Don't let the first conversation with someone be 'Help'
I was told this during my arrival meeting with the RAF ‘1 Star’ (Air Commodore) in charge of the Air Wing during my time in Qatar. This was my first ground posting in a multinational HQ. It was a steep learning curve: different nationalities, new ways of working, a high pressure environment and lots of people doing jobs I was unfamiliar with.
The advice given to me was simple but invaluable, to be effective in this role I would need the advice and help of a lot of key people. He stressed that before I needed support from someone, go and say ‘hello’, find a bit of common ground and go from there. So that’s what I did, knocked on a lot of office doors, introduced myself, explained I was new and to excuse my apparent incompetence while I ‘find my feet’. Of course, there was always something else that I could/should have been doing but so glad I made the time to do it. I had a positive response all round and while I didn’t need help from everyone it was much easier to go back when they know who you are.
After I left the RAF, I spent 10 years working in Industry. Looking back, I realise that the companies I worked for were aware of the benefits of relationship building.
I was recently at a customer’s house talking about this topic as a blog post. He told me that large companies he worked for regularly meet for the same reason. These meetings would typically be in a nice hotel and involve employees spending a few days together with a business agenda. One of the benefits of such activity was that employees, who may have never met each other, could build a relationship outside of a direct working situation.
Now, as someone who is self-employed, I have found that forging professional and social relationships continues to be a worthwhile activity. There are a number of reasons why, which I have summarised below.
As a sole trader, I mostly work alone, not generally an issue but I’m aware that I can miss out on the ‘best practise’ of other professional Sweeps. As a member of The Guild Of Master Chimney Sweeps I have access to a variety of forums in which Sweep Members can share ideas. These forums are great for finding out what others are doing, which flue cameras, payment machines, vacuums, vans etc are people using, what sort of issues do people have, what services are they offering? All valuable information and one that enables me to ‘benchmark’, share my own experiences and learn from others. I also know and share ideas with a number of Sweeps local to me, always good to catch up and support each other.
I appreciate the support of local Stove Installers. A valuable source of sound advice and mutual synergystic work opportunities.
Local Business Networks
I have many sweep customers that will ask me if I know anyone in a specific trade, electricians, plumbers, roofers, carpet cleaners, to name a few. Over the last few years, I have built up a portfolio of trusted business contacts who I will recommend to my customers. These are people who have done work in my home and/or I know will do a good job for my customer. Conversely, I will get recommend to their customers and gain work through them. Last year, a local business I know went to clean a carpet in a vacant house in Monmouth. When he was there, he noticed an unusual smell coming from the woodburning stove and recommended the owner call me to get it checked out. The owner did, and on inspection I found a larger squirrel’s nest in the flue which was subsequently cleared, and the bird cap replaced.
I am also a member of a local Networking Group (CAP, Collaborate and Prosper) which meet once a week via Zoom. Members are all local businesses and it’s great to share ideas and get to know each other.
It's Nice To Know People
It can be, at times, a lonely business being self-employed and it’s comforting to know people. I do enjoy giving and receiving a wave from a known business van while driving (and quite often from a car!). It’s good to know that I have a network of people to call on if I have an issue and that I am there if someone else needs help.
That's it for now. A big 'thank you' to all my business network for the support and making it a fun journey. As always, anything I can do to help, please ask.