether) connections will shift over time, but solid relationships often yield business or other useful resources.
A client recently told me that he wished he’d learned years ago to keep in touch with clients and friends at his peer level. As you advance in experience and responsibility, so will your contacts. In our mobile society, today’s low-level employee at one company may be tomorrow’s vice president at a competitor.
Coaching challenge: Think about good contacts (those whom you know, like, and trust) with whom you have not talked recently. Pick up the phone today and reconnect with a few, or perhaps issue an invitation for lunch or coffee. Nurture these relationships and you will likely find that they pay dividends over time.