Saturday, December 3, 2011

Business Relationships

Wow, what a busy week.  I've been working hard to get a client's home ready for the holidays.  Their new builder home is just finished, they just got possession, and will be moving in right away, about 48 hours after closing.  I've had 2 days to get some of my work done before they move in.  My painters have been there all day, painting a few rooms some special colors, I've had some window treatments installed, and my tile guy sealed about 2400 s.f. of travertine floors.  We only had one afternoon and evening to get those floors sealed before other workers would be walking on the floor, so I'm very grateful that my tile guy interrupted one of his jobs to come and do this for me.  I called in a favor.

My client was nervous when she called me last week to say that the builder wasn't going to seal the floors and they needed them done before the move.  I said I'd check and see if I could find someone and called her back shortly to say it would be handled at the time they needed it.  She couldn't believe that things were finally coming together here at the last minute and I told her that when you have relationships in place (people that you work with continuously, that you go back to again and again, that you pay on time, with whom you share mutual respect) you can usually get what you need done. 

Business works this way everywhere.  When someone you work with makes you look good, you want to do right by them, give them opportunities, keep them busy with good work that they like and are interested in doing.  It makes things so much faster and easier too. You don't have to review every detail. When you're in a habit of working with someone, they know what you want. Also, when you need a favor or some special treatment, you can ask. 

It's been interesting building a business in a slow economy.  I've worked really hard in the last three years to build relationships with people that normally might not have had the time of day for me.  I've been lucky to have a lot of work, smaller remodels, etc. that have been steady.  When everything went bust in 2008, a lot of skilled craftsmen and contractors that worked in only new construction on big projects, came knocking.  Many furniture and fabric reps were looking for new places to push their products. Workrooms new to me have introduced themselves and were angling for a chance to show their stuff. I've taken the time to listen to almost everyone.  I've tried new vendors, contractors, tried out new ways to coordinate projects and work with other people.  I did this at a time when everyone was reaching out to a designer with small projects, just so they could get some new work.  Now that I'm getting bigger projects, I've enjoyed having all these sources at my fingertips.  I've enjoyed having these relationships in place.

I've been working with a general contractor lately on several jobs and I told him that I want him to be able to finish my sentences.  I want him to know exactly what I'm going to say before I say it.  The more he knows about what I expect, the easier it becomes to get the work done.   I have individual sub-contractors I work with too, painters, electricians, etc.  We get into a rhythm on a job and it is so much easier to get things done with people I've worked with before.

Same with my workrooms.  At my peer group meeting recently we were discussing a new workroom, asking things like..."Do they use clear thread?...Do they hand close their pillows?...Do they use 6" hems?"  We all had different things we were picky about.  Once you get in a relationship with the people that actually do the work for you, you don't have to ask these things.  It saves so much time. Not only that, but when I have things in the workrooms repeatedly, helping to keep their business running, my projects get the attention I want them to have.

This applies to sales reps too, fabrics, furniture, lighting, tile, etc.  I want them to come out to my studio and update my library.  I want them to answer my call and make things happen for me when I have an order to fill, a rush on something, or special treatment.  The more business you do with a vendor, the more likely they are to help you when you need it.

This is one of the things a designer or general contractor sells.  Their contacts  relationships.  Those same contacts however, may not render someone else the same results.  The people I work with respond to me because I give them repeated work.  They want to do a good job for me because if they don't, I won't use them again and it might affect their business.  In project oriented work, where a subcontractor's part of a project could last only a few days, they're looking for repeated work opportunities first and foremost. So when a homeowner calls with their "one" project, it might not get top priority.  I think that's why so many homeowners are disappointed by people in the home improvement business.

It has been such a satisfying experience for me to get to know so many different types of people in this line of work.  We make time to talk about family and individual pursuits.  I know my electricians and plumbers are avid hunters, my tile guy sings in a band in his free time, and my drapery installer has an intense interest in the stock market.  This is all "relationship-building" and is important to getting work done, enjoying your job, and getting the most out of people. 

The relationships built within a business add much value to a professional. If you're looking for a designer, look for a busy one, someone who works full time and is actively participating in relationships with vendors, contractors, workrooms, etc. That will be someone who gets results.

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