In an industry where most business comes from word of mouth and referrals, social capital is a valuable asset that builders can use to nurture their current relationships and grow additional relationships with potential customers and partners.
At a panel presented by Sarah McDaniel and Women on Site, a professional development group created to support women working in the field throughout the AEC industry, marketing experts shared how builders can develop their social capital and turn it into business.
Kate Bailey, owner of Annabel Media, defined social capital as “creating relationships with people that are going to be meaningful. Those strategic partnerships are really critical.”
She added, though, that “just friendships in general are really critical.”
At the heart of social capital is giving rather than getting. Rachelle Folsom, a freelance marketing consultant, said that social capital “doesn’t mean you’re always selling; in fact, if you’re always selling, you’re really messing up.”
In 2008, Folsom was an advertising sales rep for Lux magazine. “We all know what happened in September 2008,” she said. “Suddenly, a magazine called Lux didn’t feel so good because no one had any money, … but here I am saying, ‘Would you like to buy an ad in Lux?'”
She knew she had to offer something, so she started coaching her contacts on how to get their projects published in magazines. Most people would “rather get published than buy an ad,” she said, and helping them do that opened the door for conversations about how to take their business to the next level.
“Aside from your health, your social capital is the most important thing that you have,” according to Matt Stewart, a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual. “You never know who you’re going to meet that you can change the trajectory of their life.”
To help builders better understand social capital, the experts shared what they’ve learned about using this strategy to grow their networks and referrals.
“Don’t hide behind digital.” Bailey said that she instructs her clients, “You’ll probably never get a client off social media ever. What you will do is get somebody who maybe trusts you a little bit more, maybe is a little bit more interested in your projects or your process.”
Having a website and social media presence with quality content is important, but alone, it won’t be enough to bring in business, she said. You have to get out and meet people.
Be the most curious person in the room. Social capital is “not about being the most popular person in the room,” Folsom said, “and it’s not about always selling. It’s about looking for ways to connect with people.”
She recommended looking outside your usual network or industry. Look for small events with people who aren’t in the same line of work as you “because if we’re all only talking about one thing, we get bored really fast.”
Bailey pointed out that “everybody’s equally as insecure as the next person.” She said, “I learn something from everyone I talk to.”
Be patient. The giving nature of social capital means an introduction might not turn into business right away. Bailey said that she has clients who she’s known for years before they started working together.
“It’s patience and [finding] the right timing, and not looking for that serendipitous moment to happen two months later, but potentially 10 years down the road,” she said.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. “We probably all have some things about ourselves that we know we have to rein in, and we have some things about ourselves that are really an asset,” Folsom said. She encourages clients to identify their strengths and develop them.
“If you’re someone who really thrives on exercise, the day to skip a run is not the day of an event. That is the day you need the exercise more,” Folsom said.
This trickles down to employees, too. “Let your people do what they need to do to be on,” Folsom said.
Balance networking with working. The experts agreed that although builders should always be looking for ways to provide value to their peers and potential customers, they can’t spend all their time focusing on relationship development. Bailey suggested picking two events a month that will be the most rewarding or the most useful, but “commit and be all in.”
Stewart looks for events that align with his own interests or hobbies so that the relationships that grow out of them are more natural.
Don’t forget to ask. Folsom pointed out that “you can’t keep giving and never get.” If someone in your network is well-connected or has a special skill, ask for an introduction or advice.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for things you know you’re giving. This isn’t all about just give, give, give,” she said.
In the same respect, know when to call it quits. Relationships that are all give take too much of a business owner’s time. Bailey suggested looking for ways to make a breakup a “win-win.”
“Breaking up is never about me. It’s always about what value they’re going to get from the breakup,” she said.