I often find inspiration for business and life lessons in my everyday surroundings. For example, I have a cabin in northwestern Wisconsin. It’s a great retreat for my family because the area is both beautiful and quiet, and the fall colors were amazing this past weekend. We have some modern luxuries, like indoor plumbing and internet service, but in many respects, the area is a throwback to simpler times. We found out about that first-hand on this most recent trip.
We’ve had some issues with water leakage on the lake-facing side of the cabin, and as a result, we need to have a patio door replaced. My wife gently suggested that this project is beyond my DIY skills, and we should hire a contractor that knows what he’s doing. I tried a couple of Google searches and came up empty-handed since many small business owners in the area don’t bother with a website. In order to find a contractor, I had to work through a network of people with whom I have done business. These are people that I trust, and likewise, these people would feel comfortable recommending me to one of their friends.
I called a couple of these referrals (note: we didn’t email, we talked). A guy came to our cabin and gave me an estimate. I accepted the estimate, and we shook hands. I asked if he required a deposit or a contract, and he said “A deposit would be nice if you’re OK with that, but I don’t do contracts. I trust you…I can just tell that you’re a guy I can trust, and you can trust me, too. I wouldn’t be in business up here if I didn’t do good work. My reputation is everything.”
While one might think that doing business like this is naive or risky, I think it reflects how business is really done, even in a world that seems enamored with lawyers, contracts, websites, SEO, and all other sorts of sophistication. We are going to do business with each other for three reasons:
- Network: Our network connected us to each other. We both had a need: He needed work and I needed a skilled contractor. Our networks consisted of real-people that we really know. It had nothing to do with connections on LinkedIn or followers on Twitter.
- Reputation: We both have reputations that made our network comfortable advocating for us. A person or company that is concerned about protecting its reputation offers far more protection than any legal agreement.
- Trust: We developed immediate trust in each other. An industrial psychologist once explained that the sensation of trust comes from the limbic system of the brain. It’s the area that causes a dog to wag its tail at one person and growl at a different one. There is no language emerging from the limbic system – just emotion – so it’s often hard to explain why you’re reacting to a person in a particular way. I’m sure that we’ve all met a person that we just didn’t trust from the beginning, but we couldn’t articulate why. That is the limbic system at work. From the onset, his limbic system told him that he can trust me, and mine said the same thing about him. There was no sales pitch or gimmickry. It was just two guys sizing each other up and deciding that they could work together.
In today’s modern age, it can be easy to get caught up in its trappings of digital promotions, social media “connections” and the ever-increasing noise that comes with advertisements. Those things make it difficult to know just how reliable a person or service can be; it’s become harder to parse between the fluff and the bona fides. I believe that at the core of many of our significant transactions and successful sales, we’re relying on our network, reputation, and the trust we feel for the other party. As long as you’ve got a rock-solid foundation with those three things, everything else will come naturally.