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Interiors Business School

Building relationships that last

From opening lines to forging long-lasting relationships, our Partnerships Manager Melissa McCafferty, offers some essential tips on how to form and nurture industry relationships that pay off.

Melissa McCafferty Partnerships Manager at eporta.
Melissa McCafferty Partnerships Manager at eporta.

1. Starting a conversation

It all starts with networking, and this can happen in numerous ways:

Party time

People often feel uncomfortable at networking events, a topic discussed by our keynote speaker Robin Kermode at last year's masterclass, and it's easy to understand why. There's a fear of small talk, or worse conversation drying up. But there are three things you can do to walk into any room and leave feeling like your evening has been a success.

Always go- when the invitation to an event lands on your doorstep, you're thinking that will be fun, until the day arrives and you've been working since the crack of dawn, and you're exhausted, well go anyway. You can't expand your network without being in the right place at the right time.

Don't recognise any faces? The chances are no one else does either. Admitting that you don't know anyone there and using that as an ice breaker is endearing. It also makes others in the same position feel at ease too. What's more, it's likely someone who does know people will take you under their wing and introduce you to others, just be confident and outgoing, and the conversation will flow.

The host of the most- A tip gleaned from Robin's keynote speech, act like it's your party. Offer drinks, introduce people you've just met to other new people, bring people together as you would if it was your own party. This will boost your confidence and also impress the people you're trying to connect with.

Networking in action at eporta's Masterclass last year.
Networking in action at eporta's Masterclass last year.

Out of the blue

Do you know someone who knows somebody that you'd love to meet? Maybe they're an artist, a supplier or another designer, well ask them for an introduction. Or even better make the introduction yourself, with their permission, of course. Now you may feel this sounds like cold calling, but as it's such a bold thing to do it's hard to say no to.

Why not email or call and say 'Hi, you know so and so, and they were telling me about this amazing project you've been working on, I'd love to know more. Can we grab a coffee sometime?' People are flattered to be asked, especially if you have a mutual connection that they respect and get on with.

2. The follow-up

You've got through the networking event or a coffee catch-up, and it was nowhere near as bad as you'd assumed it would be. You've probably walked away with some business cards, and contact details. To turn these acquaintances into a robust network of potential partnerships and collaboration opportunities, you need to make the first move.

When reaching out what's really impressive is remembering details of what you discussed and weaving that into the conversation or offering relevant recommendations. For example, maybe you were discussing modern art, and on your way to work you see an advert for a new contemporary art exhibition at The Tate, why not send a link to the event to them and say 'I saw this and thought you may enjoy it'. This gives room for further conversation and shows you were paying attention, both big ticks when trying to nurture relationships. From this point, it's easier to suggest a coffee or meet up.

This can also be a great way to maintain a relationship over time, no-one likes to be called on just because you need something from them, you have to put the work in between occasions too.

Networking in action at last year's Christmas Party.
Networking in action at last year's Christmas Party.

3. Collaborations and Partnerships

Now more than ever, designers are collaborating with one another, property developers, suppliers and retailers all to make a name for themselves in the industry. Those relationships take time and work to build, but if you feel like a partnership is something you would like to embark on, there are a couple of things to consider about selecting a partner.

Parallel minds- The chances are high that you are not two peas in a pod, but the fundamental ethos of how you work, and what you believe in should have some similarities. Is it that you are both advocates for sustainability, or do you have a similar selling style? You need this common ground to avoid frustrations later down the line.

Aim high- Try to work with people you aspire to be associated with. Maybe they have a more extensive network, significant press contacts, or have the ability to produce beautiful things that you would like to be linked with. Whatever it is, stretch yourself so that you get the most from your efforts too.

Budget- It's also good to consider that not all collaborations or partnerships have to cost money, sometimes the best ones are free. But if there is a financial involvement, how much money are you willing to allocate? Also time, as time spent on this is time away from your business.

Don't follow the crowd- Often people see things and think that was really cool, I need to do something just like that. But doing something different can really make you stand out, nothing looks cool after it's been done 100 times. The project should evolve and be the perfect fit for your collaboration, not anyone else's.

4. Dream team

You've considered all your options and gone ahead with this partnership, but how do you maintain a good working relationship throughout?

Efficiency- The fundamental of a brilliant partnership is that everybody pulls their weight when they're meant to. So responding to emails quickly and actioning decisions when needed will alleviate stressors between collaborators. But there is also the efficiency of time, respect that time is precious so from pitching an idea to ongoing comms, communicate what you have to as succinctly as possible. If you can say it in fewer words do.

Involvement- In the same vein don't cut them out of critical decisions to save time, people like to have their voice heard. Asking questions at decision points, not every one mind you (see the previous tip), but where a collaborator has something worthwhile to add, is flattering. Regular check-ins also make this much easier to manage and is less time invasive.

Clear goals- This may sound obvious, but often partnerships are perceived to have been unsuccessful because individuals have differing opinions of what success looks like. Be clear with your intentions from the beginning. Measure your results on the same scale at the end of a project and throughout.

With all this in mind, go forth and enjoy all that the upcoming season's shows and parties have to offer. Confident in the knowledge that you can make every conversation count.

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