Relationship Building for Business Owners
Oh it seems easy. Starting out in a service business like mine, you spend a lot of time talking to your customers. You’re at their house, you see their pets and their kids, you find things you have in common and you build a bond.
“My customers love me. They’re mine for life.”
Remember that attitude? Hold it dear. Every one of us has said something like that and believed it. It was true the moment you said it, but it’s not true the moment after. Think about that. Loyalty and love between customers and contractors lasts so long as both of you are happy.
During that time you were a solo operator or even when you got a helper or two it was still you at their home, working on that relationship, making a connection, building trust. Things were great. But how about when you got too busy and the client called with a rush job that wouldn’t fit in your schedule? How about when you promoted your helper to crew lead and the job got done without you ever stepping foot on the property? How about when you grew big enough that the crew who showed up were guys the homeowner had never seen before?
It’s easy when you’re small and attentive. Or is it?
I once got an entire neighborhood that had been done by a solo operator. The clients all loved him to pieces and his prices were so low I couldn’t touch them. And then he fell off a roof. Turns out he didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford the medical bills, so the hospital went after the homeowner’s insurance company and all that relationship building dissipated. The first question she asked when I answered the phone was, “Are you insured?”
A relationship is built on mutual trust, first and foremost. This is true with friendships. It’s true in romance. And it’s true in business. The surest way to build a great relationship is to do what your client expects at a price your client agreed to.
Let me repeat that, because it’s important:
Do what your client expects at a price your client agreed to.
Trust is built through communication. From the first phone call or email, make sure you know what it is the client is asking you to do. If they want their deck pressure washed, ask more questions because maybe they think their deck includes the pool surround, pool cover, furniture, outdoor kitchen, three concrete slabs and a retaining wall. Did that sound like a lesson learned the hard way? That’s because it was.
When you present your bid or proposal, be very clear about what it is you are giving a price for. This is how you can make sure that you are doing what your client expects you to do. You are in control of the communication and the way you control it is to be clear, ask questions, and provide the client enough information that they know exactly what you are planning on. Now they have a price and they know what it’s for and when you deliver quality work they are going to be happy and loyal, no matter whether you know their cat’s name or which grade their youngest child is going to be in school this year.
But that’s not the end of relationship building in business, is it? Not by a long shot. You have employees and vendors. You might have a landlord. You might even have neighbors, whether you work out of your garage at home or in an industrial park. Build every one of those relationships the same way. Trust.
Make sure your employees know what you expect them to do and exactly what they are getting paid for. Make sure your vendors know what you want and that they are going to get paid. Make sure your landlord and your neighbors know what to expect from you. What was that? It’s none of their business? So what. Every person can help or harm you and your business.
Last week I had a former employee, who now works in an entirely different industry, call me. His new employer just bought a building and needs several different services performed and we can do them all. One of my neighbors from several years ago started working as a realtor and is now one of my strongest advocates with her clients and with referrals to a large realty company.Work can come from anywhere and building relationships is at the heart of it all.
Trust is at the heart of it, as I said. Also respect. Remember the golden rule? Treat everyone like you would want to be treated. That’s everyone you meet whether you think they’ll help you or not. Because it always comes back to you, both the good and the bad.
I know the irony of this post. Back when I was an engineer I was the worst person I can imagine working with. I had an attitude that was disgusting. We had daily status meetings and I thought I was so important that I would bring a loud tick-tick-tick kitchen timer into the meetings and sit it in front of me. Set to 10 minutes, when it loudly rang, I would stand up, gather my notes and walk out. They had to deal with my stuff first or it just didn’t get done.
Not a single one of my former coworkers has ever given me a referral or used my services since I started window cleaning and pressure washing. I don’t blame them. Why would you ever want to have such an ass working at your home? I grew up and I learned these lessons the hard way.Now you don’t have to make those same mistakes.
I’m here if you have questions.
- Rick Wren