When we talk about relationships and winning, or running, new work, I can't emphasis enough how little effort this may take, but pays dividends in the near and long-term future and success of construction companies.
It's not so different than building personal friendships, although a little more forced. In the decade that I worked for a major GC, we had many hundreds of small subcontractors work for us. And I saw many companies fall into three buckets.
First, the company that we're worked with before, has had a long-standing relationship with management, knows the works and knows how to sell it to the GC. Next is the contractor who is established in the industry, but has had little or no work experience with the GC. And third is the green-horn contractor. Knows the work, but has no relationship with management.
The first is certainly where you'd like to be. When you show up to a pre-bid meeting, you shake hands with the decision makers, knowing that you have a leg up on everyone else so long as you don't blow the proposal. The second is not a bad place to be. You're established, but there's still some up-side potential to build relationships, thus win more work. And the third is where EVERYONE has been at some point.
So what gets contractors to be a recognizable name? It starts with taking it serious. Show up to the meetings, talk to folks, submit high-quality proposals, and stay involved. I'm not telling the president to show up to stretch-and-flex every day, but I would say stopping by the office to have a cup of coffee with your counter-part once a month is probably a good place to start.
Hot tips on how to establish a relationship:
- Make it a regular thing - monthly breakfast, a cup of coffee and lunches are all great starts. Trust me, the $4 coffee you pay for will offer dividends down the road.
- Find out about them (aka - social media!) Check them out on Facebook, Google, etc. This will let you know what they're into. If you love fly fishing but they are into rock climbing, well, guess what - talk about going into the great outdoors and what you love about it.
- A little can go a long way - send them a coffee mug, hardhat sticker, mouse pad, whatever. Not only will they see it and think of you next time they need a sub for additional scope, but it's a good reason to stop by the office (see #1 above!) and it shows them that you actually care about them, the job, your company, etc.
- Ask for advice. I'm always SHOCKED at how FEW people stop by my office to simply ASK what they can do to help the project succeed. We ALWAYS flush out new ideas or tweak processes or figure out some way to make things run smoother. This is SO EASY, makes the sub manager feel important, gives the sub manager what he wants, and gives you another reason to talk (see #1, again).
The whole point here is to become a PARTNER instead of just a SUB. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it takes a little more effort. Either way, the quicker you can get there, the better off you'll be.
To help make my point, you can read this article from the Better Business Bureau about business relationships and why they matter.