As we strive to get a business started, every resource we can put into play is valuable. But the asset we tend to value the most – cash – usually seems to be the scarcest.
The thing is, each of us sits on another kind of bankroll that’s equally powerful but usually overlooked: our relationship capital.
I’m talking about the network of friends and associates that you have developed over the years. The reserve of goodwill you have built on the back of your reputation and your extra effort. The sum total of each time another person said, “I owe you one.”
You cannot borrow relational capital like you can borrow money. But with proper care and nutrition, this asset can grow without limits. It’s the glue that holds everything else in place.
Honor what brought you together
The Rolodex I keep in my head is full of names and faces. Although each means something to me, I value some more than others. My most precious relationships have a core of love and respect that comes from an authentic place.
So what makes two people gravitate toward each other? Specifically, what keeps us involved in each other’s lives? I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for common ground.
When I meet someone for the first time, I want to know a little more about him and his family. Maybe we both come from similar backgrounds. Maybe we like the same kind of music or support the same ball team. Whatever that connection is, it gives me something solid to build on.
At the start of FUBU, I learned what each of my business partners liked to do – and was good at – and then gave them responsibility for those areas. The most social and outgoing Keith Perrin took care of our celebrity endorsers. J. Alexander Martin had the keenest eye for style, so he kept us up to date on fashion trends. Carlton Brown’s flair for handling logistical details made him an ideal candidate for inventory and shipping.
The more you learn about people, the more you can tap into their passion, goals, and skills. Plus, there’s mad power in a team of individuals pooling their diverse talents to achieve a common goal.
Do what’s right – just because
If there’s one rule of thumb for building a rock-solid support network, it might be this: treat people fairly and they’ll remember you. Every relationship matters, not just the ones where you see the potential to get a favor down the line.
During those late nights in the FUBU offices, I always thanked the security guard and the cleaning team for doing their job. For me, acknowledging and appreciating people for their hard work is integral to the relationship capital that I try to build whenever I can.
And you never know when you might need to call a friend or colleague in your mental contact list. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be willing to help you out of a tough spot, but the time you’ve put into the relationship can make all the difference.
However, you can’t just play at being nice, decent, or grateful. People see clearly in this act. Put some good into the world because it’s the right thing to do, and the good will come your way.
Think of your reputation as your horizon line
Every time I fly to New York or head to Manhattan, one look at these iconic skyscrapers on the horizon brings a flood of thoughts and feelings. The same thing happens with people in our personal and professional orbit when we build relationships.
They get to know our ethics and morals, how we handle different situations, what we say on social media. For better or for worse, people’s impression of us is planted early and the roots are deep. Unless you nurture these relationships, which include all aspects of your reputation, they can erode the foundations of who you are and what you stand for.
Again, you have to be authentic. Too many of us think we have to broadcast a certain image or vibe to make others look our way. But people will be accept the real you. They will feel more confident in the value you bring to this relationship. And they’ll want to give you the tools and space to perform at your best.
Give as good as you get
Relationship capital cannot survive, let alone thrive, in a vacuum. If someone makes me a solid, I want them to know that I’ll be there when they need me. Do you want to gain influence and respect in your community? Start by being generous with your time, talents, and other resources, even if there’s nothing for you.
Sooner or later, a real win-win opportunity will arise. Then another, and another. One of my favorite examples of real FUBU symbiosis was born out of a situation that any startup business owner can relate to: a great idea, no money.
In our case, we wanted to spread our brand all over New York, but we couldn’t afford more than a few traditional billboards. Then a stroke of inspiration hit us. What if we offered to clean up the graffiti-stained security gates that protect mom-and-pop storefronts after hours?
Dozens of clothing store owners in various neighborhoods accepted our deal in exchange for letting us paint the FUBU logo and artwork on their rolling doors. For a few hours of work and the cost of a few cans of spray paint per door, we secured prime advertising space all night long in the New York neighborhoods where many of our target clients lived. Encouraged by the great response, we soon repeated this campaign in Philadelphia.
This experience taught me a powerful lesson about doubling down to support the people and communities that gave us our chance in the first place.
Take care of every connection point
We are all still reeling from the continuing shockwaves of a deadly pandemic, divisive politics and dramatic protests against racial injustice in 2020. When face-to-face contact with the important people in our lives is harder to obtain, nurturing and growing these assets has never been more crucial.
In the words of renowned social media strategist Ted Rubin, “A brand is what a business does. A reputation is what people remember. After working all your adult life to build a good reputation and the relationship capital that comes with it, why would you squander those assets?
Yet this is what can easily happen when we take the people in our networks for granted or, worse, start to abuse those relationships. I understand the temptation to use your relational capital as collateral to generate new relationships or more impactful opportunities. But it’s the fastest way to bankrupt your entire network. And that’s a hard mistake to reverse.
You can avoid this pitfall by focusing on ways to deepen your current relationships. Choose a few people or groups of followers each week and reach out to them. Take steps to protect your network. Think long and hard before asking any of your contacts for an important favor. And when considering bringing two individuals or groups together for a potential opportunity, make sure there is something worthwhile for both parties.
In short, treat your relationship capital with as much care as the money in your bank account. You only have a limited amount of it, and it won’t get you far. But it’s essential to effecting a power shift: building your influence, negotiating the things you need and want, and moving your business forward.
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