Who Could Use Another Friend?

Posted on September 28, 2010


Attend any Chamber of Commerce seminar or listen to any business skill consultant’s pitch and you hear a consistent message that ‘your network is your life’ and ‘build a network so that you have it when you need it’. These messages are hammered home when you are  implored to make as many professional contacts, especially in your industry, as you can when you attend networking luncheons or trade shows.

Yet, when I force myself out of my comfort zone at a conference to meet new people, it can seem like pulling teeth to get someone to not act suspicious when I chat them up, as if everyone is secretly thinking “what does this guy really want from me?”

I have been around a while now and have seen and also hear about A/E/C relationships going sour quite frequently. A firm, including my own, is often one bad project away from being on the outside looking in with any client. In a competitive market, blind allegiance is gone. The message is:  ‘what have you done for me lately?’

That said, as a hospital administrator it helps to have Plan B or Plan C ready in case your latest project falls flat. This is not something you want to get grilled on at the Board meeting and find out there is no backup team to pick up the project pieces. It is simple risk management. Thus, I find it strange when convention attendees are so cold toward meeting new A/E/C professionals. 

As a consumer, I am always looking for a better mousetrap and someone who is better at selling it to me. I feel pretty confident with certain consumer relationships in my life, like my auto mechanic, but I am always open to someone who may do it better. If I met a mechanic in a grocery story, I would not blow the guy off because I already have one. I would take his card and keep it. My current mechanic, who I have been using for at least five years, is excellent and I trust him. Yet he probably knows he is one expensive, inept car fix from me looking elsewhere. In fact, when my main mechanic is busy, I have a fallback shop I use for quickie oil changes.  They do not get the engine and systems assignments, but when my mechanic is booked, I need a guy who can do a reliable, affordable oil change. I do this to protect myself. My fallback shop is basically on an extended interview for the number one slot, just in case.

For me, as a consumer and professional, I do not have to disavow all past relationships to start a new one. I think too many people think the opposite; they feel like just meeting a design-builder is like cheating on their current healthcare architect. Guess what? There may be a time in the near future when a design-builder is just what you need—and it would be great to have someone in mind, even if you only pass that name on to a colleague.

My recommendation? Get familiar with several like professionals so that relationships are in place and comfort is achieved, even if it is only just years of meeting and talking with someone at their conference booth. Employers call this bench strength. When they lose a star perfomer, they have a replacement or better yet, have been grooming the replacement. No, for me I can always use another friend in my network. It never hurts.