When most people think about capital for their business, they think about investors, loans, equity, etc., that is used to pay for day-to-day operations or future growth. Even though every business needs capital to thrive, I would argue that building “relationship capital” is equally as important. Relationship capital is an intangible asset that is built up over time between people. Below I share some important points to consider about building this asset in your business.
Relationships Lay the Foundation for Your Engineering Business
Consider all the different entities that you must interact with in order to operate a business. Many civil engineering projects require permitting, surveying, geotechnical investigation, structural design, etc. It would be very expensive and time-consuming for an engineering firm in its infancy to bring all of these services in-house, so the relationships that are formed with your “competitors” may just be what gets your business off the ground.
When I was fresh out of college, the firm I was working for sent me to a conference to do some networking. I was pretty terrible at it and like a stereotypical engineer, I hid in the corner and watched everyone else socialize. After the event, I was talking to a coworker, and I asked him how he was able to go to these types of events and pull in work. What he told me changed how I looked at networking forever. He said “These folks don’t necessarily give us work because we are the best. They can go to almost any firm and have their needs met. They give us work because they like us.” Since that conversation, I have found that to be true. I was just focused on what I could get from a client rather than what I could give. When you take the time to get to know your client and develop a relationship, the sales part is easy. Keep in mind that this process takes time and effort. Relationships cannot be built with “hacks.” The relationship-building process is time-consuming, but the benefits of building those relationships are worth the effort.
Relationships Require Maintenance
Building and maintaining relationships are like growing a garden. If you just planted the seeds in your garden but did not water the plants or pluck the weeds, the garden is not going to do so well. Relationships are the same way. Those initial points of contact with someone are like planting seeds, but you cannot stop there. In order to grow the relationship, it requires continual maintenance. You need to take an interest in the person, engage with them on a regular basis, and be intentional in your conversations. The information you gather during initial conversations can be used to have more meaningful conversations in the future. However, it is important to note that you MUST be genuine. If you are trying to be strategic and doing this for the wrong reasons, the person will pick up on it immediately and you will not get the results you are looking for.
A lot of people are looking for shortcuts or “hacks” in order to advance their business and/or career. Relationship-building is not something that can be rushed. In today’s economy, there is an emphasis on automation and efficiency, but building relationship capital is a process where the value is in the inefficiencies. Building this asset will take time, but I promise it will be worth it.
About the Author Jese H. Vance, P.E.
Jese H. Vance, P.E., graduated from Marshall University with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and received a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Geological Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Jese works as a geotechnical engineer who specializes in geohazards. He has worked in the civil engineering consulting industry since 2012 and recently launched his own geotechnical engineering firm. Jese lives in West Virginia with his wife and son. He enjoys crawling around on any landslide he can find and spending time fly fishing on the water. He can be found on LinkedIn.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post by guest author Jese H. Vance, P.E. If you’re interested in your firm possibly joining the Civil Engineering Collective, please contact us here or call us at 800-920-4007.
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Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success